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Winnie Byanyima’s diplomacy

How Besigye’s wife negotiated a deal between Museveni and Kagame

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | On Dec. 03 2019, Winnie Byanyima, the executive director of the United Nations Aids (UNAIDS) programme, was at the airport in Kigali, Rwanda, when she received a telephone call. She was told President Paul Kagame wanted to see her.

This was strange because officials of the government of Rwanda had treated her badly during a UNAIDS conference in Kigali the previous two days. And many social media sites in Rwanda had been attacking her viciously for comments regarding the quarrel between Kampala and Kigali.

“Now that should make us angry and demand answers from our leaders,” she had tweeted when Rwanda closed her border with Uganda, “Closing borders and restricting movement of people and goods is hurting incomes and will kill jobs.” She then wondered whether Museveni and Kagame are accountable.

This angered the Rwandans. Rwanda’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs in charge of Regional Cooperation, Olivier Nduhungirehe, tweeted back saying: “What should make us angry madam, and I don’t recall seeing you on that front, is the arrest, detention and illegal detention of innocent Rwandan citizens in Uganda. This moral equivalence by which both sides are equally blamed may look nice but is in fact not moral.”

After that, Rwandan traditional and social media went into over drive and attacked Byanyima along the lines of Nduhungirehe. It was therefore surprising, sources close to Byanyima say, when this call came in. Unsure how to interpret this sudden turn of attitude, she postponed her flight and was driven directly to Kagame’s office.

After sharing pleasantries, Kagame looked Byanyima in the eye and said he had called her to apologize for the bad treatment she had suffered at the hands of Rwanda government officials. He said it was not the intention of his government but actions of overzealous officials. This warmed her heart and they settled down to discuss global, regional and then Uganda-Rwanda relations.

According to sources The Independent has talked to, Byanyima told Kagame that the quarrel between Uganda and Rwanda was embarrassing Africa. She then asked what the real problem was. Sources in New York and Kigali say Kagame was frank with her. He said there are many problems between the two nations and governments. One such problem was that President Yoweri Museveni was undermining Kagame’s authority by arresting Rwandans in Uganda, incarcerating them incommunicado and not releasing them.

“This makes me look impotent before my people,” sources quote Kagame as telling Byanyima, “Their families come to me seeking assistance and I am unable to do anything for them. And this is something I cannot share with the presidents of Angola and DR Congo, because they cannot understand it. But Museveni understands it very well.”

According to sources that talked to The Independent on condition of anonymity, Byanyima asked why Kagame had not told Museveni about this. Kagame replied that his efforts to reach out and talk to the Ugandan president, whether through emissaries or through telephone calls had gone unreciprocated.  Then, sources say, Byanyima asked Kagame if she should go and discuss this concern with Museveni. Kagame said he was okay with it.

According to sources, Byanyima flew from Kigali to Entebbe where she met with Museveni. After hearing the complaint, Museveni told Byanyima he was going to have all Rwandans detained in Uganda to be released. He told Byanyima he was going to find an envoy that he would send to Kagame to handle this matter.


  1. Twahirwa Richard

    That’s a great move!

  2. Great analysis

  3. Mr. Museveni can’t be trusted. Even his ally, the Devil can’t trust him.

  4. museveni continues to prove himself as a political giant who hovers above all.

  5. Bravo Madam Byanyima. Uganda and Rwanda must live in peace! Thank you your Excellency Paul Kagame for taking the first step to restore sanity. Thank you your Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni for reciprocating. We are one and the same people (never mind the borders) and the faster we unite to tackle the common enemy, the better. A united Rwanda and Uganda can easily take on hunger and poverty, low education, ignorance, poor health, weather vagaries-the works! Those are our common enemies and formidable ones too. Bravo again your excellencies,our people need peace and prosperity!

  6. “This makes me look impotent before my people,” sources quote Kagame as telling Byanyima.
    This was probably due to the lack of access to Pres Museveni due to the people around him. Otherwise,
    Kagame should have said this directly to President Museveni. You guys around the president you have kept people away from the president who were initially with him before you came around. Some of the people around the president are Johnny Come lately opportunists. He should sort them out. Why would such people block communication between two presidents? However, President Kagame also overreacted by closing the border and sending his soldiers to kill small scale traders along the border who tried to enter Rwanda simply for local cross-border trade. Apart from shaming Africa, this kind of behaviour of shooting people is diabolical.

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