The Thawing of Rwanda, Uganda Uneasy Relations

Saturday, August 24, 2019

President Yoweri Museveni, and Paul Kagame of Rwanda, this week in Luanda, Angola, signed an agreement to cease hostilities against each other, re-open their common borders to allow free movement of people and trade, refrain from giving counter support to each other’s dissidents, respect mutual each sovereignty, ensure fair treatment of respective citizens in their territories, normalize frosty relations, and establish a joint committee to monitor and follow up the implementation.

Many, especially in Uganda, welcome and hope that this agreement will stick and last unlike previous ones reached and signed under similar conditions mediated through foreign governments. Uganda and Rwanda have been down this route before with mediations by former British minister Lynda Choker, the Lusaka Accord (IGCLR) signed on July 10, 1999, and now Luanda. Under the Lusaka Accord, Uganda, Rwanda, DRC, and Angola then embroiled in a war of mutual destruction agreed to the cessation of hostilities and comprehensively cooperate in defence, security, politics, trade, and culture, and established the ICGLR as a mechanism for addressing emerging regional trans-national issues.

While allies can disagree and quarrel over both petty and big issues like we now witness rows by President Donald J Trump over UK’s Ambassador’s uncharitable comments, fractious Brexit, Japan and South Korea over sharing intelligence, and Trump snubbing the Netherlands over Greenland, there should be harmonious mechanisms to resolve such disputes. Without appearing to pour cold water and ruffle some feathers to what Presidents Museveni and Kagame have undertaken to normalize relations, it is necessary that we reflect on previous attempts and trends to avoid future repetitions of frosty relations often seen as driven more by paranoia and ego than verifiable facts.

The latest bust-up came against the backdrop of Rwanda’s unilateral closure of the common Customs border post at Gatuna (Katuna) with Uganda in Kabale district on February, 27, 2019, during which time, it prevented its citizens travelling by road from entering Uganda to visit relatives, or transact commercial activities. Even petty traders using un-official footpaths to ferry small quantities of goods and foodstuffs too were prevented. Initially, and officially, the closure was ostensibly to allow Rwanda government to complete construction works and upgrading of the Customs facility. However, days later, it emerged that Rwanda government had undercurrent political grievances against Uganda including alleged harassment of its citizens visiting or living in Uganda, and that Uganda was offering sanctuary to dissidents who have fled and seek to “distablise” Rwanda.

Both accusations appear malicious, provocative, far-fetched, and made with hyperbole, but nevertheless, Uganda said many times over, that bilateral and diplomatic channels including the EAC which President Kagame current chairs, and ICGLR exist through which such issues can be handled and resolved. In spite of this undertaking, there has been absurd public rattling from across the southern border, which Uganda rightly refrained from responding to, and perhaps, as the adage goes, “silence is gold”. Our hope and commitment to the new agreement remains profound because Uganda believes in the EAC and Pan-African spirit of common security and prosperity to guarantee our collective future.

It’s inconceivable to say the least that Uganda, under President Museveni, who has given so much financial, logistical, human resources, and international diplomatic cover to the PRA/F, and Kigali over the years, could at the same time seek to harm Rwanda’s interests as being alleged. If Rwanda citizens domiciled in Uganda were subjected to widespread and highhanded harassments, arrests and detention without legal due process, as alleged, common sense suggests they would keep to their country, instead of seeking opportunities in Uganda. It wouldn’t have been necessary for their government to physically obstruct them.

After so much hubris laced with insults, and loss of businesses, the neighbours have reached an agreement from a distant place in Luanda, mediated by Angola and DRC, whom both fought during their proxy wars in the DRC between 1997 and 2002. Sometimes, you wonder if Africans are simply going through what the European tribes went through during the Viking wars of 793A.D.

Uganda and Rwanda, share so much historical, geographical and ethnic identities that there ought to be no physical friction, much less, war rumblings, that has blown cold and hot, in the past twenty five years since the RPA/F) captured power following the Hutu generated genocide. RPA/F, was grown from Uganda, considering our own historical turbulence, and much of their own since 1923, when the first mass political exodus from feudal Belgian-Rwanda occurred. The repeated chaos of 1959, named, “the wind of destruction”, 1964-74, and the 1994 genocide, was supposed to be brutal learning curves to avoid past mistakes, and build a harmonious system within in ethnic diversities. 

Examining the very generous hospitality including cultural assimilation and integration, modern education, employment opportunities, and accommodation that Uganda has offered to fugitive Banyarwanda since 1923, the two peoples, Ugandans and Rwandese, should be ‘brotherly’ neighbours. And without a flare of benevolence, sense of false superiority, seeking aggrandizement, or feeling tinges of bitterness from lost opportunities, Uganda and Rwanda deserve joint aspirations for better quality of lives for respective citizens.