Optimism as Rwanda agrees to reopen border with Uganda after three years
Saturday January 29 2022
Rwanda has agreed to reopen its common border with Uganda. The move comes three years after it closed it in protest against alleged mistreatment of Rwandans in Uganda, and hosting of dissident groups plotting to overthrow Paul Kagame’s government.
While Rwanda had insisted that the border would remain closed until the contentious issues are resolved, on Friday Kigali announced that it would reopen border points on Monday, January 31, as both countries continue to work on the resolving the dispute.
The announcement follows a recent visit by Lt-Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s son, who held a closed-door meeting with President Kagame.
Lt-Gen Muhoozi is his father’s confidant and special adviser who has gained influence in recent years within military circles.
John Ruku Rwabyoma, a member of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, Co-operation and Security told The EastAfrican that the recent meeting between President Kagame and Lt Gen Muhoozi could change the status quo.
And President Kagame seemed to reiterate this in an interview with The Africa Report.
“Some people are satisfied with official photos and see it as an end in itself. This is not my case. I appreciate the words of President Museveni's son.
‘‘But I hope that we can go beyond that and come up with concrete solutions," the president said.
Foreign Affairs minister Jeje Odongo says Uganda has complied with Rwanda’s conditions.
Kigali’s demands include the removal of Uganda’s Chief of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence Maj-Gen Abel Kandiho, a ban of the non-governmental organisation Self Worth Initiative (SWI) and the freezing of Rwandan businessman Tribert Rujugiro’s investments in Uganda. On January 25, Uganda removed Gen Kandiho from his position, a move that was hailed by the authorities in Rwanda, according to media reports.
But the other issues remain up in the air. Kigali alleges that the SWI is the co-ordinator in Uganda of the rebel group Rwanda National Congress, and that Mr Rujugiro’s businesses, which include Meridian Tobacco Company in West Nile, allegedly bankroll its activities.
Gen Odongo said that President Kagame agreeing to meet emissaries from Uganda was “a positive turn”, and that there will be “significant developments” soon, which he declined to elaborate on, adding that certain things will remain “off-limits”.
“The NGO issue is not new; it has been sufficiently explained, but it keeps coming up. We don’t see any reason to keep explaining it,” he told The EastAfrican by phone from Geneva.
A day after the Rwanda leader met President Museveni’s special envoy Adonia Ayebare, Rwanda government spokesperson Yolande Makolo tweeted: “Meetings and envoy visits have not led to tangible results on Uganda’s part. Still no accountability for terrorist elements operating against Rwanda inside Uganda, and harassment of innocent Rwandans continues.”
On January 22, President Kagame received Lt-Gen Muhoozi in a meeting that appears to have yielded quick results.
According to Ms Makolo’s tweet, Kigali is unhappy that Uganda continues to allow SWI and Meridian Tobacco, which Rwanda considers “terrorist elements” against its government, to operate unfettered.
Indeed, on December 31, 2021, SWI was issued with a new registration certificate and a five-year work permit to continue its human rights and development activities in Uganda, reversing a decision of August 2021 by the National Bureau for Non-Governmental Organisations deregistering it alongside more than 50 others.
The frosty relations that saw Kigali close the Katuna border in February 2019 have cost the two countries $200 million annually from trade flows, according to the Private Sector Foundation of Uganda.
Rwanda, which also imposed border closures against Burundi, loses more than $300 million annually.
The cold war between Kampala and Kigali came to a complete breakdown of communication between them. In November 2021, President Kagame told Al Jazeera that he had not spoken to President Museveni in a while.
“We used to talk, but of late it has more or less stopped…Talking isn’t just talking for the sake of it. We talk because we relate and have few things together,” President Kagame told Talk to Al Jazeera show host Ali Al-Dhafiri.
Open to dialogue
In the interview, PresidentKagame said that Rwanda remained open to dialogue but the outstanding issues would have to be resolved before reopening the common border.
“For us the problem is what actually led to the closure of the border that needs to be answered before the border is opened,” he said.
Now, he appears to have had a change of heart after meeting with Lt-Gen Muhoozi.
Ismael Buchanan, a political analyst and lecturer at the University of Rwanda, recommends cautious optimism “because meetings have happened multiple times before.
“In addition to Uganda's efforts, President Museveni also needs to actively and deliberately be involved in the situation," he said.
Kigali maintains that Uganda has done little to ease tensions as it continues to host Rwandans keen to overthrow President Kagame’s government.
Since 2019, Uganda has deported at least 2,745 Rwandans and 20 bodies were dumped at the Rwandan border.
In January, more than 120 Rwandans were deported.