Tiff between brothers of the Great Lakes has huge implications

“How can Paul Kagame be right and all his neighbours wrong?”

This was the question thrown at me by a university professor in a radio interview this week about the Uganda-Rwanda border stand-off. The point in dispute was the latest decision by Rwanda to close its border with Uganda.

Although Kigali has since somewhat relented, opening up one of its three border gates with Uganda on Wednesday, its decision the week before threatened to pit President Yoweri Museveni and President Paul Kagame against each other.

The two have a history that goes back to the 1980s, when Kagame was involved in the guerrilla war that helped catapult Museveni into power in 1986. Having won one liberation war, he switched his focus to the freeing of the country his parents had fled to avoid persecution of the Tutsi minority by the Hutu government in the late 1950s.

Today, the sabre-rattling between the “two brothers” of the Great Lakes region is beginning to be too common a feature. Who knows if the reopening of the Mirama Hills crossing on Wednesday will be sustained or if it signalled the end to the inexplicable but costly bickering between Kampala and Kigali.

The stand-off is hard to comprehend as neither of the two is open with the public on the source of their sporadic disagreements.

The closure of the border was ostensibly due to the accusations that Uganda was harbouring rebels working to unseat Kagame under the banner that includes the Rwanda National Congress (RNC).

1548243187546 - Tiff between brothers of the Great Lakes has huge implications
Rwanda President Paul Kagame File Picture: Markus SchreiberAP

To complete the tit-for-tat, Uganda had a Rwandan national, deported – Annie Bilenge Tabura, then head of sales and distribution for MTN Uganda, in January.

She was among the three executives at the mobile network operator with chief marketing officer, French national Olivier Prentout, and Italian national Elsa Mussolini, who was General Manager for Mobile Finance Services. The three were later joined by chief executive Wim Vanhelleputte, a Belgian.

The government of Uganda, now being sued by Vanhelleputte, viewed these people as a threat to its internal security. Among others, support for opposition politician and popular musician Bobi Wine was mentioned by Mussolini as the reason for the deportation by a government which believed the MTN executives were abusing their position to destabilise the country.

Without any hard evidence, the public and the East African Community (EAC) is left guessing. As the professor said, “the success of Rwanda is not sufficient grounds for any EAC leader to be jealous as to abet a rebellion against Kagame”.

The EAC and the Great Lakes region can ill afford any more tension. South Sudan is only now recovering from the civil war fuelled by the cold relations between Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar. The Democratic Republic of Congo just concluded an anxious election.

Kenya is battling al-Shabaab attacks. Tanzania – on its border with Mozambique – is shuttling in and out of violence and Malawi is about to go to the polls.

So much potential, yet so many squabbles; and we need African solutions to these African problems before foreigners interfere.

* Victor Kgomoeswana is author of Africa is Open for Business; media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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