Rwanda, Uganda must resolve differences for the sake of their citizens

Wednesday March 13 2019


President Yoweri Museveni (centre) hands over the EAC chairmanship to President Paul Kagame in Arusha on February 1, 2019, as President John Magufuli looks on. PHOTO | FILBERT RWEYEMAMU  

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The government’s decision to block Rwandans from travelling to Uganda a week ago escalated the feud between the two countries. It also affected their economies despite the two countries being historically connected.

Rwandan officials accuse Uganda of aiding the RNC and FDLR rebels. Uganda was mostly quiet about these allegations until the stand-off at the border forced the authorities to react. Although Uganda denies this, Rwanda has provided its evidence, including a supporting report from the United Nations Group of Experts that clearly shows how the RNC are recruiting fighters from Uganda and the region for its recently formed rebel group P5 — a subversive group whose leaders have been sentenced by Rwanda for among other crimes destabilising the country.

Rwanda also has a list of close to a thousand of its citizens who were deported by Uganda and about 200 who are still being held incommunicado in Uganda.

Kigali says the rationale for blocking Rwandans from going to Uganda is to protect them from being arrested and tortured in Uganda.

The decision by Rwanda to close its borders with Uganda, essentially blocking its citizens from crossing has been largely viewed as a political move to get Uganda’s attention to respond to the allegations, but the social and economic implications of this stalemate seem to have been ignored by both countries.

There are thousands of Rwandans who have their roots in Uganda, and thousands who still have their families in Uganda.

The economic interdependence between the two countries is an issue that has been grossly downplayed by the political machinations involved in this stalemate, and the cost is being incurred by the citizens of these two countries.

Every now and then you will hear a politician from either country talk down the benefit their economy accrues from the other, which is ridiculous given the data at hand. Data released by the Rwanda Institute of statistics last year shows that Uganda comes only third to China and the United Arab Emirates, in terms of import volumes to Rwanda. It imported up to $65.88 million in the third quarter of 2018 (42.85 per cent), chiefly selling food, live animals and manufactured goods to Rwanda.

Rwanda’s domestic exports of $21.11 million to the East African Community partner states in the third quarter of 2018 accounted for around 11.75 per cent of total domestic exports value, about 87 per cent were destined to Kenya ($18.36 million) and $2 million to Uganda.

This data however does not capture the millions of dollars in trade volumes transacted informally between citizens of the two countries, especially those living in border towns.

Uganda is Rwanda’s main frontier, through which traders access the Kenyan market, and it is the route through which imports that come through the Mombasa port reach Rwanda.

Sacrifices must be made for the sake of the economies and for the interests of citizens.