After border construction ends, Museveni has some explaining to do

Rwanda made the mistake of conflating two unrelated yet sensitive issues when it announced the decision to partially close one border point - the most used - with Uganda and the urging of its nationals against travelling to Uganda due to increased harassment, torture, and illegal detention of its nationals in that country.

Since then, it has laboured to explain that all the other borders were open except for the temporary partial closure (for heavy trucks) at Gatuna. This was quickly exploited by the authorities in Uganda, who were gifted with a weapon to use in their pushback against Rwanda’s warning to its citizens.

More than anything, Kampala has used it as an irritant against Rwanda, which in-turn has decried the “false equivalence.” However, with the border construction nearing completion – per updates from Gatuna – it will no longer be easy to ignore the issues at hand.

Uganda’s eagerness to push on the border issue was intended to neutralise one of Rwanda’s three complaints that include, supporting the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (better known as FDLR, its French acronym), sabotaging trade by intercepting its goods intended for the Mombasa port or the Kenya market, and the harassment, detention, and torture of Rwandans in Uganda.

Clearly, with the border issue, Uganda could counteract Rwanda’s charge against Uganda for its obstruction of the free movement of goods by claiming there is sabotage on “both sides.” 

Apparently, Uganda was so intent on maximizing on Rwanda’s communication gaffe that the authorities never mentioned that within days all trucks had entered Rwanda through the advised entry points. 

By pushing this “false equivalence,” as Rwandan officials have repeatedly termed it, Uganda could stonewall on the other complaints because “both sides are to blame.” 

However, as the shelf-life of this argument comes to an end with the opening of the Gatuna border, so dies the “both sides are doing it” narrative. 

But the warning to Rwandan nationals against travelling to Uganda will remain, since it was never supposed to be conflated with the other stuff, anyways. And as it remains, the reasons for it come to the fore. This is the crux of the problem between the two countries; unless it is fixed nothing else will matter. 

Rwanda’s charge that Uganda supports the RNC and the the FDLR and the latter’s counter-charge that the former has an unusual number of spies present there are inextricably linked. If they are not disentangled, don’t expect any diplomatic progress. A systematic approach is warranted in this task. The first thing that needs to be examineed is the evidence: Rwanda’s claims of Uganda’s support for the RNC versus Rwanda’s spying. 

Among Rwanda’s key evidence is the UN Group of Experts report that was released on 31 December 2018.  Among other things, it implicates Uganda as part of a “recruitment network” for a coalition of five –“P5” – anti-Kigali rebellion led by Kayumba Nyamwasa.

Remarkably, Uganda generally admits to supporting the RNC. In March 2018, President Museveni admitted, during a joint press conference with President Kagame in Entebbe, that his Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) had assisted RNC recruits to try to cross the border at Kikagati on their way to the RNC training centre in Minembwe via Bujumbura, another key source of logistics support for the RNC, according to the same UN Group of Experts’ report that implicated both countries.

Museveni’s recent letter to Kagame concedes to yet another aspect of support to the RNC:

Meeting top RNC officials. Even if one was to believe his implausible claims such meetings did not lead to any agreement to provide material support to the RNC, the fact that Museveni hosts them constitutes giving legitimacy to the RNC.

In other words, it’s not a strong defence when Museveni says that he only meets the RNC for tea. Indeed, the fact that he shares tea with them the RNC may be the worst of the admissions Museveni could make regarding the organization.

Museveni has similarly feigned to take lightly –but never denying– that Tribert Rujugiro’s ventures in Uganda are not mere business but constitute an economic arm of RNC operations there.

While the FDLR has also been rumoured to enjoy unfettered access to Museveni and his close officials, this is analytically not essential for the task at hand, at least in view of the explicit complaints that Rwanda has placed in the public domain.

However, the senior FDLR officials, now in Kigali’s hands after they were intercepted on their way back from a meeting in Kampala that included the RNC, represent material evidence – not merely whether Uganda supports the RNC (and the FDLR); but, how far it has gone.

Clearly, the information the FDLR officials are divulging does not represent the red-line in Kigali’s view. This is the line – in how far Uganda is willing to go with the RNC and/or the FDLR – that would need to be crossed for Rwanda to consider Uganda’s actions as effectively a war declaration.

However, it certainly constitutes a “maroon-line.” This is the line that “strongly advises.” It also signals the possibility that some more steps by Uganda get us ever closer to that red-line, where the next natural step after the “strong warnings” is likely to be the severing of diplomatic ties. After that, the lines can change colours quite quickly - from maroon to red.

 Spying in Uganda

This is why it is urgent that Museveni gives details on his complaint that his country is littered with Rwandan spies. He can’t possibly expect that he will continue to concede to Rwanda’s complaints all the while characterising his own complaints as mere “stories” that he hears and that he is silent for a reason: “I will never raise them unless I have confirmed them.”

For the question then becomes, if they have not been confirmed and he can therefore not come out publicly about his government’s unconfirmed claims about Rwanda’s actions, why the anti-Rwanda actions his government and security agencies are already taking?

Why then be insistent on cases where not a single suspect in the

torture chambers has been convicted? How does the alleged spying become a bigger issue than what it unveils? Why the overblown concern assuming that it happens and there’s nothing to uncover, anyways?

Museveni is caught between a rock and a hard place. Even if he were to present the complaint regarding the supposed spies, he would find himself having to explain whether Rwanda sent spies to Uganda before or after he had established a relationship with the RNC (and the FDLR).

 Or whether, given those relationships with such compromising organisations, spying on what he is doing would be unjustified.

Sometimes silence is all a person can afford; but for how long?