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Writer who fled Uganda 'relieved' upon arrival in Germany

February 23, 2022

Kakwenza Rukirabashaija said he had been delivered from "the mouth of the crocodile." He said he was tortured in prison for insulting Ugandan strongman Yoweri Museveni and his son on social media.

Kakwenza Rukirabashaija
Rukirabashaija said that the first thing he would do in Germany was get medical attention related to being tortured in prisonImage: Badru Katumba/AFP/Getty Images

Award-winning Ugandan author Kakwenza Rukirabashaija arrived in Germany on Wednesday, ending a months-long ordeal during which he reported being tortured in jail.

Rukirabashaija expressed being "relieved" to arrive in Germany and seek medical treatment

Although authorities had taken his passport, Rukirabashaija was able to slip out of Uganda by walking to neighboring Rwanda. He then entered a third, unnamed country before the UN refugee agency facilitated his travel to Europe.

"I'm being persecuted for being a thinker. Uganda hates thinkers, so I'm being punished," the 33-year-old novelist told DW.

He added that arriving in Germany made him "feel like I've escaped from the mouth of a crocodile, so I really feel safe."

What happened to Kakwenza Rukirabashaija?

Rukirabashaija rose to prominence for his 2020 book "The Greedy Barbarian", a satirical account of Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986.

His first arrest came shortly after the book was published. Rukirabashaija said he was also brutally beaten during that stint in prison, but eventually he was released. 

In 2021, writers' association PEN gave him the Pinter International Writer of Courage Award.

His most recent arrest came in late December 2021. He was held for several weeks without charges, prompting an international outcry, particularly from the European Union and the United States.

In early January, Rukirabashaija was charged with "offensive communication" relating to social media posts insulting Museveni and his son Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who many believe is being groomed to take over for his father.

He was released on bail later in January and appeared on television to reveal painful-looking welts criss-crossing his back and scars on other parts of his body.

The writer said that Kainerugaba had been "in charge" of his torture in prison.

Since leaving Uganda, Rukirabashaija has stepped up his social media criticism of Kainerugaba, including calling him a "baby despot."

PEN's German branch said Rukirabashaija was "under the care of friends and PEN," adding that he would now be enrolled in its Writers-in-Exile program which provides grants to authors facing persecution in their home countries.

Asked if he would ever return to Uganda, the author told DW that "Uganda is my country, my motherland.. I think after getting medication and the doctor tells me I'm fit for returning, I'll go back to my country."

He added: "I am unstoppable. I'm not fine, but I'm unstoppable."

es/nm (AFP, KNA)