Relief, excitement as Rwanda reopens Katuna border

The closed border between Rwanda and Uganda at Gatuna in 2019. PHOTO / FILE

What you need to know:

  • Businessmen and women living in the border town councils and trading centres have expressed relief and optimism, saying the gesture will restore and boost broken cross-border family ties, trade as well as economic development.

News of Rwanda’s reopening of Katuna border post with Uganda, beginning Monday, has caught many Ugandans by surprise, with local leaders saying no official communication has come through from the government of Uganda.

Both the Kabale District chairperson, Mr Nelson Nshangabasheija, and the Kisoro Resident District Commissioner, Mr Peter Mugisha, said they have not received any official communication from the central government confirming the reopening of the border.

“I cannot be excited about the rumor. If it is true, let Kampala officially inform us so that we can witness the border re-opening,” Mr Nshangabasheija said.

Mr Mugisha said: “There is no official communication about the border re-opening, all that we are seeing is the social media posts. I think we are yet to receive the official communication from the central government in Kampala.”

The Kabale Resident District Commissioner, Mr Godfrey Nyakahuma, said he was busy chairing some meeting and promised to give a comment after.

The Rukiga Resident District Commissioner, Ms Pulkeria Muhindo, also said she had not received the official communication about the reopening of the Rwandan border with Uganda.

But Mr Henry Oryem Okello, the State minister for Foreign Affairs in-charge of International Cooperation, said Mr Chris Baromunsi, the minister for Information, Communication, Technology and National Guidance, will issue an official statement regarding the reopening of the border.

Nevertheless, businessmen and women living in the border town councils and trading centres have expressed relief and optimism, saying the gesture will restore and boost broken cross-border family ties, trade as well as economic development.

On Friday morning, the Rwandan government issued a statement that was in turn tweeted by the state-affiliated Rwanda Broadcasting Agency and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, indicating that Gatuna and other land border posts with Uganda will be reopened, starting Monday, January 31.

This was echoed by Mr Adonia Ayebare, Uganda’s ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, who has been privy to negotiations to broker peace and normalise relations between the two East African nations with very close family and business ties.

“In his tweet on the reopening of the border, Mr Ayebare said: “This means a lot to people of both countries. Well done for this important step in restoring strong bilateral ties between the two countries.”


On February 28, 2019, Rwanda announced the closure of its border at the one-stop border crossing at Gatuna.

The official reason given was that the closure was aimed at allowing for renovations at the facility.

Cargo traffic was then diverted to Mirama hills and Kyanika border posts in Ntungamo and Kisoro districts, but those too were later closed.

Kigali shortly after issued a travel advisory to its nationals, warning them against travelling to Uganda, which it accused of, among other things, abducting its citizens and detaining them in ungazetted areas. It also accused Kampala of hosting and facilitating activities aimed at destabilising Rwanda.

Even amid the tension, there were attempts to act normal. In March last year, for example, Maj Gen Frank Mugambagye’s replacement as Rwanda’s Ambassador to Uganda presented her credentials to the Minister of Foreign Affairs then, Mr Sam Kuteesa.

Road to normalisation of relations

Over the last 35 months when the border was closed, there have been at least four tripartite meetings involving presidents Joao Lourenço of Angola and Mr Félix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and a series of lower level meetings between officials of the ministries of Foreign Affairs of the two nations, but they have not yielded much.

Meanwhile, the closure of the Uganda- Rwanda border continued to bite.

“Before the impact of Covid-19, Rwanda had been one of our major export destination in the region, Kenya is at the fore front followed by South Sudan, then DR Congo and Rwanda in that respect, you [can] realise that we have not been exporting even a quarter of the exports [that were exported] before the Covid-19 pandemic and the closure of the border,” Mr Jemba Kanakulya, the Kampala Capital City Traders Association (Kacita) deputy spokesperson, said.

Mr Kanakulya, however, said with the opening of the border, the business community hopes for the best.

“In this respect, I would encourage all Ugandans who have been exporting to Rwanda to keep a close ear on what is happening at the border and an open eye when the borders reopens for them to resume exporting to Rwanda,” he added.

“For export figures for 2020- 2021, in 2020, it was around $4.5m (Shs16b), in 2021, the export revenue [to Rwanda] dropped to $2.31 m (Shs8.2b) in 2019,” he added.

Local leaders speak out

The chairperson of Katuna Town Council in Kabale District, Mr Elvis Nzeirwe, said: “I welcome the news about the re-opening of the Rwandan border with Uganda because the cross-border trade will be revived, thus boosting economic development in both countries. Our closed daily and weekly markets shall be revived. Lodges and hotels that have been closed shall be reopened. The people who had lost their jobs shall get employed again.”

