The standoff between Rwanda and Burundi has led to speculations as to an imminent war between the two countries. While the closure of the Katuna border in February 2019 as a result of the row between the two countries saw the war rumours gain momentum with many contending that Uganda is biting more than it can chew, it is the warning that was issued to Uganda in April by President Paul Kagame of a possible war that has kept many wondering whether there will be a peaceful end to the row.
In an interview with Taz, a German newspaper, President Kagame sought to end the speculations by discounting the possibility of his country going to war with Uganda stating that Uganda cannot afford to go to war with Rwanda because of the long-term costs involved. While clarifying his previous warning, the President stated:
Yes (war will happen), if you cross the border. You can do whatever you want on your territory, like arresting people. But if they crossed our border and wanted to do things in our territory – that’s what I meant [with the warning]. People fear fighting between us [Uganda and Rwanda]. I don’t see it coming because I think Uganda understands the cost of it. We don’t want to go down that road because everyone will lose something.”
While acknowledging the cordial historic relations that the two neighbouring countries have enjoyed in the past, President Kagame indicated that Uganda does not respect Kigali as a sovereign state - a fact that led to the closure of the border. Rwanda closed its borders with Uganda, accusing the latter of arbitrarily arresting its citizens and supporting rebels to overthrow the Kigali government.
We have seen Uganda getting involved in supporting (armed) groups against us because they [in Kampala] think we don’t stand for the interests of Uganda. They just don’t appreciate that Rwanda has a different government and would wish Rwanda to pay allegiance to them, something like that,” he said.
The President noted that Uganda has continued to provoke his country through arbitrary arrests of its citizens, a situation that has escalated tensions between the two countries with either side trading accusations against the other. While Ugandan officials claim that the arrests are justified, Rwandan Officials have rubbished the assertions accusing Uganda of arresting their people and holding them, sometimes incommunicado and without trial.
According to President Kagame, Uganda should have used its own laws to try any Rwandese citizens arrested instead of holding them for a long time on allegations of spying for Kigali only to later release them.
We see people being arrested in Uganda. We have Rwandese in their hundreds, actually in prison in Uganda. Uganda keeps telling all kinds of stories, they say these people are here illegally, that these are spies … And we have raised this because we have collected information about it and then they say: how do you know these details? It is because you [Rwandan government officials] have people here [in Uganda] and in fact, they [the Ugandan officials] say they are against us. But the arrests have been indiscriminate: they arrest women, men, young people, they even picked some pupils from schools,” he said.
Last month, Presidents Museveni and Kagame sat next to each other at the inauguration ceremony of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in Pretoria. The two heads of state were captured on live television chatting throughout the ceremony. While it is unclear whether it is at this time that they discussed issues between their countries, President Kagame indicated that meetings with Ugandan officials have not proved fruitful in as far as addressing the row is concerned.
The last time I met with Museveni, I said these accusations have no credibility. Two hundred people were arrested, they failed to charge even one. That shows the magnitude of the problem. That resulted in fact in us telling people not to go to Uganda. And we cannot tell Uganda what to do. We have asked them, we have begged them, we have even told them it is ok, if you have people in custody who committed offences, bring them to the courts of law, don’t keep them in prison. People come and tell us they have been in prison for nine months or a year, for nothing. But we have kept calm,” he said.
In acknowledging the effects of the tensions on the economies of the two countries, President Kagame stated that he was hopeful that one day the tension would end but until then he will protect the sovereignty of his country.
According to Rwandan government officials, earlier this month Rwanda temporarily re-opened the border to Ugandan trucks carrying goods to Kigali which it had shut at the end of February, but its citizens continue to be restricted from travelling to Uganda.
While the re-opening was meant to be a trial period geared towards assessing the operationalisation of the constructed works and equipment at the Katuna One-Stop-Border-Post before the inception of works, it is noted that the 12-day trial period has elapsed without either party indicating they had solved their issues.
The re-opening which was widely touted as the first step towards the permanent opening of the border seems not to have had the desired effect. Even with the temporary opening, some traders stated that they found difficulties crossing and fewer trucks were allowed to go through.
Header Image Credit: Presidents Museveni & Kagame at President Ramaphosa's inauguration (Vanguard News)