How Kampala has mismanaged her relations with Kigali and why Rwanda closed her border
THE LAST WORD | Andrew M. Mwenda | Let me do what politicians always do – claim they run for office due to popular demand. Many people have been asking me to comment on the heightened tensions between Uganda and Rwanda. By writing this article, I am yielding to popular pressure. I think Uganda and Rwanda will most likely degenerate into war; something I have shared with friends since October last year and this is the reason it is critical that I share my views.
The current standoff is happening only weeks after President Yoweri Museveni gave a highly acclaimed speech to fellow African heads of state at the African Union in Addis Ababa in defense of regional integration and President Paul Kagame assumed chairmanship of the East African Community. That the two could be close to war shows the distance between aspiration and action.
The problems between Uganda and Rwanda can easily be solved if Museveni upheld his core ideological position i.e. that regional integration is critical for Africa’s future, and that the differences between our countries are smaller compared to the strategic need for and benefits of cooperation. From this view, if any two nations have differences they should seek to listen to each other and solve them. The problem between Uganda and Rwanda – as I know it – is the refusal of Kampala to listen to the concerns of Kigali and/or put her own grievances on the table for discussion.
For example, Rwanda has complained severally to Uganda both formally and informally about the presence of persons hostile to the government in Kigali. It says these people abuse their refugee status in Uganda by indulging in politically hostile actions against the government in Kigali. Rwanda has further complained that these persons (many of whom it has named) are actively aided by Ugandan intelligence to recruit Rwandans from refugee camps and take them to DR Congo for training in rebel camps.
Kigali has always wanted and actively sought to discuss these matters with Kampala. It has been met with stone silence. Instead, Kigali has been reading in Ugandan traditional and social media that it is the government of Rwanda planning regime change in Kampala. Websites allied to State House in Uganda are leading this charge. Some security chiefs in Uganda have said similar. Yet Kampala has never made a formal or informal complaint to Kigali on these allegations. This has placed the government of Rwanda in a difficult situation on how to respond to media rumors when government of Uganda has never owned them.
This situation could have been arrested long ago. However, all efforts to begin a dialogue between the two countries have been thwarted by Uganda. The most serious one was mid last year when I worked with Gen. Salim Saleh to send a delegation to Kigali or invite a Rwandan delegation to Kampala for discussions. We even greed on the team of Ugandan officials. I talked to Kagame who readily nominated a team of officials to meet the Ugandan side. On the last minute Museveni personally cancelled the plan saying he will handle this matter directly with Kagame.
I personally tried several times to interest Museveni in the issues Rwanda was raising but he either expressed indifference or paid leap service or said he will discuss them directly with Kagame, which he rarely did. This was especially frustrating for me because between 2011 I worked closely with the Ugandan president to repair our relations with Kigali. During that time I was impressed by Museveni’s boldness, courage and strategic foresight. His subsequent loss of interest without explanation was confusing.
While Museveni has promised to discuss these matters directly with Kagame and which he has done on occasion, there has been no follow up by Kampala. I am aware that whenever Museveni has met Kagame, he has never raised the issue of regime change by Kigali against him. Kagame has told Museveni that Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) actively works with Rwandan dissidents. Museveni has promised to verify the claims and end the problem. The last I heard is that Uganda sent one such person to Norway.
CMI has been detaining Rwandan nationals in illegal facilities, torturing and deporting them to Rwanda. CMI accuses these people of spying but has never produced them before courts of law. Neither has Uganda complained to Rwanda about this. Kigali has protested these detentions and deportations formally and informally. Again it has been met with stone silence. Meanwhile Uganda accuses Rwanda of kidnapping and killing Rwandans in Uganda and of seeking regime change but never provides names or any evidence and has never made a formal or informal protest to Rwanda.
I have told officials of Uganda that even if these allegations of kidnappings and killings are true, Rwanda is supposed to be our ally. When an ally behaves like that, you don’t stop talking to them. Israel is an ally of America. On many occasions its intelligence services have been caught either kidnapping people from America or infiltrating US intelligence and stealing highly classified information. These actions by Israel have been a great irritant to the USA, but they have never formed a basis for the break in relations. Recently America was caught tapping calls of leaders of nations among her NATO allies but this did not lead to the break in relations.
Museveni is one of the most strategic minded persons I have read and listened to. I do not think he would preside over the collapse of a strategic relationship with an ally because of such infringements. Such infringements are the reason to dialogue, not break-up. The only conclusion I can infer from his attitude towards Kigali is that either he does not consider Rwanda an ally or he does not think our relationship with her is strategic – or both. I have increasingly come to believe that Museveni sees Kagame’s Rwanda as a threat, a factor I will write about in detail in my next post.
Now here is the slippery slope to war: if Rwanda is convinced Kampala is seeking regime change against Kagame, it will not sit idly and watch. Uganda has enemies too. It follows that Kigali will be driven to aid them. Given the interpenetration of the two societies and government systems, Kampala will finally get the hard evidence of this aid. Thus what begun as empty claims that Kigali is seeking regime change against Museveni will now be fact with evidence!