It is now time for business for Rwanda and Uganda. But Uganda is the aggressor and Rwanda is the victim. That is how President Paul Kagame perceives the relations between the two neighboring countries.
In his latest public speech, Mr Kagame says he has failed to understand why the Ugandan administration dislikes his government.
But in a carefully choreographed message intended for Kampala to act upon, Mr Kagame says he wants peace for his country to do business in the region.
“What Rwanda wants is peace, and the freedom to carry forward the business of transforming our country. We do not want to stand in anyone’s way nor do we want anyone to stand in our way,” Kagame said while closing his political party meeting, adding that he has mended relations with Burundi and the DR Congo.
Mr Kagame is simply saying Rwanda and Uganda should be able to mend relations and do business again. It is now upto to the Kampala administration to take advantage of the peace torch and reclaim the lost market where Kampala was earning close to $18m a month on average.
For the last two years the Uganda-Rwanda border remains closed due to what appears to be fundamental differences between leaderships of the two countries.
While closing the two-day Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi) Extended National Executive Committee meeting on Saturday May 1, 2021, Mr Kagame said that Rwanda’s interest is to co-exist peacefully with her neighbours for the country’s own benefit.
Kagame’s message appears to have also been intended to his overzealous RPF party officials that have been making uncalculated statements intended to excite bad blood between the two neighbouring countries.
President Kagame, who is also the chairman of his ruling party, said that ties between Rwanda and her four neighbours are looking good, except for one neighbour to the north -Uganda, whose problem with Rwanda he has failed to understand.
“With Burundi, we are on the right track. Together we are looking to address the issues between us and get our relations back on track. Burundi has shown interest to do so and we are also doing the same. For Tanzania, we never had any problem with the country. We work together on many things,” President Kagame told the over 650 party members and invited guests.
On the Democratic Republic of Congo, President Kagame said the issues that affected relations between the two countries were addressed and the two countries are co-existing in a mutual and cordial manner.
But for Uganda, which Mr Kagame calls his second home, a proper working relationship is yet to be restored.
“Our northern neighbours have an issue with us. It is a country I grew up in, lived in and worked for, but today if you ask me the issue they have with us, I cannot explain it,” President Kagame said.
However, when one deciphers Kagame’s speech the Rwandan leader is eager to make peace with his former mentor and child-hood friend, Gen Museveni.
Kagame’s message comes at a time when his colleagues in East Africa are busy pursuing business and infrastructure projects that could turn the region into an economic power house.
Leaders of Tanzania and Uganda recently inked a $3.5bn 1,445-kilometre oil pipeline deal while leaders of Kenya and DR Congo are busy opening up eastern Congo for business. The oil pipeline will bring $15bn of investment into Uganda. Therefore, President Kagame, who has always been sensitive to profitable business ventures is right to abandon hostility against Uganda.
It is also possible that Uganda’s planned expenditure of a substantial amount on its security and defense in the next financial year could have triggered a peace button in Rwanda. Uganda intends to spend about 7trillion shillings on security in 2021/2022 financial budget.
Mr Kagame is also changing tact. Unlike in the past when he pursued his enemies outside the Rwandan territory he now says says he will focus inwardly—strengthen his internal defense systems to counter any likely external aggression.
President Kagame said that Rwanda is focused on ensuring its own stability and security as well as pursuing her development ambitions, rather than dwelling on others or what they are doing.
“For things to move forward, you have to look inward. If you want to live in a house without being rained on, without fearing that anyone will come to steal from you, you must build a strong house. Build a house with a foundation strong enough that the wind cannot blow it away,” he said.
Kigali accuses Kampala of backing rebel groups and dissidents who want to bring down the government in Kigali. The RPF government accuses President Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Movement government of supporting the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which Rwanda considers as “terrorist organizations”.
Kigali has also accused Kampala of targeting its nationals, with the government advising Rwandans to avoid Uganda. But Mr Museveni has denied that his country supports the rebel groups and has instead accused Kigali of trying to violate its sovereignty.
Following accusations that both sides were seeking to destabilize the other through the support of rebel groups and mistreatment of citizens, the border has been closed since last February 2019 and the latest upset in a complex but mostly amicable relationship has been ongoing since 2017.
Hopes of resolving the spat were restored last July 2019 when the presidents met in Luanda in a summit facilitated by Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The summit was followed by two more in the Angolan capital and the latest meeting at Gatuna.
The key outcome was a memorandum of understanding (MoU), which committed both parties to release imprisoned citizens, refrain from supporting destabilizing groups and create a commission to monitor the implementation of the agreement.
Trade conflicts in East Africa have worsened since 2017. But it is Uganda and Rwanda that are losing much more as a result of trade deficits.
The performance of the economy report for May 2019 indicated a 9.8% decline in exports to the East African Community (EAC) from US$ 96.22 million in April 2018 to US$ 86.79 million in April 2019 owing to the fall in exports to Rwanda as a result of the closure of the Uganda-Rwanda border.
Uganda is gradually losing its most dependable markets of Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan. Uganda’s trade deficit has shot from $2.4 trillion to $3.7 trillion, an increase of $1.2 trillion (about Shs4.4 trillion). Rwanda’s cost of international trade is likely to get out of control soon.
President Kagame in his various public statements agrees with his Ugandan counterpart’s position that the region should federate sooner than later to end the unnecessary conflicts that keep disrupting intra-regional trade.
But for a political federation to happen the two longest serving Presidents in the region; Museveni and Kagame, must bury the hatchet and go back to the drawing board to convince their counterparts in the other partner states to move together with a similar mindset.
Uganda and Rwanda boast of longevity of the presidency, which may turn out to be an advantage over other EAC members. Regular change of guards in Tanzania and Kenya, the economic power houses of the region, has come with change of economic and political policies in those countries, which has tended to raise inconsistencies in handling the EAC project.