Rwanda-Uganda border tale calls for maximum restraint

Thursday June 13 2019


By Karoli Ssemogerere

For once, government of Uganda has handled a feeble escalation of provocative cross-border tension with Rwanda with maximum restraint. This will mark a watershed in managing relations with the two countries woven together by centuries of blood ties, migration and now social ties and economics.

Exhibit A in the relationship is our Foreign minister Sam Kahamba Kuteesa, 70. Mr Kuteesa is married to a Rwandan national like many other Ugandans and this is neither unusual nor should it be of any concern. So many Ugandans are actually marrying and raising families across both sides of the border. Many weddings commence with okuhingira in Mbarara and the after-party dance group dusts off its shoes in Kigali.

Exhibit B are Ugandans who travel to and from their homes in Kabale, Rubanda and Ndorwa districts via Rwanda. Katuna is a major terminus and border crossing between Uganda and Rwanda, but also a major transit route for many Ugandans who travel from Kampala to Kabale to their rural roots in Kabale. In these border communities, Ugandans travel to Rwanda on market days and vice versa.

Exhibit C are Ugandans of Rwandan origin who still have active ties across the border. These include pensioners, ex-servicemen, business people and returnees who still travel across the border for family and social reasons, weddings, funerals, family holiday, etc. This category are closely identified with petty cross- border trade - transporting small volumes of commercial goods to “eat” with their relatives. One such instance of rude disruption is forcing Ugandan travellers to throw away mundane items like dry food mostly maize flour and dry beans, which carry no security consideration. The only result from this is an alarmist and petty effect on very modest Ugandans.
Exhibit D are regular businessmen. Every evening, Rwandans, Kenyans and Ugandan businessmen descend on the northeast corner of Old Kampala hill to commence their travel to Kigali. These travellers spend a lot of money patronising the different high-end eateries such as at Javas and other more modest ones.

Buses to Kigali are typically boarded in this corner that KCCA is turning into a pedestrian zone. The more affluent types fly through Entebbe. I am told business is so bad for some carriers; it costs about $50.00 to fly to Kigali as passengers have simply disappeared. There are other categories of Ugandans and Rwandans who straddle the State apparatus in both countries. Rwanda’s Chief Justice Rugege hails from Kabale, so does their Attorney General, etc. The President himself is a former Ugandan military intelligence officer.
In Uganda, the story is the same. Many Banyarwanda have opted to live in Uganda and are high ranking officials in the country. These have also drawn Kigali’s ire asking them to exercise once and for all their right of return or otherwise forget about it.

There are many Ugandans of mixed parentage who have made Uganda their home who are subject of stealth social media wars trying to put them in a Gordion knot to declare or switch allegiance from one country to another. All these measures will come to naught. Frankly, Rwanda is landlocked just like Uganda. Disruption of trade will only cause prices of imported wares to skyrocket. At a time when major world prices of petroleum is on the rise, and the 960km Standard Gauge (a 74-page glossy prospectus) is no more, it is time to go slow on the rhetoric.


Both Uganda and Rwanda should be sitting down to cooperate on how to take advantage of the new window of opportunity presented by a new regime in the DR Congo. Mr Daniel arap Moi wasted a lot of time bullying Uganda for reviving her industries between 1986 and 1990, and woke up much later as western Kenya became a ghost town. Please Rwanda stop pouring our maize meal in the garbage.

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate.