With efforts at mediation remaining far from taking shape, Uganda’s indifference in the ongoing border spat with Rwanda has unsettled the leadership in Kigali, which according to sources in the security services and Customs, expected a different reaction to the border closure.
But as the crisis enters a third week, Kampala has neither shown interest in any efforts at mediation nor has it reacted as Rwanda expected, by tightening Customs and immigration controls at its own side of the border.
“We are waiting to see how they will react. We thought the Uganda government would be more interested in resolving this matter soon,” a top Rwandan immigration official said.
Rwanda’s exasperation comes after Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta met both President Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame on March 11, in what analysts believed to be an effort at mediation between Uganda and Rwanda.
“President Yoweri Museveni and his counterpart President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya have today held a bilateral meeting at State House in Entebbe.
President Uhuru was in Uganda for a brief working visit. The two leaders discussed various local and regional issues,” the brief statement from State House Entebbe read.
The EastAfrican has since learnt that of the “various local and regional issues” discussed during this meeting President Museveni was “least interested in talking about Rwanda.”
Instead of warming up to President Kenyatta’s mediation efforts, the tone in Kampala has switched to sensitising the population, especially business persons engaged in cross-border trade, to the fact that Kigali has imposed a trade embargo against Uganda, the intent of which is to cripple the Ugandan economy.
Already, Customs operations at Gatun/Katuna have slumped to an all-time low, with only light vehicles and very few buses moving through the border post that until February 28 when Kigali unilaterally issued advisory to its citizens not to travel to Uganda and went ahead to partially close the borders, was the busiest of all border crossing points between Uganda and Rwanda.
Uganda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sam Kutesa issued a strongly worded statement on March 13 as the border crisis entered the third week.
“Rwanda has introduced an export permit system for those who intend to export goods to Uganda. This is a technical and non-tariff barrier to trade. In effect, this is a trade embargo on bilateral trade with Uganda,” Mr Kutesa wrote in the statement.
This is the strongest language Kampala has spoken about the border crisis is that it came as a surprise on February 28 when Kigali unilaterally blocked all cargo traffic bound for Kigali at Katuna border post, ostensibly to allow the country to complete construction of the post.
However, Rwanda also issued an advisory against travel of its nationals to Uganda, saying it was a measure to ensure the security and safety of Rwandans, as relations between the two neighbours hit a new low.
Uganda Customs officials and local traders at all border points reveal that goods from Uganda, especially foodstuffs were blocked from crossing into Rwanda upon Kigali’s partial closure of the borders.
This is confirmed by Mr Kutesa who said that export of Ugandan goods to Rwanda has been prohibited by Rwanda authorities, who are only allowing trucks carrying transit goods destined for Rwanda or those transiting through to the DR Congo and beyond.
As a result, Customs officials at Katuna say revenue from road user fees have declined to a pittance, with no trucks allowed to cross the border post for more than two weeks now.
Emmanuel Bamanya, the Uganda Revenue Authority officer in charge of Customs at Katuna reveals that before the partial border closure, the country earned between Ush25 million ($6,789.30) and Ush30 million ($8,147.20) per day in road user levies on non-Uganda-registered vehicles.
However, Customs data for the entire period since the Uganda-Rwanda border crisis started, the Uganda Revenue Authority has collected a paltry Ush3.9 million ($1,063) from road-user charges, which are levied based on the number of axles and the distance travelled by a vehicle on Ugandan roads.
While Uganda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement to allay fears among traders, prompted by allegations that in response to Kigali’s move, Uganda had also closed its border with Rwanda, trade analysts say this is a veiled warning to Ugandan exporters to consider other markets.
Since February 28, the flow of traffic from Uganda to Rwanda has continued normally at all three border points; Cyanika, Katuna and Mirama Hills, as Kampala remains committed to free movement of persons and goods across borders, consistent with its obligations under regional and continental frameworks, Mr Kutesa explained.
However, a Customs official at the Bunagana border post between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo says that despite the terrible condition of the 74km road to Goma, coupled with insecurity created by militia along the route, the border point has seen increased traffic due to the Rwanda’s action.
“Yesterday there was not traffic here,” the official said. “But because of those closures at Katuna and Cyanika, today we have more than 20 trucks, most of which were rerouted here from Katuna.
”As of March 13, official statistics show that Cyanika border post has processed 41 transactions, while the partially closed Katuna border post has processed 85 — mainly light vehicles that were being allowed to cross into Rwanda,” he added.
Mirama Hills border post on the other hand has processed the highest number; according to the records, 311 transactions mainly involved cargo trucks bound for Rwanda that was initially going via Katuna but was rerouted to Mirama Hills when the former was closed.