The town clerk for Katuna Town Council, Mr Eric Sunday, said his facility has been struggling to operate because of lack of enough funds to offer service delivery.

“Before the cross-border trade was stopped, we used to collect about Shs400m per year as local revenue from daily and weekly markets at the border post, trading license, night and day parking fees from long-route trucks, buses and taxis. We have so far lost about Shs1.5b in the last three years the border has been closed, and yet we have to provide services to the community members. We are optimistic that the reopening will translate into economic recovery and general development,” Mr Sunday said.

The chairperson of Kyanika Town Council in Kisoro District, Mr Erasmus Sanyu, said the news about the border reopening excited both the traders and local leadership as they expect free interaction, besides boosting trade.

“We are very excited about this news of border reopening and I am sure once it turns out to be a reality, there shall be an economic boost through the revived cross border trade.” Mr Erasmus Sanyu said.

Mr Julius Arineitwe, a clearing agent at Katuna border post, said it will be a great opportunity for him to conduct his business, which has been closed for about three years.

The chairperson of Katuna Traders Association, Mr Franco Korinako, said a group of traders had started cleaning their former workplaces after receiving the news on the re-opening of the border.

“There were more than 800 shops and about 40 hotels and lodges operating in Katuna Town Council before the border was closed. Now that plans are underway to have the border reopened, I am sure there will be an economic boost,” Mr Korinako said.

People behind the talks

Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba

The commander of UPDF Land Forces  and senior presidential adviser on special operations, was the last person to join the list of mediators in talks between the two nations, but turned out to be perhaps the most influential.

On January 16, he took to his Twitter account where he posted photographs of Rwanda president Paul Kagame. Along with the photographs came a reminder: “This is my uncle, Afande Paul Kagame. Those who fight him are fighting my family. They should all be careful”.

Gen Kainerugaba then flew to Kigali on January 22 and held talks with President Kagame.

“We held very cordial and in-depth discussions about how to improve our bilateral relations. I’m confident that under the leadership of our two presidents, we shall be able to quickly restore our historical good relations,” he tweeted after the talks that also resulted into the release from Rwandan custody, of a UPDF soldier, Pte Ronald Arinda, who is said to have “strayed into Rwandan territory”.

Mr Sam Kuteesa

Following the meeting in Luanda, Angola, in July, Uganda’s Foreign Affairs minister at the time, Mr Sam Kuteesa, led a Ad-Hoc Commission team from Uganda to Rwanda’s capital, Kigali to harmonise the implementation of the Luanda Accord. He has been key in subsequent talks.

President Uhuru Kenyatta

Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta was the first regional leader to make an effort to mediate between Uganda and Rwanda following the closure of the border. Early in March 2019, he held separate meetings with presidents Kagame and Museveni. First he met Mr Kagame at the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) Combat Training Centre in Gabiro, Eastern Province, where he was chairing the 16th National Leadership Retreat, before flying to Entebbe for a meeting with Mr Museveni at State House Entebbe. Details of what transpired remain the subject of speculation.

Angola President João Lourenço

President João Lourenço, hosted the first Quadrupartite Summit in Luanda in July 12, 2019, paving way for two other similar summits that went a long way in addressing some of the contentious issues between Uganda and Rwanda and ultimately paved way for yesterday’s meeting.

DR Congo’s Félix Tshisekedi

On May 31 last year, DR Congo’s Félix Tshisekedi hosted his Angolan counterpart João Lourenço, and Rwanda’s President Kagame, in Kinshasa, for what was branded the Congo-Angola-Rwanda Axis meeting. During the meeting, the three principals pledged to fight and defeat rebel groups based in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The meeting was the precursor to the first summit held in Luanda, Angola on July 12, 2019.

Ambassador Adonia Ayebare

Uganda’s Permanent Representative to the UN Adonia Ayebare was Mr Museveni’s special envoy to Kigali where he delivered a “special” message regarding the two countries’ relationship to Rwanda President Paul Kagame at his Urugwiro village on December 29 last year,  and again earlier this year. The diplomat indicated on both occasions that he had been warmly received, which raised hopes of improved relations.

Gen Katumba Wamala

The Minister of Works and Transport, Gen Katumba Wamala, who had previously not been known to be active in matters around the conflict, led Uganda’s delegation that engaged their Rwandan counterparts at Katuna border on February 7, 2020 to prepare for the fourth Quadripartite Summit.

Henry Oryem Okello

The State Minister for Foreign Affairs has been a constant feature in talks and summits that have been held over the last 35 months to try and resolve the differences between the two countries.

By Isaac Mufumba,  Robert Muhereza & Emmanuel Arineitwe