Op-Ed: Rwanda reopens border with Uganda

By Jared Jeffery, Political Analyst at NKC African Economics

On Monday, June 10, Rwanda announced that it would reopen its border with Uganda to cargo trucks for 12 days.

The border crossing at Katuna (Gatuna in Rwanda) has been closed since February 26, with Rwandan authorities initially putting the decision down to construction.

However, over the intervening three months, bellicose rhetoric from both sides made it clear that the border troubles were a symptom of a far more serious issue.

Despite months of increased tension and thinly veiled threats of military action, Rwanda Revenue Authority Commissioner General Pascal Bizimana Ruganintwali and the country’s ambassador to Uganda, Frank Mugambage, kept up the somewhat insulting pretence of construction being behind the closure.

Mr Mugambage told Uganda’s Daily Monitor that the two-week opening to heavy trucks was in order “to test the grounds of the constructed one-stop border point at Gatuna.” Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs Richard Sezibera told senators on Monday that once the road is tested, trade would resume normally, “… but we don’t know when the Ugandan side will complete construction of the post …”

However, even as possible steps towards normalisation begin, Rwandan authorities continue to decry the alleged mistreatment of their citizens in Uganda and have said that Rwandans will still not be permitted to cross the border.

“That issue [Rwandans being allowed to travel to Uganda] will be solved when the issue of illegal arrest, harassment and torture of Rwandans in Uganda will have been solved by Ugandan authorities,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Olivier Nduhungirehe told Reuters on Monday.

For their part, the Ugandan first family has shown that it is also wary of its members crossing over to Rwanda.

According to ChimpReports, three of President Yoweri Museveni’s grandchildren were pulled from basketball teams participating in the Africa Basketball League (FIBA) U16 tournament taking place in Kigali.

President Paul Kagame and Mr Museveni sat together at the inauguration of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on May 25 – sparking speculation over whether there was a thaw in their relations.

However, that meeting came just as news broke that Rwandan soldiers had crossed the border and shot dead a Rwandan smuggler and a Ugandan civilian who had tried to intervene on his behalf.

The Ugandans made a show of returning the body of the Rwandan by inviting diplomats to attend the handover. That incident, it seemed, threatened to turn a cold standoff hot.

And yet, two weeks later, it seems normalisation rather than escalation may be on the cards.

As it is unclear what prompted the Rwandans to reconsider their closure of the border, it is too early to declare that matters will return to normal.

As long as the current leaders, with their long history of rocky relations, remain at the helms of their respective autocratic states, relations between the two countries will be vulnerable to such periods of instability.

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