The details and implication on border tension
Kampala, Uganda | HAGGAI MATSIKO | Letters exchanged by Rwanda President Paul Kagame and his counterpart Yoweri Museveni that might point to how the tension between them possibly escalated have emerged.
Most importantly, the contents of the letters shed light on what might have led to the escalation and how complicated resolving these tensions might be.
It is also important that details of these letters are emerging at a time when, The Independent understands, there are intense regional diplomatic efforts towards resolution.
In the latest, Uganda and Rwanda are said to have armies on standby following the high watermark of Rwanda’s closure of its border with Uganda at Gatuna in late February.
Rwanda has denied it closed the border and traffic to and fro continues. But most of it is transit traffic through not originating from Uganda. The Foreign Minister of Uganda, Sam Kutesa, has said Rwanda has imposed a trade embargo and ordered a raft of high cost and non-tariff barriers. Faced with this situation, regional leaders are scrambling a response. The most open has been a visit by Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to both Kigali and Kampala on March 11 to meet with Kagame and Museveni respectively.
The border incident is clearly a high stakes move by Kagame. It is not clear, however, if the incident was pre-planned or forced on him.
Part of the confusion is about the timing – when President Kagame has just assumed the chair of the East African Community.
If the border incident was preplanned, it means Kagame must have a strategy on how to use it to his advantage.
If the incident was a result of knee-jerk reaction to a situation, then it sends a missed signal about Kagame who has been the model advocate of free movement of goods and services.
Under him, Rwanda has consistently scored highly on the Ease of Doing Business index of the World Bank. In 2014 he led moves that abolished visa and work permit requirements in Kigali for East Africans.
And last year, on March 21, President Kagame also hosted the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which was signed on by 44 of Africa’s 55 states and requires members to remove tariffs from 90% of goods, and allow free movement of commodities, goods, and services across the continent.
With all this weighing on his shoulders, just what could have led to the recent decisions and statements by Kigali? The letters Kagame exchanged with Museveni offer some clues.
President Kagame was the first to write to President Museveni late last year. His letter arrived in October and President Museveni replied a month later.
In his letter, President Kagame raised six points of concern for the Rwandan government. His first concern was that Rwanda had requested Uganda to grant Rwandan Airways rights to pick passengers from Entebbe to several destinations, including London. While the Civil Aviation Authority pledged to respond to it, they did not. Yet Uganda and Rwanda had a bilateral agreement on the same matter.