Truth holds key to agreeable solution to row

Rwanda made the mistake of conflating two unrelated yet sensitive issues when it announced the decision to partially close one border point - the most used - with Uganda and the urging of its nationals against travelling to Uganda due to increased harassment.

Since then, it has laboured to explain that all the other borders were open except for the temporary partial closure (for heavy trucks) at Gatuna. This gaffe was quickly exploited by the authorities in Uganda, who were gifted with a weapon to use in their pushback against Rwanda’s warning to its citizens.

More than anything, Kampala has used it as an irritant against Rwanda, which in turn has decried the “false equivalence.” However, with the border construction nearing completion – per updates from Gatuna – it will no longer be easy to ignore the issues at hand.

Uganda’s eagerness to push on the border issue was intended to neutralise one of Rwanda’s three complaints that include, supporting the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (better known as FDLR under its French acronym), sabotaging trade by intercepting its goods intended for the Mombasa port or the Kenya market, and the harassment of Rwandans in Uganda. Clearly, with the border issue, Uganda could counteract Rwanda’s charge against Uganda for its obstruction of the free movement of goods by claiming there is sabotage on “both sides.” Apparently Uganda was so intent on maximizing on Rwanda’s communication gaffe that the authorities never mentioned that within days all trucks had entered Rwanda through the advised entry points.

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By pushing this “false equivalence,” as Rwandan officials have repeatedly termed it, Uganda could stonewall on the other complaints because “both sides are to blame.”

However, as the shelf-life of this argument comes to an end with the opening of the Gatuna border, so dies the "both sides are doing it” narrative.

But the warning to Rwandan nationals against travelling to Uganda will remain, since it was never supposed to be conflated with the other stuff, anyway. And as it remains, the reasons for it come to the fore. This is the crux of the problem between the two countries; unless it is fixed nothing else will matter.

Rwanda’s charge that Uganda supports the RNC and the FDLR and the latter’s counter-charge that the former has an unusual number of spies present there are inextricably linked. If they are not disentangled, don’t expect any diplomatic progress. 

A systematic approach is warranted in this task. The first thing that needs to be examined is the evidence: Rwanda’s claims of Uganda's support for the RNC versus Rwanda’s spying.

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Among Rwanda’s key evidence is the UN Group of Experts report that was released on 31 December 2018. Among other things, it implicates Uganda as part of a “recruitment network” for a coalition of five –“P5” – anti-Kigali rebellion.

Remarkably, Uganda generally admits to supporting the RNC. In March 2018 President Museveni admitted, during a joint press conference with President Kagame in Entebbe, that his Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) had assisted RNC recruits to try to cross the border at Kikagati on their way to the RNC training centre in Minembwe via Bujumbura, another key source of logistics support for the RNC, according to the same UN Group of Experts' report that implicated both countries.

Museveni’s recent letter to Kagame concedes to yet another aspect of support to the RNC: Meeting top RNC officials. Even if one was to believe his claims such meetings did not lead to any agreement to provide material support to the RNC, the fact that Museveni hosts them constitutes giving legitimacy to the RNC.

It’s not a strong defence when Museveni says that he only meets the RNC for tea. Indeed, the fact that he shares tea with them the RNC may be the worst of the admissions Museveni could make regarding the organization.

It is important that Museveni gives details on his complaint that his country is littered with Rwandan spies. He can’t possibly expect that he will continue to concede to Rwanda’s complaints all the while characterising his own complaints as mere “stories” that he hears and that he is silent for a reason: “I will never raise them unless I have confirmed them.”

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Uganda is caught between a rock and a hard place. Even if it were to present the complaint regarding the supposed spies, it would find itself having to explain whether Rwanda sent spies to Uganda before or after it had established a relationship with the RNC (and the FDLR).

Sometimes silence is all a person can afford; but for how long?

The writer comments on regional issues.

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