Ministerial teams from Rwanda and Uganda last week met in Kampala in talks to resolve issues behind the bad blood between the two countries.
The talks were held under the framework of the Luanda Memorandum of Understanding signed by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda in Angola in August this year.
Nothing came out of the Kampala talks. And so the diplomatic impasse continues. In a sense, expecting a positive outcome would have been overly optimistic. The signs had been there all along that nothing was likely to change.
First, Uganda that was to host this round of talks postponed the meeting a number of times, which indicated either their unpreparedness or, more likely, unwillingness to do so.
Then the very reasons that have led to this state of affairs in relations have not changed since the first round in Kigali. Ugandan authorities had simply ignored Rwanda’s representations and carried on as before.
The arrest, illegal detention and torture of Rwandans in Uganda continued. Assistance to terrorist groups intensified. Economic sabotage took on another form: to bar cargo coming to Rwanda through Entebbe Airport.
As The East African reported this week, the cargo of imports was returned to sender.
Unable to reach any agreement, including a communiqué at the end of the meeting, the two sides could only agree to refer the matter to the heads of state to find a solution. In other words they sent it back to where it had all begun.
President Kagame has said publicly that he raised all these questions with President Museveni on a number of occasions. Each time the latter pleaded ignorance and promised to look into the matter.
It always ended there, with only a promise.
The next you heard of it was an accidental meeting at State House in Entebbe, between Museveni and leaders of the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), an outfit that has committed acts of terrorism in Rwanda.
Resolution of the matters at the centre of the tense diplomatic relations by the two heads of state has failed before, largely because President Museveni refused to take any action.
In the meantime, rebel and terrorist attacks have continued to undermine the security situation in the region. Which is why the Presidents of Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) got involved.
Is it going to be different this time? Optimists hope so. They cite the involvement of other heads, which they think might exert pressure, especially on Uganda to end its backing of groups that destabilise not only Rwanda, but the entire region.
Their hopes also rest on the recent events in the DRC where various rebel groups are getting a real beating. Many of them have been decapitated. Their members, leaderless, are either wandering in the jungles of DRC or have surrendered to the authorities.
Realists, however, are more cautious. They are aware of experiences in the past when differences seemed to have been resolved, followed by a really sunny period in relations, only for frost to freeze things again.
They also know Museveni’s diplomacy of procrastination that has come to define his national and regional relations. He is the master of promise, delay and do nothing diplomacy. He seems to be at it again.
Now, procrastination as a diplomatic tool has always been used to get certain results. But it is also a sign of insincerity.
It works like this. Where talks are involved, they are stretched over a long period to a point where they become endless, almost an end in themselves. There are three or more possible outcomes from this strategy of delay.
One, you promise to do something, then don’t do it or delay doing it, expecting that the reason for the promise will go away, or that circumstances will change in that time, or those affected will grow weary and abandon their concerns or resign to living with the situation as it is.
Two, you agree on something, but do nothing about it. In the meantime you increase activity in what led to there being an agreement in the first place so that when you meet next, you present a fait accompli and there is nothing to talk about again
In the present case, train and arm terrorists, deploy them in neighbouring countries from where they launch attacks on Rwanda and hopefully overthrow the current government and install one more amenable to their schemes.
Three, if the above objective cannot be achieved immediately, there is an alternative: destabilisation or subversion. Procrastination gives one time to build capacity to carry out subversive acts that are designed to disrupt and so weaken the state.
This is an attractive choice especially where open war is not an option because of associated costs and un uncertain favourable outcome.
In another sense, however, the Kampala talks might have yielded something positive. The Rwanda delegation presented factual evidence of Uganda’s involvement in the country’s destabilisation that cannot, in good conscience, be ignored. Ugandan authorities and media can no longer plead ignorance or demand proof.
Nor can the issues at the centre of disagreement be reduced to a border closure.
Such meetings are usually characterised by diplomatic niceties which may blur the gravity of the issues or paper over any disagreements. The Kampala meeting had them: Both heads of delegation reported the talks to have been open, frank and cordial.
But it was also evident they had been blunt. They could not hide the fact that there had been no agreement or the causes of the diplomatic tension.
Rwanda’s minister of state responsible for East African Community affairs and head of delegation, Ambassador Olivier Nduhungirehe, showed that Rwanda understood the diplomacy of procrastination and was not about to fall into that trap. He said: “We don’t need to multiply meetings. We don’t need to create commissions. We need to solve issues our people are asking about.”
Message: It won’t work with us. These are grave matters. Try something better.
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