By Agather Atuhaire
President Yoweri Museveni’s recent state visit to the neighbouring Rwanda has excited prospects of improved bilateral relations. Rwandan High Commissioner to Uganda, Gen. Frank Mugambagye, tells The Independent’s Agather Atuhaire that the situation has not been as critical as some people painted it.
What implications does President Museveni’s recent state visit to Rwanda have for both countries?
The implications are clear and straight forward. They are neighboring countries and it is always pertinent for neighbours to cooperate. Being neighbours notwithstanding, the people of both countries have a lot in common and the closeness they have always shared is significant. We also need to look at the regional implications, the state visit aimed at cementing relations and that leaves a lot to expect as far as the regional development is concerned. Being new countries in the East African community, Rwanda and Burundi need all the assistance from the other members and this starts with strengthening mutual relations.
What role did you play in ensuring that the two countries overcome the tough test that their longstanding relationship has been put to since the late 90’s?
I played the role that I am assigned to play. I played just the role of a representative. The talks between the two heads of state have been an ongoing process that I cannot claim to having attained alone. There were many players involved and both countries were concerned about the unfriendly situation. Fortunately both leaders have also been concerned and decided to sort out whatever issues that have created a frosty environment.
How bad has the situation between the two countries been, I mean why all the exhilaration about it?
The situation was not too terrible to worry anyone. Yes, there were concerns but mechanisms were there at different levels to deal with all the anxiety. They were just minor conflicts that all neighbours go through once in a while. What is important is having the courage and wisdom to solve any issues as they come and focus on the nations’ development.
Did the tensions between the two countries for the last couple of years have any serious impact either economically, politically or otherwise?
The long standing ties that have existed between the two countries before have superseded all sorts of tensions. And like I said, the situation was never as bad as people, especially the media painted it. The only problem was people’s expectations being much higher than the reality on the ground. And you cannot blame them because they were always used to looking at the two nations as sister countries. The situation was always under control, so it did not create any significant problems apart from some immigration issues here and there and a few people that were arrested at the borders. But we will re-establish the former warm relationship that the people were used to.
What strategies did the heads of the two states put in place for a smooth economic and political relationship and enhanced development?
A lot of resolutions were made. We have identified key areas where we need to cooperate for instance we need to share experience, create a business friendly environment and promote transparency and accountability. All these must happen in a secure and stable environment. That’s why our security officials have been tasked to work together so that they sort out any possible threats the two countries’ security. All sectors have been tackled and the prospects of Rwanda benefiting from Uganda’s oil which will benefit both countries were discussed. We also discussed the need to improve the education sector in both countries and creating favourable conditions for the nationals to acquire skills. Tourism is one sector that both countries agreed to boost. Rwanda and Uganda are great destinations and tourism has the potential to contribute tremendously to their growth. The two countries have a lot to learn from each other especially now that they have decided to share revenues earned from one of the national parks.
Share revenues from a national park?
Yes, Virunga mountain national park is at the borders Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo and the gorillas have a tendency of moving around across the borders. In order not to restrict their movements by fencing them in one place, we have established a framework where the two countries have decided to equally share the revenue from this national park. This certainly shows great mutual understanding between the two countries.
According to information from the media, the visit had been long overdue and it is said that both countries have always wanted an opportune platform for diplomatic talks. Why was it so pertinent that the two countries iron out their differences?
I wouldn’t want to call it ironing out differences but rekindling the relationship. Every relationship needs to be worked on for it to be strong. And this was important for the two countries not only because of the history they share, but also because they are both at the same level of development and faced by almost the same challenges. They therefore both need each other in terms of infrastructure, energy, human resource development and skills. There is a threat of terrorism that we must fight together and many other regional issues. We need to pull our resources together