Of Rwanda-Uganda tensions and the ghosts of Kisangani – Part II

Monday February 4 2019


Norbert Mao. PHOTO | Daily Monitor 

By By Norbert Mao

The Great Lakes Region is a tough neighbourhood and given his capability to project military power in the region, Museveni had become the de facto sheriff of the Great Lakes.

After Kisangani, there seemed to be emerging another power challenging his hegemony.

Perhaps due to his patronage of the RPF luminaries, Museveni had assumed that Kagame and Rwanda would play second fiddle. He was wrong. Kisangani became a defining moment. It was a curtain raiser for fierce rivalry.

Tensions defused following a summit in Entebbe on March 25, 2018. The two parties made some commitments, however, the arrests and deportations of Rwandans by Uganda have not stopped.

Indeed within weeks of the Entebbe summit, Ugandan authorities in the border districts of Kagadi, Kisoro and Kabale reportedly arrested and deported several Rwandans. Rwanda has also complained that Ugandan immigration authorities are confiscating the identity cards of Rwandans travelling to Uganda.

Mutual accusations continue being traded. Rwanda accuses Uganda of backing Rwandan dissidents that are actively engaged in destabilising Rwanda.

Uganda claims that Rwanda has deployed several spies in Uganda with the aim of encouraging subversive activities. The Rwandan High Commissioner to Uganda went on record sometime back claiming that Uganda had failed or refused to investigate reports that terror groups operating in Uganda are plotting to attack Rwanda.

Rwanda has even accused President Museveni of backing vocal Rwandan dissident Dr David Himbara who they claimed Museveni has been talking to and has pledged to support.

This has led the Ugandan authorities to suspect that Rwanda has infiltrated the communications systems through spy wares. This may explain the security searches at MTN and the deportation of senior executives of Uganda’s largest telecom company.

This love-hate relationship between the two countries is confusing to many. One minute there is trading of accusations and the next minute there appears to be cordial relations.

These tensions seem to escalate whenever Uganda is headed to an election and they ease after elections. In the run up to the 2011 elections there was a lot of tension between Rwanda and Uganda.


After the elections, things cooled off and in 2012 Museveni awarded Kagame with the Most Excellent Order of the Pearl of Africa which is Uganda’s highest civilian award.

Uganda has also accused Rwanda of subverting elements of Uganda’s security apparatus and using them to identify, arrest and deport back to Rwanda certain persons of interest (to put it mildly) to the Kigali government.

Rwanda’s hardline stance against dissidents deemed to be plotting to destabilise the country or spreading ideologies of genocide is well known and understandable. In 2012, a well-known Rwandan refugee was assassinated in Kampala.

Kampala has been rife with rumours that Kigali was allegedly backing former IGP Kale Kayihura to topple Museveni! It is likely that Kayihura’s woes are related to the tensions between Rwanda and Uganda.

Museveni, like an aging Alpha male, is wary of threats to his grip on power and would seek to disrupt anybody he suspects of plotting his downfall. Kagame's focus is Rwanda’s state security and in particular his RPF regime. He has no apology for his actions, even the most unconventional ones, as long as it served the ends of state security.

It is anecdotal in Rwanda to say that when you have a small house, sometimes you have to step outside it in order to protect it because if you wait until the aggressor has entered the house, it may be too late to repel an attack.

It is not likely that Uganda and Rwanda will come to blows Kisangani style, but the tensions between the two countries threaten to deeply undermine regional cooperation.

The commentary was first published in Daily Monitor