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Uganda, Rwanda yet to restore cordial relations

Relations between Rwanda and Uganda remain strained despite a meeting in March between Presidents Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni to ease tension.

Reliable sources intimate that in the months that followed the meeting in Entebbe the tension between the neighbouring countries escalated.

“If anything, the situation is worse than it was in March when the two Presidents met. Rwanda believes Uganda did not act on the issues highlighted in the diplomatic note. Arrests and deportation of Rwandans by Uganda increased,” an intelligence source told The EastAfrican.

Kigali accuses Kampala of arbitrarily arresting Rwandans in Uganda and backing Rwandan dissidents seeking to destabilise Rwanda while Uganda on the other hand intensified its crackdown on Rwandans it says are on espionage missions in Uganda.

In Rwanda, last week some news sites published a story alleging that President Museveni spoke to Rwandan dissident Dr David Himbara, a former advisor of President Kagame, who has since become one of Rwanda’s most vocal critics, purporting that the Ugandan leader commended the Canada-based scholar “for the work they do” and offered his support.

Despite the ongoing war of words, The EastAfrican understands that plans are underway to revive the Joint Permanent Commission (JPC) through which top Rwandan and Ugandan officials regularly meet to straighten out differences that threaten their bilateral ties.

Dates for when the commission meeting will be held are still undisclosed, but top on the agenda will be debating allegations about Uganda’s alleged support of Rwandan rebels, authorities from both countries confirmed.

Matters to be discussed will also focus on other accusations including Ugandan authorities’ unlawfully arresting, detaining and torturing Rwandans in Uganda.

JPC dates
Other matters to be tackled include the alleged segregation of Ugandan workers in Rwanda, where some reported that were fired from their jobs without tangible explanations despite a regional protocol that provides for free movement of labour.

Rwanda’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Olivier Nduhungirehe told The EastAfrican that the revival of the JPC will provide a good mechanism for solving these issues and reaching common ground on strengthening co-operation.

“There are problems we both know of that need to be ironed out, and we are talking. The JPC dates will be confirmed at a later stage but diplomatic channels in both countries are open and we are discussing,” Mr Nduhungirehe said.

When President Kagame and President Museveni met earlier this year, they instructed their ministers of foreign affairs to convene a JPC within three months to discuss underlying matters.

The meeting was scheduled for mid-July but it was cancelled after it coincided with the Comesa Council of Ministers meeting in Lusaka, Zambia that kicked off on July 18. A planned state visit to Rwanda by President Museveni is yet to take place.

Officials told The EastAfrican that although the JPC was suspended, Rwanda and Uganda continuously seek solutions to these problems behind closed doors, largely because they share a long history of friendship and open borders that have eased travel for the citizenry.

“The JPC was not cancelled as some media claimed. It had to be shifted to a future date because it coincided with the Comesa summit.

Both countries have a long history of friendship and it is clear they mutually want to solve any bilateral problems,” a top Ugandan official said on condition of anonymity.

The relations could also be better without some inflammatory statements that are made by politicians on both sides of the aisle, the source at the Ugandan High Commission added.

“As talks resume, some politicians need to stop making the inflammatory statements they make in public against their neighbours. This applies to both Ugandan and Rwandan politicians,” the source said.

Arrests

In November last year, Ugandan authorities arrested 45 Rwandans and charged them with terrorism.

They were arrested along the Uganda-Tanzania border claiming that they were travelling to Tanzania as evangelists.

Upon their arrest, Rwandan authorities insisted that the individuals were members of the Rwanda National Congress, an opposition group mainly composed of exiled former military officials.

“Problems emerged between Rwanda and Uganda when Rwandans started to experience arrests and torture upon travelling to Uganda. We also noted that about 40 people were arrested along the Uganda-Tanzania border as they travelled to join rebel training,” Mr Nduhungirehe said last month.

“These are problems that worried us and it became imperative that both countries speak and find solutions to them. Dialogue is ongoing and it is important to ensure that both countries find lasting solutions and concentrate on areas of mutual benefit to their citizens.”

Although Uganda’s constitution recognises Ugandan Banyarwanda as one of its indigenous tribes, they reported segregation by the immigration officials, who confiscate their national identity cards when travelling to Rwanda.

Border authorities defended their actions to this paper, arguing that confiscation of identity cards does not target Rwandans alone but any individual who is suspected to have acquired the document illegally.

“Uganda’s national identity card system is relatively new, and some people exploited it to get the document fraudulently while others have mistakes on the cards. Once we suspect any of these problems, we confiscate the card,” a Ugandan official said.

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