It’s almost two years now since Rwanda-Uganda relations started escalating to worrying levels.
This culminated to Rwanda’s decision to “strongly advise its citizens not to travel to Uganda due to ongoing arrests, harassment, torture, illegal incarceration without consular access, deportation, etc., of Rwandan citizens” as tweeted by the country’s Foreign Minister, Dr Richard Sezibera.
He added that: “This is for their [Rwandan nationals] own security. Ugandans in Rwanda or travelling through Rwanda are safe.”
Why this decision and why has Rwanda taken this long to act?
There was a time when Rwanda-Uganda relations could be described as being characterised by “tensions.”
This was even prior to Uganda starting to arrest and torture Rwandans.
Once these acts began, the situation could no longer be described as one of mere tensions.
These were acts of outright aggression.
Indeed, as long as the other side did not react in a similar vein, then the right description could be said to be that these were Ugandan provocations towards Rwanda.
But why wasn’t Rwanda retaliating in similar coin and equal measure against Ugandans in Rwanda, and why has it circumvented this temptation, instead advising its citizens to avoid travel to Uganda?
The answer is that, like all provocations, it represents a trap. The appropriate counter to such a trap is, moreover, to side-step it, denying the provocateur what they seek to further the aims for which they set the trap in the first place.
It is only by grasping what this trap by the Ugandan regime that we shall get to the root of the problem between Uganda and Rwanda and understand Rwanda’s recent choice of its course of action. Indeed, it is how a solution to the problem can be identified.
So what is the trap?
Some Ugandan taxi-park and bar-room commentators like to think that Rwanda’s cautious approach is motivated by its inability to do without Uganda.
It is most unfortunate that this jingoistic attitude persists. It is condescending and gives rise to specific outcomes that are likewise unfortunate.
A variant of this Ugandan misconception is that the problem is solely between Museveni and Kagame. It sees the two men as private individuals. They are not, and thus differences between them cannot be private.
Moreover, even if one were to concede that the two have private disagreements, they cease to be private the moment others – ordinary people in this case – become casualties. It is, in other words, time to bury these two misconceptions.
Why has Rwanda continued to be provoked to no end?
The moment the Ugandan authorities decided to support organisations that seek to destabilise Rwanda – notably Kayumba Nyamwasa’s Rwanda National Congress (RNC) and the genocide perpetrators of the FDLR – it needed to lure Rwanda into open enmity.
This was important because it would give post-facto justification to this support and to do so openly without regional and international opprobrium.
The problem is that those who decided this policy in Uganda put the cart before the horse.
They assumed Rwanda could be easily baited into this trap. For as long as Rwanda resisted this temptation, Uganda was stuck with this hot potato in its hands.
One way to deal with its discomfort was to create a diversion with assertions that Rwanda was spying on Uganda.
But then that also begged the question: What exactly was Uganda doing that it needed so desperately to keep out of the view of “spies?”
At any rate, the strategy was to continue provoking Rwanda for a reaction, such as reciprocating the abuse by targeting innocent Ugandans in Rwanda, or finding Ugandan dissidents it could also sponsor to establish an equivalency.
The carefulness of wording of Dr Sezibera’s statement is not a coincidence. It clearly states that Ugandans in Rwanda or travelling through Rwanda are safe. In other words, don’t expect Rwanda to fall into the trap that the Uganda regime wants as a pretext to openly throw that country’s weight behind the RNC and FDLR.
Rwanda will not help Uganda to sanitise its criminal project. Under the circumstances, the best it could do was to protect its citizens by preventing them from travelling to Uganda and exposing themselves to abuse that is unlikely to cease so long as that country remains committed to these rebel organisations.
As long as Rwanda does not falter and provide this pretext, the ball remains squarely in Museveni’s court.
In March 2018, at a joint news conference between the two heads of state, Museveni claimed “there is no fundamental problem between Uganda and Rwanda” and that whatever problem exists can be solved by officials of both countries “picking up the phone” to talk to each other.
It seems obvious that Museveni must now pick up the phone and call Kayumba Nyamwasa in South Africa and tell him that their alliance is off.
It appears Kayumba may be expecting this phone call, which explains why the RNC is most angry at the new developments.
The author is a Great Lakes political analyst and media expert.
The views expressed in thisarticle are of the author.