What’s the cause of all this Uganda-Rwanda anxiety?

Thursday November 28 2019


By Karoli Ssemogerere

Last week, Rwanda president Paul Kagame sounded war drums in a terse tone to an anxious parliamentary chamber. The president promised hell to his country’s enemies who have “gone behind their backs.” This came on the backdrop of a relatively successful year in the region marked by several positive developments.
The DR Congo is open for business, leading a number of high-powered trade missions in the region. Peace in the DRC has also given breathing space to the Banyarwanda/Banyamulenge diaspora to trade at the borders and further inland. The local unit has absorbed this effect in its strengthening against the US dollar at a record 3,680 to the greenback up from 3,950 in July 2018.

The DRC has started talking to Uganda over the $10 billion war debt arising from liability imputed by the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Inside the DRC, there may be some tension between former president Joseph Kabila’s party, which is normal as he wants to potentially run for office again, but president Tshisekedi hasn’t run into direct combat with him, leaving that task for his Chief of Staff and political coalition partner.

There is now a big opportunity for Uganda and Rwanda to relocate factories into the Congo, especially if DRC’s application to enter the East African Community, (EAC) is considered.

In South Sudan, the warring parties are being nudged towards a settlement. Even Pope Francis and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby are planning to come. The price of crude oil may yet even recover making the economics of the deal more urgent. All major airlines are keeping the planes flying to Juba as they wait for a breakthrough.

Burundi had a big picture doing the rounds on social media of the president welcoming back his wife from a big trip at their State House. Quietly Uganda Airlines has cleaned the cloak of traffic to Bujumbura.


Kenya has exported oil, sharing some of the same legal issues with Tullow with Uganda. Uganda in the second half of the year doubled up on the inland refinery strategy after zero interest was expressed in taking up new oil exploration blocks, a development which may have woken up Uganda to a chance that the much hyped investment decision first expected in 2018, then 2020 and now 2022 may not materialise.

To that end, Total SA is in town to plead for lenient tax terms to allow the proposed Tullow farm down to Total and CNOOC to proceed.

Tanzania is preparing for elections next year. The region’s sleeping giant has picked up pace chasing Kenya for the region’s crown. Mr John Magufuli, a chemist, has cut down infrastructure project costs and laughed down the SGR cost a major project that has partly stalled on allegations of inflated bills of quantities.

Against this backdrop, there is an ongoing simmering tension between Uganda and Rwanda. Border closures, cross-border incidents, breach of protocol, etc.

In many respects, these may sound like empty threats, but not something expected in tough economic times. The border region is home to the most lucrative tourist region famous for the tracking of mountain gorillas. Uganda and Rwanda share electricity infrastructure. In fact, Uganda’s remaining export to Rwanda is electricity after fresh foodstuffs were turned away at the border.

The way we understand the border from days of siasa, it’s a colonial creation, an artificial homage to the interests of the Berlin powers. Kigezi, for example, could be at home in Tanzania and Buganda could comfortably fit the one quarter of its population into Rwanda effortlessly. In Poland, the Germans are returning in droves to access cheaper old age nursing care!

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