Rwandans travelling to Uganda have resorted to going through Tanzania as uncertainty shrouds the opening of the common border at Gatuna, six months after Kigali blockaded it and advised its citizens against crossing into the neighbouring country.
Now, travellers use the Rusumo route in the southeast, cross into Tanzania and proceed to Kampala, a gruelling 12-hour journey.
The journey through the direct route via the Gatuna border post is four hours shorter.
There is no direct bus to Kampala through Rusumo. Passengers catch buses to the Tanzania side from which they board others to Kampala. Matunda Bus operates services to Rusumo.
Some travellers who spoke to The EastAfrican said they have had to endure the detour due to business interests and families in Uganda, defying the advisory by Kigali that they risk being arrested, detained and tortured by Ugandan security agents.
Olivier Nduhungirehe, State Minister for EAC Affairs told The EastAfrican that if there were people still travelling to Uganda it was “up to them."
“What we know is that we discouraged them from going there because of their security. We cannot prevent them from going. We strongly advise them not to go to Uganda,” he said.
BORDER TRADE AFFECTED
The EastAfrican toured the border area at Gatuna this week and found the informal cross-border trade dead.
Trade in foodstuff is now one way, with Ugandans allowed to cross into Rwanda to buy or sell goods.
Forex shops are, however, still thriving due to a large number of Ugandans and tourists who cross between both countries. Second-hand clothes and liquor are still major trade items at the porous borders, although the smugglers face arrests after both countries increased patrols on either side of the border.
Gatuna remains closed to Rwandan citizens and cargo trucks, even after construction works were completed mid last month.
Until its closure in late February, Gatuna was the busiest border crossing between the two countries, recording 35,000 exits and 32,000 entries monthly.
It is a familiar situation experienced at the other two Rwanda-Uganda border posts — Kagitumba and Cyanika — with no Rwandans authorised to cross over to Uganda, while Ugandan exports to Rwanda are still restricted.
Immigration officials said only Rwandan diplomats are allowed to cross into Uganda.
Rwandan cab drivers transporting passengers to the nearby town in Kabale are also allowed.
Rwanda accepts virtually no imports from Uganda, particularly cement and beverages and Ugandan officials have accused Kigali of imposing restrictions on regional trade against the EAC Common Market Protocol. But Rwandan officials argue that they are simply enforcing quality standards.
The border was partially reopened to trucks for two weeks in June on a trial run before it was closed for completion.
Unlike road travel, which is heavily restricted by Rwandan authorities, air travel to Uganda remains open for Rwandans.
Those who can afford it fly from Kigali to Entebbe, with a return ticket going for $450.
Some Rwandans have been deported from Uganda in the past months, and a group of nine have gone to the East African Court of Justice to sue Uganda for alleged illegal arrest, torture and deportation.
Uganda has denied the allegations.
Tensions between the two countries have now crept into every fabric of the two neighbours’ relations, affecting not just politics but business and even social and cultural ties.
About a month ago, Presidents Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni met in Angola and agreed to “permanent, frank, open multilateral and bilateral dialogue." Since then, both leaders have not met and their differences remain.