What an irony, the chairmanship of the East African Community (EAC) is held by Rwanda and she is the first to go against the spirit of the community!
Rwandan president Paul Kagame took over the chairmanship of the EAC last month, but it appears he does not feel so East African enough yet.
Last week Rwanda arbitrarily closed its border with Uganda at Katuna (Gatuna). The goods from Uganda were not allowed to cross into Rwanda and Rwandans too were strongly advised against stepping into Uganda.
Later, the Rwandan minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Richard Sezibera, issued a statement claiming that his government had advised Rwandans against travelling to Uganda because Kigali could not guarantee their personal security.
Sezibera said Rwandans in Uganda have been arbitrarily arrested with no consular access, harassed, tortured and some deported. Whereas there have been cases of arrests of some Rwandans and arbitrary deportation, this cannot be used to escalate the matter to the point of closing borders and advising citizens against travelling to Uganda.
Rwanda and Uganda share a special relationship; there are so many Rwandans who were born, raised and educated in Uganda and take this country as their second if not first home.
Many of them have relatives across the two countries, and politically such a unique relationship should assuage any simmering conflicts. And it is because of such heterogeneity of interests that the revival of EAC came into play.
The East African Community was revived after collapse in the 1970s because of political differences among the leaders then. The new leaders also once claimed that EAC has been resurrected in order to remove the imaginary boundaries (borders) that had been created by colonial rulers.
That EAC people were arbitrarily divided by these borders without regard to their ethnic backgrounds. One then would have thought that the new leaders are keener on avoiding enhancing the colonial legacy and the very mistakes that led to the collapse of the EAC then.
The new EAC is about turning the region into one federation entity with a single customs territory (union) which would enable free movement of labor, people, goods and capital and remove the roadblocks that prevent people from moving across East Africa. Rwanda was not part of the revived EAC; at that time, it was only Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya.
Having recognized the importance of regional integration, Rwanda applied and in 2007 became a member of EAC. Since then, Burundi and South Sudan have also joined. It appears some egos and personal differences between leaders are creeping in again to spoil the values of EAC.
The ordinary citizens don’t seem to have problems with co-existence. The people want free movement of goods, to intermarry and live as one people. How ironic that seeds of acrimony and disharmony appear to be sown by the leaders!
We pray that sobriety prevails and the barriers at the borders between these two countries are removed. We also hope that the sour taste between the leaders is permanently resolved.