In June 2013, just months after being elected, president Uhuru Kenyatta visited Uganda. I gushed in this column that his was arguably the most substantial state visit yet. Let me reproduce the first paragraphs.
“He maybe an ICC indictee and only Kenyans know why they elected him, but president Uhuru Kenyatta may just have made a most consequential visit of any leader to Uganda when he dropped in last week.
“Wow! The meeting president Kenyatta had with President Museveni, also attended by president Paul Kagame of Rwanda, was solid.
“Let’s see: oil pipelines and refineries, roads, railways, electricity, single customs territory, joint disarmament of cattle rustlers, e-identity cards, single tourist visa, political federation, work permits.
“Apart from political federation – which I do not support for reasons I will give on another day – that was an impressive list they pinned down.
“Days before the Entebbe meeting, president Kenyatta had signalled his seriousness. He ordered his officials to cut the number of days it takes to move cargo between Mombasa and Kampala to five from 18 within three weeks.”
That visit also birthed what came to be known us the Coalition of the Willing — countries within the East African Community ready and willing to move faster on closer economic co-operation. The implication was that Tanzania and Burundi belonged to the Coalition of the Unwilling.
Things may have slowed down in terms of implementation of some of those elements agreed upon in June 2013, but the intent was ambitious in a nice way. For example, while Uganda disarmed its cattle rustlers, Kenya is yet to do so, and only recently did presidents Museveni and Kenyatta sign a memorandum of understanding on a “joint cross-border integrated programme for sustainable peace and social-economic transformation for Turkana, West Pokot and Karamoja”.
Goods are reaching Kampala from Mombasa a lot quicker, but workings of the single tourist visa are ish-ish.
And, of course, Rwanda closed its border with Uganda — and in an act of madness is shooting dead petty traders (so-called smugglers) for whom the common border is literally about life and death and therefore not something to be trifled with to feed exaggerated politico-military egos.
This is a really winding way to get to say that if Congolese president Felix Tshisekedi’s recent three-day state visit rises anywhere close to the heights of the Kenyatta visit, that would be excellent news.
The scope of the stuff agreed may not be as wide but was nonetheless impressive. According to the communiqué, presidents Museveni and Tshisekedi “reiterated their commitment to strengthen cooperation in a wide range of areas including trade, water, energy, trade, tourism, transport, communication and defence, with the view to promoting structural transformation for peace, stability and the prosperity of the two countries”.
Importantly, they committed to something specific. “They identified and agreed to undertake joint development of the following key networks within 24 months: Mpondwe-Beni Road (977Km), Goli-Bunia Road (181 Km), and Bunagana-Rutshuru Road (24 Km).”
They directed their ministers to “meet within two months and agree on implementation modalities for the road projects and how to deal with the other bottlenecks to trade”.
If only the honourable ministers can actually meet within two months and get things moving, that would be a great day.
Speaking as a selfish Ugandan for a moment, the identified roads, if built, would benefit Uganda more because for the foreseeable future we have more to export than import from DR Congo. According to Uganda government officials, Uganda exported goods and services worth $474m to DR Congo in 2018 compared to imports of nearly $40 million.
It is a good thing then that Uganda is strongly supporting DR Congo’s application to join the East African Community. A flourishing DR Congo is a potential force for good for the bloc.
But, as an aside, it was significant that within days of the Tshisekedi visit, the UPDF announced that it had created a mountain division to look after security in the expansive Rwenzori region.
Boosting of military defence capabilities in this area will not only allow for the projects agreed upon during the visit to go ahead, but to also keep an eye on a less-than-friendly neighbour given to incessant sabre-rattling.
Bernard Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala.