The daughter of Col. Patrick Karegeya, the exiled former Rwandan spymaster, is stranded in Kampala after Kigali stripped her of citizenship and Uganda hurriedly withdrew an alternative passport a week after issuing it.
Portia Mbabazi Karegeya, 23, told this newspaper in an interview last week that Ugandan Immigration officials at Entebbe airport confiscated her Rwandan passport when she flew in from Kigali on June 5.
She was informed Rwanda had cancelled her passport, rendering it invalid for travel.
Ms Mbabazi says she has been caught up in the politics surrounding her father, who now lives in exile in South Africa, but who is wanted in Kigali over alleged criminal offences.
“I am stranded here; I know it is because of politics,” she said. “All I want is to be allowed to go and study.”
Maj. Gen. Frank Mugambagye, the Rwandan High Commissioner to Kampala, last evening declined to discuss the issue and referred this newspaper back to immigration officials.
“I have nothing to know about her and I cannot track all Rwandans coming here,” he said by telephone.
Details of the matter remain scanty. Ms Mbabazi said several people, including prominent journalist Andrew Mwenda, have tried to persuade her to agree to fly out back to South Africa on temporary travel documents.
Mr Mwenda denied the claim in a telephone interview with this newspaper last evening.
“She is lying,” he said, and blamed her for applying for a refugee status while in South Africa yet she held Rwandan citizenship.
Mr Mwenda said a “key person” in the Rwandan government, whom he did not name, told him that Kigali had cautioned Ms Mbabazi, among other exiled Rwandans, not to seek refugee status since they would automatically lose their citizenship.
“You cannot eat your cake and have it,” he said.
Uganda’s Immigration spokesperson Eunice Kisembo said she is not aware of Ms Mbabazi’s tribulations. “What I know is that it is not abnormal to withdraw a travel document either on Interpol notice or for purposes of investigations into how it was acquired,” she said.
Available information indicates that after the cancellation of her Rwanda passport, Ugandan authorities issued Ms Mbabazi a passport on June 20, but seized it again at Entebbe airport on July 2, as she attempted to fly out using it by South African airways to Johannesburg.
“I was sure [the decision to confiscate the travel document] was a mistake because I had used the same names and hadn’t lied,” Ms Mbabazi said. She missed the flight that fateful day and after a reported 11-hour ordeal at the airport, Immigration officials allegedly told her Rwanda had reinstated her passport, and she needed to surrender the Ugandan one since possessing both would be “irregular”.
Interpol officials in Kampala reportedly questioned her to establish the circumstances under which she obtained a Ugandan passport. Asked why Ugandan did not promptly deport Ms Mbabazi on arrival at Entebbe airport since she had no valid travel document, Ms Kisembo said: “If she has roots here, we cannot declare her as inadmissible”.
Ms Mbabazi’s paternal grandmother, whom she had come to visit, still lives in Mbarara, which the Karegeyas consider their second home. With Uganda and Rwanda mending fences, officials in both countries have been keen to distance themselves from dissident officials from either country. In this case it has left Ms Mbabazi, who qualifies to be a citizen in both countries, belonging to none.
Unable to leave Uganda, she is likely to lose her place to study a master degree in law at McGill University in Quebec, Canada, from September.