Tension is building at the Uganda-Rwanda border following a decision by the Rwandan authorities to block any vehicles or Ugandans from entering or exiting the country.
It all started on Wednesday evening when Rwanda's security at Gatuna border barred trucks from crossing to either side of the border.
This morning, security officials also started barring buses carrying passengers from crossing to either side leaving several traders, passengers and truck driver stranded at Katuna border (Ugandan side). Abdul Lukwago, one of the concerned truck drivers said that he was driving to Kampala from Kigali only to reach at Gatuna border on Wednesday evening and was told to stop.
On asking, he was told by officials that no trucks are allowed to cross to either Rwanda or Uganda. Lukwago says that none of the Rwanda security officials have given them any reason for the closure of the border. Franco Korinako, the chairperson Katuna Border Business Community Association says that last week, Rwandan security officials without reasons barred Ugandan traders involved in the export of bananas, flour, cement and soda from entering the country.
Korinako also says that Rwandan security officials also last week arrested Alex Karemeera a prominent money changer at Katuna border while at Gatuna and is being detained in Kigali under unclear reasons. Korinako says that the Karemera's relatives have been denied access to talk to him where he is being detained in Kigali.
Korinako says that they are worried that this could result into a war between the two countries. Korinako wants both the governments of Uganda and Rwanda to come out and explain what is happening.
Kisoro resident district commissioner (RDC) Peter Mugisha said actually Rwanda has decided to block all its entry points with Uganda at Kakitumba (Ntungamo), Katuna and Kyanika (Kisoro).
Uganda government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo confirmed the development but called it a "small problem" that Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa has been tasked to resolve. Ofwono said, on Thursday, Rwandan students who usually cross into Uganda on a daily basis to attend school were also blocked by the Rwandan authorities.
Peter Rukundo, another truck driver says he arrived at the border on Wednesday around 10:00 pm carrying cement from Uganda to Rwanda but was stopped from crossing without any reason. Geoffrey Mujuni, a clearing agent at Katuna border says that both governments should come out and explain reasons why they have been barred from both countries.
According to Mujuni, Rwanda security officials manning the border have revealed on condition of anonymity that they are working on orders of their top officials.
Samuel Serwanga Bunkedeko, the chairperson of clearing agents at Katuna border says that they have also received communication that it is the same situation at Kyanika border in Kisoro and Mirama in Ntungamo.
Serwanga also explained that the problem started some weeks back when Uganda's Hima cement was blocked from crossing into Rwanda over unclear reasons. Serwanga also says that none of the Rwandan nationals is being allowed to cross into Uganda.
Our reporter was turned away from accessing Gatuna border by Rwanda security officials to get a comment from Rwanda Revenue Authority. By 1:30 pm, hundreds of trucks were still parked at both sides of the borders.
In a statement, Rwanda Revenue Authority (RAA) attributed the closure of Gatuna border to the on-going upgrading of the one-stop border post.
The statement dated February 28, signed by Rosine Uwamariya, RAA commissioner for customs services addressed to the commissioner for customs at Uganda Revenue Authority, RAA indicates that heavy trucks will diverted to Kagitumba/Mirama border post in Ntungamo district.
Uwamariya explains the diversion is temporary and aimed at reducing traffic at Gatuna to allow completion of the border post works. Uwamariya says that the diversion which has no time frame will provide the contractor ample space to accomplish works on time.
Relations between Rwanda and Uganda have been gradually been deteriorating over time with counter accusations of murder, torture, espionage, kidnap of each others nationals.
Last month Uganda deported a Rwandan national and the former MTN Uganda general manager sales and distribution, Annie Bilenge Tabura alongside Olivier Prentout over allegations of compromising Ugandan security. In a recent interview with the East African, Rwanda President Paul Kagame warned that the deportation of Rwandans was unfortunate and regrettable and ought to stop.
“It is very intriguing to find that, even with the history (between the two countries) and a good foundation, we have something like this [deportations] going on. And it goes on every day, even as we speak. It is hard to just put it in one word, or even a few words. All I can say is that it’s a matter that can be resolved. That must be resolved. Because the alternative is not something that we should even be thinking about, or entertaining,” said President Kagame is quoted as saying.
Kagame said Uganda was being fed and misled on wrong intel by Rwandan dissents based in South Africa.