The cost of crossing the recently reopened Rwanda-Uganda border is restricting movement between the two countries as passengers are required to pay for the Covid-19 PCR test, which many have complained is too expensive.
The movement resumed for the first time in three years on Monday, March 7, after the Cabinet meeting resolved to open all Rwanda’s land borders. The Gatuna/Katuna border was closed in 2019 amid a diplomatic impasse but reopened on January 31 for only trucks.
Travellers who want to cross between the two countries are currently required to pay Rwf30,000 ($29) or Ush100,000 ($28) on Rwanda or Uganda side, respectively, for a PCR Covid-19 test.
When added to travel costs, especially for families, travellers claim that the cost is exorbitant. Some have opted to postpone until the requirement is revised.
“I paid Ush60,000 ($17) to travel from Kampala to this border, and I am paying Ush12,000 ($3) from the border to Kigali, plus the PCR Covid-19 test of Ush100,000 ($28). I did not plan for the cost to be this high. If I pay the same amount when I return to Kampala this weekend, it will be over Ush300,000 ($83) in total. It is a lot of money,” said Mugenzi Aime, a Rwandan national who has been working as a boda boda rider in Uganda for the last five years.
The requirement to pay the PCR Covid-19 test only applies to the Rwanda-Uganda border. Those travelling to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania from Rwanda are only required to show a laissez-passer or passport with a rapid Covid-19 test, which costs Rwf5,000 ($5).
Analysts see the stringent conditions at the Rwanda-Uganda border as deliberately enforced to control movement as the political standoff between the two countries has not been resolved.
“The movement at the Gatuna border has to be controlled, at least for now, to avoid people pouring into a country that has a record of mistreating Rwandans. There is still mistrust given the recent history between both countries. Rwanda still needs to cautiously confirm if it is safe to let free movement resume,” explained Dr Eric Ndushabandi, a political science professor at the University of Rwanda.
Relations with Uganda deteriorated in 2017 when Rwanda accused its neighbour of harbouring groups hostile to Kigali and torturing innocent Rwandans on its soil. Despite bilateral talks and efforts to normalise relations, some issues remain.