Uganda, Rwanda can only have a proxy war; armed confrontation too costly

Tuesday March 26 2019

Relations between Rwanda and Uganda are at their lowest since 2000, when the armies of two countries fought in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

While President Paul Kagame has explained to Rwandans and the world what he believes to be the cause of this conflict and how it could be resolved, his Ugandan counterpart, President Yoweri Museveni has largely denied a major problem exists.

Specifically, Rwanda accuses Uganda of three things: supporting dissidents and armed groups invested in fighting the government; framing, arresting, torturing, illegally imprisoning and deporting Rwandans in Uganda; and economic sabotage.

President Kagame told Rwandans last week that he did not only provide evidence to President Museveni, proving these allegations but also “begged” him to resolve the issue since it isn’t in the interest of either country.

On his part, President Museveni wrote to President Kagame on March 10, explaining what he believes the “small” problem to be and how to resolve it.

With President Museveni’s letter of denials and President Kagame’s unequivocal assertion that Uganda is backing armed groups to fight it, we could say we have arrived at an impasse whose ending isn’t clear.


Many people are now asking: What next? Borders have been closed and Rwanda has “strongly” advised its citizens not to travel to Uganda while Uganda has also issued a “travel advisory,” spelling out guidelines on goods destined to Rwanda or via its territory.

Some observers claim that “war is imminent.”

Recently, Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda, who claims to be close to the two presidents, wrote: “I think Uganda and Rwanda will most likely degenerate into war.” And, the rhetoric and signs from the two countries seem to signal that neither has ruled out armed confrontation.

Recently, President Museveni was quoted as saying: “Those who want to destablise our country do not know our capacity. It is very big. Once we mobilise, you can’t survive.”

As if in response to this, President Kagame told a gathering of his officials at the 16th government retreat last week, “When I hear somebody say no one can destablise their country, I agree. No one should actually be destablising that country but that country should also not be destabilizing others. I think it is a fair deal.”

This rhetoric comes at a time when, for the first since Kagame became president after the resignation of Pasteur Bizimungu in 2000, he was seen wearing a military uniform on two occasions while inspecting military drills and maneuvers.

Despite this military alertness, I think that since wars tend to happen in the dark — where misinformation and propaganda rule — the possibility of direct violent confrontation is lessened due to four factors.

First, the problem is now openly discussed and the public more informed of what the issues are than they were in 2000.

Secondly, since President Museveni hasn’t substantively accused Rwanda of anything, it’s unthinkable that Uganda can kick off the fight: How would it justify it to the world? That means that for war to start, it has to be initiated by Rwanda; something that wouldn’t be in Rwanda’s national interest. Diplomatically, it would be difficult to justify war, especially since both countries are donor-dependent.

Third, since the end of the cold war and ideological rivalries between the West and the East, inter-state wars have sharply reduced and support for it waned.

Fourth, the days of successful rebel groups is probably over due to technological advancement and information sharing. In the past, it was easier to mobilise, recruit fighters and move weapons secretly, today, it’s difficult as states’ ability to gather intelligence and share it in real time to undermine such activities is high just as ordinary citizens easily share information on such that makes the work of rebels difficult.

Danger of war

For example, everything President Museveni wrote about in his letter was already in the public domain. The same is true with the capture of FDLR spokesperson and intelligence chiefs at the border with Uganda late last year.

This tells us that this is an era of “people power” and citizen demonstrations running corrupt leaders out of power than it is for rebels.

That isn’t to say that the danger of war doesn’t exist for RNC, FDLR and “P5” aren’t mobilising to attend a wedding party; it’s to say it’s less likely today than it would have been 10 years ago. Thus, the only war feasible is probably a proxy one.

Christopher Kayumba, PhD Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, NUR, Lead Consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd, E-mail: [email protected]; twitter account: @Ckayumba Website: www.