Why the current situation between Kampala and Kigali needs to be deescalated before it leads to disaster
THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | The conflict between Uganda and Rwanda is escalating and, if not arrested, will most likely lead to war. Last week, Uganda claimed that Rwandan troops had crossed into Uganda and shot two people dead. Rwanda said the incident took place on its soil. Given the circumstances, the facts do not really matter. In such tense situations, these incidents only provide propaganda value to partisans on each side to prove their side to be the aggrieved party.
Both sides have deployed their armies across the common border in irritating contact with each other. Mid last year, President Paul Kagame asked me to inform President Yoweri Museveni that Rwanda will never fire the first shot. Museveni has told me he does not want a war with Rwanda because such a war would be stupid. I believe both presidents would like to avoid a war. However, incidents like the one that happened last week can easily and rapidly turn a tense situation into a military conflagration.
Given the circumstances, a war between Uganda and Rwanda is possible and most likely may become inevitable. We always forget that individuals often have defective control over events that lead to war. A war between Uganda and Rwanda would be stupid. But this does not make it impossible. Wars can erupt even when leaders on both sides are committed to avoiding them. One small incident, like what happened last week, can escalate a quarrel to a standoff.
Whenever there is a standoff, a series of statements and incidents can induce leaders to take actions that escalate the situation in order to preserve their reputation of being tough, or to uphold their honour, than stand down and be seen as weak and/or cowardly. And once a country orders its military to be on alert, it becomes ever more difficult to control subsequent events. This is because miscalculations and misunderstandings can easily and rapidly escalate a situation beyond the leader’s original intent.
Carl von Clausewitz, the greatest contemporary military strategist and theoretician, argued that war is “the realm of uncertainty.” Most of the factors that drive nations to war are based on information that is often not very certain; all too often leaders have to second-guess their opponent’s intentions. While each side’s plan (which may be purely defensive) can be seen, its intentions cannot be inferred from those plans. So the other side sees defensive plans as offensive and menacing. It is this that escalates the situation from its defensive to an offensive posture.