Uganda: A Month Later – Rwanda Talks, Uganda Largely Silent On Row


More than a month since the latest Rwanda-Uganda conflict became public, no bilateral discussions have happened between the two neighbours, with the leadership of both countries, largely, sticking to the strategy they adopted to handle the impasse.

On one hand, Kigali has continued to make its case to the world, while Kampala has been, mostly, passive in its response on the matter.

Even Ugandan officials, who at the start showed interest in engaging their Rwandan counterparts in terms of response to the allegations levelled against Uganda, have since been restrained, sources say.

Since February 27, Rwanda closed her borders to Ugandan goods and has since barred its nationals from travelling to Uganda, contending that its citizens are being illegally arrested and tortured in Uganda.

A month down the road, no pending meeting at any level has been announced, and sources say no such meeting is being mooted.

The next scheduled meeting of East African Community (EAC) leaders is in August, according to a senior official at the EAC secretariat, but “if there is something so urgent and critical, then the Heads of State can call one [meeting] any time”.

Outside the EAC framework, the two leaders are likely to meet at other regional and international summits they may attend.

“… there is a very high level intervention on the impasse. The Presidents of Tanzania and Kenya and other leaders in the region are reaching out to the two leaders… the Uganda-Rwanda issue will not wait for the formal summit. It will be sorted out before,” a top official of the EAC said.

“I can read president Kagame’s statements are becoming reconciliatory, not combative as before,” the official added.

Shuttle diplomacy

When Presidents Kagame and Museveni last met on February 1 in Tanzania, the most pressing issue among the partner states at the time was the hostile relations between Rwanda and Burundi, and it reportedly dominated the discussions.

Burundi opposed Rwanda’s assumption of the EAC chair before a lasting solution to their disputes had been found.

At the time, it was not foreseeable that the disagreements between Uganda and Rwanda would overshadow the crisis between the other two East African neighbours.

In the absence of a conversation between Uganda and Rwanda, attempts at mediation are coming from outside.

On March 11, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta made brief visits to Uganda and Rwanda.

Private talks

Mr Kenyatta held private talks with President Kagame and President Museveni, and also addressed Rwanda’s top leadership, where he emphasised the importance of integration.

Kenya’s major concern may be the impact the conflict is likely to have on the trade volumes at the country’s main port of Mombasa, which for many years has been the main inlet and outlet to the rest of the world for Uganda and Rwanda.

If the impasse with Uganda is not resolved and Rwanda keeps the restrictions on her borders, then Rwanda’s trade options, in terms of exporting her goods and importing the commodities needed in the country, will be limited to Tanzania.

Alternatives

Starting March 7, President Kagame spent two days in Tanzania with a plan to secure a trade route via the Port of Dar es Salaam reportedly top on Rwanda’s agenda.

Next on the agenda were visits by the newly elected Democratic Republic of Congo President Felix Tshisekedi.

He kicked off his visit in Uganda before proceeding to Rwanda.

He met and held talks with leaders of both countries.

Mr Tshisekedi’s DRC would likely suffer most if in the unlikely event the conflict between Uganda and Rwanda escalated to war.

Previous clashes

Both countries have clashed before in eastern Congo and have fought other proxy wars on the territory of their vast neighbour.

The two have also been named as key players in plundering the natural resources of their endowed neighbour.

In Rwanda, both presidents Kenyatta and Tshishekedi gave clues on what was behind their visits, while in Uganda, the statements released were coached in the usual diplomatic speak of talks on bilateral and regional issues.

Advice from DRC

“Our countries will always be neighbours and as leaders, we are just passing by. These wars are just a waste of the time we could have used for better things,” President Tshisekedi said during the Africa CEO Forum hosted in Rwanda.

Mr Museveni and Mr Kagame have both been to South Africa in the last few weeks.

South Africa is key in the conflict, at least from Rwanda’s point of view.

Unfolding of events

In the lead up to the open fallout with Uganda, president Kagame, in an exclusive interview with The East African newspaper, said Rwanda’s problems with Uganda originated from South Africa, where key Rwandan dissidents, including Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa, reside.

Rwanda’s minister in charge of EAC affairs, Mr Olivier Nduhungirehe, says they are open to discussion to restore relations with Uganda. He insists, however, that if Uganda continues to support Rwandan dissidents, there will be no need for talks.

The minister, who has been vocal on the issue since the impasse started, says what annoys Rwanda is its “repeated appeals” through Diplomatic Notes to Uganda’s government to explain the arrest and incarceration of the Rwandans by Uganda, but no response comes through.

Additional reporting by Risdel Kasasira

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Publish date : 2019-03-31 08:49:25

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