Despite sharing borders and belonging to the same economic bloc, East African countries harbour hard feelings towards each other emanating from economic and political differences.
Most times, the tensions are mere undercurrents or occasionally flare up in negative public pronouncements, and no one foresees an armed between them, but recently, and especially in 2019, these undercurrents have escalated into a ‘‘cold war,’’ between Uganda and Rwanda and Rwanda and Burundi, with Rwanda and DR Congo getting cosy.
This year Rwanda’s diplomatic and security challenges with Uganda escalated to an unprecedented level. For the first time, the country came out clearly and strongly accused Uganda of supporting rebels seeking regime change in Kigali.
Further, Rwanda accused Uganda of sabotaging shared infrastructure projects, trade and of torturing Rwandan citizens who travel to Uganda. Kigali closed its borders with Uganda and ordered its citizens not to travel there.
Uganda has denied all the charges.
The border closure enforced in March 2019, has disrupted social and economic lives of not just communities living around the border but also travel and national trade between the two countries.
Since the 1990s proxy wars in DR Congo, when both countries supported different groups, diplomatic and security relations between the two deteriorated, and reached a new low in 2019.
Efforts to normalise the relations are yet to yield results with diplomatic talks ending in a deadlock a fortnight ago, with each side accusing the other for the impasse.
All hope now lies with the presidents with delegates at the botched talks in Kampala said they have consulted their respective heads of state.
Rwanda/Burundi bickering continued
Rwanda says rebel attacks in Nyamagabe district in December 2018 originated from Burundi. Tensions have remained high between the two countries since the foiled military coup of 2015 in Burundi.
Kigali says some of the rebel forces blamed for the coup, have Kampala’s blessings. Kigali believes that Uganda manipulates the Burundi security question to isolate Rwanda, regionally and internationally.
Accusations and counter-accusations between Rwanda and Uganda continue to linger since the Bujumbura attempted coup.
Rwanda/DR Congo rapprochement
The move by the administration of President Felix Tshisekedi to improve relations with neighbouring countries is bearing fruit.
A number of militias based in eastern DR Congo that pose a security threat to Rwanda are now being targeted by DR Congo forces in a military offensive never seen before.
Whatever the reason behind the latest development, movement of goods and people has greatly improved at border posts with DR Congo and the national carrier, RwandAir, is making six flights a week to Kinshasa, something Kigali had pursued for a decade without success.