This month started with one of the fiercest diplomatic spats between Rwanda and Uganda playing out on social media after reports emerged that Kigali had stopped trucks from Uganda entering the country via the Gatuna border.
Senior officials, including ministers in Kampala and Kigali, took to social media to express their feelings, with Kigali going as far as warning its nationals against travelling to Uganda.
Dr Richard Sezibera, Rwanda minister of Foreign Affairs, twitted on March 1: “As explained to many journalists, all Rwanda’s borders are open. Trucks and heavy vehicles are advised to use Kagitumba due to ongoing construction at Gatuna. Rwandans are strongly advised not to travel to Uganda due to ongoing arrests, harassment, torture. Incarceration without consular access, deportation, etc. This is for their own security. Ugandans in Rwanda or travelling through Rwanda are safe.”
This attracted the ire of many Ugandans who felt the minister had gone too far. Hussein Kashillingi, a Ugandan lawyer with links within the establishment in Kampala, responded: “If Rwandans are being tortured in Uganda, why do they still travel here on their own? Why would it require you to “construct a bridge” with strict orders not to allow them cross over? But more importantly, why do we have Rwandans running to Uganda as refugees?”
Uganda and Rwanda have had a long history, including the current leadership in Kigali having been senior officials in the Uganda government before they shot their way to power. President Museveni has admitted publicly that he supported the Rwanda Patriotic Front led by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda in their pursuit to take over leadership in Kigali.
Relations have, however, been riddled with periods of mutual suspicion, quiet tensions and open hostility. In the mid-2000s, UK’s then International Development minister Clare Short had to be called in to help bring the two leaders together.
At one of the darkest moments, the armies of both countries twice fought each other during the infamous 2000 Kisangani clashes in the DR Congo, leaving hundreds of troops dead.
Last month, Kagame gave an interview to The East African in which he said his problem with Kampala originated from South Africa. He indicated rather surreptitiously that Uganda was supporting dissidents hiding in South Africa who are attempting to rebel against the Kigali government.
In Uganda, government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo twitted on March 1 that “Uganda remains welcoming to Rwanda nationals,” and asked Rwandan ministers to be “specific [with] cases raised on alleged arbitrary arrests or detentions shall be handled through normal diplomatic channels.”
This prompted Ambassador Olivier Nduhungirehe, the Rwanda minister of state for East African Community Affairs, to share a list of 20 people allegedly detained in Ugandan military prisons.
Nduhungirehe said: “There are more than 40 Rwandan citizens languishing in cells of Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence and more than 800 Rwandans who were deported from or refused entry to Uganda since January 2018.”
But Opondo responded: “Some names listed are properly before courts of law, some hold refugee status and cards although they have been frequently in Rwanda thus raising suspicion. Others entered Uganda as DRC nationals seeking asylum and some are Ugandan citizens with passports.”
Meanwhile, at the Katuna and Cyanika border posts, traders remain stranded and Uganda advised traders to use the Mirama Hills entry point.
“Over 130 cargo trucks stuck at Katuna border point; despite 52 having their papers processed by the URA Customs for entry to Rwanda. The cargo trucks have been halted from crossing over to the Rwandan side,” Uganda Media Centre tweeted on March 2.