Uganda, Rwanda leaders meet again at Muhoozi’s party

Sunday May 01 2022
Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni at a past function. PHOTO | FILE


On a hot Sunday afternoon, Rwandan President Paul Kagame arrived in Uganda to attend the birthday celebrations of Land Forces commander Lt-Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba. This was the first time the Rwandan leader was setting foot in Uganda in more than four years.

And four years is a lot of time for President Kagame not to have visited a country he once called his second home. Kagame was always a guest at functions at his former school, Ntare School in Mbarara in south west Uganda, which also happens to have taught Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni. He, undoubtedly, has many friends in Uganda.

The visit by President Kagame, a couple of months after the reopening of the Uganda-Rwanda border after a three-year closure, brings hope to the people of the two countries. There are many times the former allies have almost gone to war, but have held talks and reduced tensions. But many observers think the highly militarised tensions and solutions remain between only two people.

Prof Solomon Asiimwe Muchwa, an international relations and security studies scholar at Nkumba University in Uganda, says there was always going to be a problem because the relations between Uganda and Rwanda were handled by individuals and not state apparatus.

“If the Ministry of Foreign Affairs could not achieve what Gen Muhoozi has achieved in just a couple of months, then there is a problem,” he said.

He says personal and family relations cannot determine a country’s foreign policy.


Attempts by Angolan President João Lourenço, DR Congo's Felix Tshisekedi, Congo's Denis Sassou Nguesso, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, the late John Pombe Magufuli of Tanzania and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa to influence both parties and end the tiff bore no fruit.

According to Prof Muchwa, this is because the disagreements are largely personal.

President Kagame's latest visit could therefore mean the two countries are heading to cordial relations like before.

Prof Muchwa says it is not easy to separate Uganda and Rwanda, given their historical and cultural ties.

“Rwandans are part of our security apparatus. It’s up to the intelligent services to ensure they are open and professional to weed out wrong elements in the system.”

Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba’s visit to Kigali seems to have resolved a conflict of more than two decades, leaving political commentators puzzled. Tweeting before the journey, Gen Muhoozi said he was going to meet his uncle and resolve the tensions that were almost dragging the two countries into a “senseless war”.

President Kagame says when Muhoozi made contact he trusted him and immediately opened up because he felt “he was genuine”.

Rwanda is expected to host the 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting between June 20 and 26. Sources indicate Kigali is looking forward to hosting the highly prized meeting and its conflicts with neighbours Uganda and Burundi seem to have caused discomfort among the Commonwealth states.

The same weekend Gen Muhoozi visited Kigali, Rwanda announced reopening of the border and the Commonwealth office announced the CHOGM dates.

On January 30, 2022, TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanné visited Rwanda and talked about collaboration between the firm and Rwandan companies in the energy sector. Mr Pouyanné’s was heading for Uganda, where he announced the final investment decision on Uganda’s oil project, marking the start of the development of the 240,000-barrel-per-day project and ending the decades of wait.

At the ceremony held at Kololo Airstrip and attended by President Museveni and Tanzania Vice-president Philip Mpango on February 1, Pouyanné said this marked the commitment to invest $10 billion in the Tilenga and Kingfisher fields, in addition to the investment in the 1,400 km East African Crude Oil Pipeline.

A political pundit commented that the two countries could have been forced by the big business interests to work together without necessarily loving each other.

The birthday celebration was just a convenient ceremony to mark the beginning of an unemotional engagement.

Prof Muchwa says non-state actors such as multinational companies play leading roles in bringing countries together for the sake of their business. The role of TotalEnergies cannot be ruled out in this case.

Charles Rwomushana, a former senior spy in Museveni’s government says Britain has been pushing Uganda and Rwanda to resolve their issues, but the two leaders did not want to show their populations the extent of the quarrels.

He says that’s why they resorted to have soft discussions, exchange secrets and the only person both could trust was Gen Muhoozi.

Rwomushana says the two leaders avoided formal meetings that would involve the foreign affairs ministry officials and issuing of communiqués and instead went for a birthday party, which they could handle as a private affair but discuss pertinent issues.

He says the issues between the two countries are yet to be resolved, but the two countries can trade as they pretend to love each other.

Only time will tell if the unresolved issues will not explode once again.