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Dear Mr Museveni, we need DR Congo

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Author: Asuman Bisiika. PHOTO/FILE

The revelation that Uganda was aiding the M23 rebels was annoying. I have heavily invested my emotional resources into a good and healthy relationship between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

However, the short and long of this revelation is that the DRC government would find it very difficult to trust Uganda on other bilateral matters.

Even with my expected knowledge of possible contacts (even low level) between Ugandans and M23, I always insisted that there were no Ugandan contacts with M23 rebels. Now the UN Group of Experts have revealed that there are contacts; even clear and corroborated evidence that some M23 rebel leaders entered Uganda.

And the funny part is that some clever Ugandans don’t expect the Kinshasa government to express disquiet. By the way, I just heard a rumour that DR Congo and Burundi are toying with the idea of leaving the East African Community.

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Ms Dine Ahumuza and I had a very lengthy phone call on the matter of the relationship between Uganda and DR Congo. I told her that whereas I appreciate Gen Muhoozi’s engagement with Rwanda when there were issues, it should not have been at the expense of Uganda’s relationship with the DR Congo. This should not have been a problem. The basic requirement in this matter is to act in a manner that reflects trust and confidence building driven by (Uganda’s) strategic development interest.

Now the rumour is that the Congolese may consider the termination of the military cooperation that birthed Operation Shujaa. Yet the Congolese near the Ugandan border are so proud of UPDF presence in their part of the country.

There should come a time when the military is no longer the centrepiece of our foreign policy in regional engagements. There is a need for our regional engagement to be guided by business with a long-term view.

We must accept that under the leadership of Mr Museveni, Uganda’s relationship with Rwanda will always be driven by emotions other than tangible national interests. But the border closure and trade embargo the Rwandan authorities slapped on Uganda should have been an eye-opener.

The sustainability of this relationship needs to be calibrated to reflect a Uganda beyond Mr Museveni’s and Paul Kagame’s leadership.

The DR Congo offers trade and economic opportunities that border on captive market status. And if we appreciated these opportunities from the DR Congo, our first action should be to establish industrial parks in Kasese and Arua. Another industrial park in Gulu would cater to the South Sudan market.

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By 1975, Uganda’s neighbours were scavenging on what was left of the carcass of Uganda’s economy. Clearly, Uganda’s military ruler, Gen Idd Amin, had lost his famous economic war. Kenya’s attempt to develop Kisumu as an industrial hub had an eye on exports to Uganda.

Mobutu Ssese Seko of then Zaire (DR Congo) also tried to turn Kisangani into a manufacturing hub with an eye on Uganda. There was Sozaplast (Societe Zairoise de Plastique), Saza (Savon Zairoise), Sotexik (Societe Texitile du Kisangani) and many others. Ugandans smuggled coffee to Zaire and returned with cheap cotton fabrics made by Sotexik, soap made by Saza, plastic shoes made by Sozaplast. And we also imported their music.

If Mr Museveni and his government were serious about Uganda, this was supposed to be our turn (to avenge what Mobutu’s Zaire visited on us). My part of Uganda was economically and socio-culturally annexed to Mobutu’s Zaire.

Our language was influenced by French and Lingala verbiage. Zairois Lhukonzo became the standard orthography for our language. Dear Mr Museveni, we need Congo; please don’t annoy Tshisekedi.