Museveni ‘handshake’ with Ruto expected to end DRC conflict, oil import dispute

Kenyan President William Ruto (left), Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at Kisozi, Uganda on February 26, 2024. PHOTO | POOL

President William Ruto’s meeting with Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni this week shouldn’t have been big news. They had been political buddies after all.

Except they hadn’t been reading from the same script lately, after Uganda opted for a plan B in importing oil and sued Kenya at the East African Court of Justice (EACJ). This week, fuelled by his own needs, President Ruto travelled to Kisozi in western Uganda, where he met with President Museveni.

In the meeting there was also Raila Odinga, Kenya’s opposition leader who Nairobi wants to be the next African Union Commission chairperson, and has been lobbying neighbours like Uganda for votes. Who exactly fixed the meeting is still a matter of conjecture, although credible sources told The EastAfrican that both President Ruto and Mr Odinga requested to see the Ugandan leader.

The initial intent, sources say, was to try to resolve the oil import dispute, a matter Mr Odinga was to mediate. The second was to discuss the Democratic Republic of Congo conflict and the third, to front Mr Odinga as the a candidate for the AUC seat and seek the support of Uganda in galvanising a divided East African Community (EAC).

President Museveni issued a statement, saying they discussed matters of mutual benefit and the EAC in general.

“I was happy to meet President Ruto and Rt Hon Odinga this afternoon at my farm in Kisozi. We discussed issues of mutual interest between our two countries and the East African Community,” he said. But President Ruto went further, indicating there is a path now to resolving the oil import dispute.

“We have agreed on a way forward of sourcing and scheduling imports for the region in a manner that will ensure we achieve the most competitive pricing and maximum logistical efficiency,” Presdent Ruto said.

One way of resolving the impasse is to grant Uganda specific privileges to import and schedule its own products. A source said that includes registering the Uganda National Oil Company (Unoc) in Kenya and hence depart from an earlier stance by Nairobi when Uganda requested, to operate as an oil marketer in Kenya. The conditions put forth by Nairobi, however, require that Uganda first withdraws the case at the EACJ.

President Museveni had reached out to Tanzania to use its Dar es Salaam and Tanga ports to import petroleum products to deal with oil cartels in Kenya. But the shorter distance in Kenya offered better choice if the matter of importation dispute was resolved. Sources say while President Museveni seems to be getting his way in Nairobi, he is not abandoning the Tanzania deal.

Kenya’s Energy Cabinet Secretary Davis Chirchir and Treasury Principal Secretary Chris Kiptoo, who were in Uganda, too, declined to comment on the matter.

On the conflict in the DRC, President Museveni pledged to be a guarantor of the Nairobi Process led by former president Uhuru Kenyatta.

President Ruto, on his inauguration day, September 13, 2022, named Mr Kenyatta peace envoy to the Great Lakes Region, somewhat complimenting his existing role of Facilitator in the Nairobi Process on the Democratic Republic of Congo under the East African Community.

But President Ruto and Mr Kenyatta, who have had local political differences, have never met to review progress and the Nairobi Process is somewhat dead. People close to Mr Kenyatta blame President Ruto for eclipsing his predecessor’s mediation, stalling the peace bid. Mr Kenyatta is said to have complained about the apparent sabotage of his travels, including being denied certain facilities both in Nairobi and at the EAC secretariat.

“Our cohesiveness had been lost on the matter and our military in the DRC looked ridiculous because we lacked political leadership necessary,” said a diplomat familiar with the Process. “Uhuru was left high and dry but was lucky, sort of, because other leaders wanted him to succeed in the DRC and they still want him to succeed.”

The Kisozi meeting may have been President Ruto’s Damascus moment. But it also re-roped in President Museveni. The veteran leader had initially declined, seeing that the Process needed direct political support from Nairobi first. After the meeting, President Ruto did hint at the desire to pacify the entire EAC, to achieve its integration pillars.

“Kenya and Uganda are committed to deepening the long-established diplomatic and economic ties between our two countries. This relationship includes bringing all the seven East African Community nations closer in their ultimate goal to form the East African Political Federation,” President Ruto said.