One step forward, 2 back in Uganda, Rwanda talks

Left to right: Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda, João Lourenço of Angola and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda at Katuna border in February. FILE PHOTO

The Rwanda government on Monday last week handed over the body of a Ugandan businessman shot the previous Monday while reportedly smuggling boxes of cigarettes into Rwanda, bringing to five the number of Ugandans killed in similar fashion since last year.

The latest victim, Sydney Muhereza, 35, a resident of Kagogo village in Bigaaga parish, Butanda Sub-county in Kabale District, according to accounts provided at the handover of his body, was gunned down by Rwandan security 5kms inside Rwanda.

Muhereza’s body was handed over to Ugandan authorities at Katuna border, which has been closed since February 28, 2019. Rwanda closed both the Gatuna and Cyanika across the international border in Kabale and Kisoro districts respectively, stating that this was meant to pave way for some rehabilitation works; the latter was later reopened and is currently the only passage for cargo and passengers of all nationalities but Rwandans.

While the two governments have since embarked on shuttle diplomacy to normalise relations, the continued killing of Ugandans who stray even an-inch across the border puts the ongoing talks into sharp focus, especially in the absence of a clear timeline.
At the handover of Muhereza’s body on Monday, the head of the Rwandan delegation, Jean Marie Chantel Viwanyiringira, was quoted as condemning the acts of the illegal entry of Ugandans into Rwanda.

And with countries, as elsewhere, currently preoccupied with containing the growing embers of the coronavirus fears, officials, both officially and unofficially, speak in hushed voices on the matter.

Diplomatic sources familiar with the ongoing discussions told Sunday Monitor that more than once Kampala has raised the matter of the wanton shooting of Ugandans said to be crossing illegally into Rwanda and pressed for investigations but Kigali has defended that the victims are smugglers.

Publically, both Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa and President Museveni, who are authorised to comment on the normalisation of the Kampala-Kigali relations, have so far avoided commenting on the killing Ugandans, leaving the country puzzled.

It was only in January that the President loosely commented on the matter, when he donated Shs10 million to the family of Teojen Ndagijimana, a Ugandan national who was shot dead by Rwandan authorities earlier on January 18.
In his speech at the Budget reading on Thursday, President Museveni indicated that the country is stable “and nothing can disturb us here.”

“And we have been building a lot of capacity. When some people thought they would disturb Uganda, by crime and so on, they woke us up and we built a lot of capacity,” he said, after a long while without making such veiled comments.
Attempts to reach Mr Kutesa for comment were futile for two days.

However, diplomatic sources say Uganda’s only demand is for reopening of the Gatuna border “as soon as possible” while on the other hand Rwanda’s continue shifting now and then.

During the botched meeting of the ad hoc ministerial commission on the normalisation of relations between the two governments on Thursday last week, sources intimated that Kigali pressed for the release of all its citizens reportedly in detention centres in Uganda, and Kampala to cease all support to dissidents against Kigali. It is worth noting that these were among the sticking issues right from the start of breakdown of relations between the two governments early last year.

The latest meeting was the first since the fourth Quadripartite Heads of State Summit of President Museveni, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Angola’s Joao Laurenco, and DRC’s Felix Tshisekedi on February 21 at the Katuna--Gatuna border. Sources say the February meeting was a breakthrough and there was a glimmer of hope to the border reopening “very soon” before Covid-19 set in.

But last Thursday, the Kigali delegation pressed that Kampala has to look into all of their demands before the border can be reopened.

The virtual meeting chaired by Mr Kutesa and attended by, among others, Rwanda’s Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation minister Vincente Biruta; DR Congo’s Deputy Prime Minister Gilbert Kankonde Malamba and Angola’s Minister for External Relations Tete Antonio, did not go down well.

Mr Kutesa, who spoke for the most part on behalf of Ugandan delegation, also, uncharacteristically traded barbs with his Rwandan counterpart, on the prickly issues.

As Rwanda pressed for the release of all its nationals, Mr Kutesa said there was a group of 130 prisoners, who had been pardoned by the President, who would be handed over. These were handed over early this week as well. He, however, hinted that there was another group of 310 prisoners held on capital offences who were not about to be released and whose details they would share with Kigali, that is when the meeting derailed.

Ugandan authorities also raised concern, in passing, that there were Ugandans who are incarcerated in Rwandan jails. This, the, Rwandan delegation countered that the Ugandans in question had been legally processed through the judicial system, unlike their nationals in Uganda. However they committed to grant the Ugandan High Commission in Kigali access to the Ugandans in jails.

Subsequently, the meeting of the ad hoc ministerial commission comprising of diplomatic and security officials from both sides ended without a joint communique to reflect the mood or the next step.

The ad hoc commission for normalisation of relations was agreed upon by the two governments in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by President Museveni and President Kagame in August last year.

Other key points included in the MoU included, resumption of cross-border activities between both countries, including the movement of persons and goods, refraining from actions conducive to destabilise or subversion in the territory of the other party and neighbouring countries.

Since the first meeting of the ad hoc commission last September several demands have come up, some of which have been met and others not.

While relations between the two governments have been on and off over the past years, and the solution to the current standoff ostensibly lies in the August Luanda agreement; given the complex relationship between the two main principals at loggerheads, the path to peace remains littered with obstacles.