- East Africa
By NANGAYI GUYSON
Rwanda-Uganda - Relations have deteriorated further following charges of espionage by the Kigali administration against Ugandan security forces.
Rwanda has come under fire after a slew of evidence implicated the government in espionage involving high-ranking political individuals and diplomats in neighboring countries such as Uganda, as well as attorneys and journalists.
According to a report by The Washington Post, The Guardian, Le Monde, and other outlets based on a leaked list of 50,000 phone numbers, President Paul Kagame's administration used an Israeli-made malware called Pegasus to spy on opponents, journalists, lawyers, and politicians in a number of countries.
Several Ugandan officials appeared on the leaked records, including former Chief of Defence Forces Gen David Muhoozi, former Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa, and former Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, “indicating that they were potential targets of the software,” according to the investigation.
External security boss Joseph Ochwet was also targeted.
“The picks (of numbers to spy on) corresponded with a visit by Kagame to Uganda,” according to a group of investigative journalists who undertook the investigation.
When Pegasus is installed on a smartphone, it practically provides an attacker full control over the phone. It can read and record messages and passwords, access social media, utilize GPS to find the target, and listen to and record the target's conversations.
Once the phone is compromised, end-to-end encryption, which is available through popular apps like Signal, does not protect against Pegasus.
Pegasus is unafraid of even the most sophisticated security systems on iPhones.
The hacker can even use your GPS to track your location, making assassination missions easier.
Furthermore, if you are at home, the hacker can turn on your phone cameras remotely, allowing the hacker to observe your children playing in the living room.
Pegasus is dangerously obtrusive in this way. The development comes in the wake of President Museveni's espionage warning to Rwanda. President Museveni warned a "nation in the region" against interfering in Uganda's domestic affairs shortly after winning the 2021 general elections.
“A country in the region has been sending operatives to come tamper in our politics,” Museveni remarked, adding, “But we have been counteracting them.”
Museveni didn't say which country he was referring to, but it's assumed he meant Rwanda.
Rwanda denies any wrongdoing. In a statement to the Pegasus Project team, Rwanda's government said, "These baseless claims are part of an ongoing drive to raise tensions between Rwanda and other nations, as well as to disseminate disinformation about Rwanda internally and globally."
Rwanda's Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Dr. Vincent Biruta, has stated that Rwanda does not use or have access to Pegasus. He called the probable targeting of activists, journalists, attorneys, politicians, and others, as well as the hacking of opponents' phones, "false charges.
The Rwandan government also denied conducting spy operations in Uganda, but Ugandan authorities believe it is these acts that continue to sour Uganda-Rwanda relations.
Global accusations that Rwanda eavesdropped on the phone calls of top Ugandan security and political leaders have been dismissed by the government as "absurd and unfortunate."
Uganda's State Minister for International Relations, Henry Okello-Oryem, stated that such "wrong" behavior from a "usually fraternal" country was unexpected.
“We've seen the reports all around, and it's easy to dismiss them as mere assertions.
We haven't received an official record of the accusations yet, so there's no reason to make a formal statement,” Mr Oryem added.
“However, if this is true, it is completely intolerable; a neighboring country spying on its neighbors in the region and in Africa,” he added.
The quantity and content of the hacked Ugandan officials' chats are unknown.
Defence spokesperson Brig Flavia Byekwaso said Security will issue an official remark after reading the findings.
Following a meeting between President Museveni and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame in 2019, tensions between the two neighboring countries were defused. According to reputable sources, diplomatic relations between the two nations deteriorated after the conference since the two governments broke their earlier agreements, and Ugandan arrests and deportations of Rwandans have intensified since then.
Since March, Ugandan police have detained and deported many Rwandan nationals, primarily in the border districts of Kabale, Kisoro, and Kagadi. Rwanda also claims Ugandan immigration agents of snatching Rwandese visitors' identity cards.
Kigali accuses Kampala of supporting Rwandan dissidents aiming to destabilize the country, while Uganda has stepped up its crackdown on Rwandans suspected of being on espionage missions in the country.
The Pegasus Project, a collaboration of international media and non-governmental organizations, has shown how government clients used Israeli business NSO Group's Pegasus spyware to spy on journalists, activists, and politicians. Current and previous presidents, as well as prime ministers, are among the targets.
They were found on a list of about 50,000 phone numbers that NSO clients had allegedly designated as belonging to persons of interest. At least seven African countries were identified as clients in the leak, including Togo, Morocco, and Rwanda.
Rwanda is said to be one of the more avid users of the Pegasus malware, which can surreptitiously record phone calls, read texts and emails, access pictures and passwords, and discreetly activate microphones and cameras to record audio and video.