Rwanda, Uganda and how to solve a problem like Gatuna

Friday February 28 2020



Benjamin Rukwengye

Benjamin Rukwengye 

By Benjamin Rukwengye

Movie buffs might have watched Little Italy, the 2018 romantic comedy, which cast Emma Roberts as Nikki, and Hayden Christensen as Leo. The two are daughter and son of Sal and Vince, former best friends now turned sworn enemies. They are in love, but their families are at war.

Initially, Nikki and Leo’s families are jointly running a joint pizzeria. The two families are so close-knit, it is hard to sift one family’s lives without having to wade through the other’s.

But knowing trouble’s attraction to paradise, their fathers get into a huge fight one day, which leads to a split – of the families and the business. Each family goes on to found a rival pizza business that just isn’t breaking even without the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the other half. The feud goes on for years, ensnaring even the children who have no idea who started it, why or what it was about. Nobody can take sides, even where logic prevails.

The tiff eventually leads to a pizza competition, which also ends in a brawl – or was it a draw (?) Long story short, as romcoms go, it doesn’t end in tears. It emerges that after all these years of aggression, the fight had actually started when Sal and Vince Nikki entered into and won the Little Italy pizza competition 10 years back.

After winning, they had failed to agree on whose respective parent to name the winning pizza after. For 10 years, the two families had been feuding – but only the two fathers knew the reason why – over a pizza name.
Does anybody know, what exactly is going on between Uganda and Rwanda? When it started? Why? When it will end? How?

It is pointless to go into accusations of who is guilty of what – because in instances like this, every player matters. The discussion, in my opinion, needs to focus more on assessing what’s to be lost or gained from this dispute. Some sort of détente, that has both countries reflecting on whether genuinely pursuing improved diplomatic relations is worth their while.

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Consider the 1960s, which were a difficult time for internationalism. The bipolar system orchestrated by the United States and the USSR, had brought the world to a literal nuclear arms race and there were proxy wars going on in every corner of the globe.

Amid that chaos, both superpowers somehow realised that there was more to be gained, if the threat of a nuclear war was neutralised. Something had to be done. Détente. Which explains the next 10 years or so of the Cold War, and whatever gains were registered in the international system.

I wonder how the two leaders in Kampala and Kigali can be brought to this realisation. Or is there nothing to be gained from it? Because you wouldn’t tell from listening to them and watching their actions. The two are the ones most likely to be quoted waxing lyrical about the future, and a great need for integrated markets, access to opportunities and a higher spirit.
It is also the kind of discussion that occupies majority of the young people of both countries.

Youth, teeming with dreams and aspirations where access to opportunities and markets aren’t closed off by borders. Where incomes meet the standards of living. Where the future isn’t beholden to a bushy past. Where law enforcement agencies protect, instead of diminishing the dignity and sanctity of citizens’ lives.

But as things stand, the two run a tight ship. But a brutal one too. Deviate from the prescribed line of thought or dissent and you might get thrown in jail, if you are lucky, or shot on the streets – even in a foreign capital. The youth, for whom this détente should matter most, won’t even take their opinions online. It is fall-in or “you will see us.”

Equating statecraft to a squabble over pizza would, of course be foolish, but how about suffering the severe consequences of a fight whose origin you know nothing about? Just ask the families of those who have lost their lives to shootings at the border or are still unaccounted for, in detention facilities.

There was a time when you looked to neighbours to provide refuge when things got heated at home. In this region, more than most. Those familiar with the two countries’ histories attest to how the two peoples are supposedly joined at the hip. Their leaders, even more so. What’s worth fighting for?

Mr Rukwengye is the founder, Boundless Minds. rukwengye86@gmail.com

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