Uganda has been mitigated

Riddle: Imagine an army which has won no war in recent memory but somehow its commanders take credits for every loss, promote themselves to generals, field marshals and keep going back to a war won in their long-gone youth in centuries past, before we were all born, wearing uniforms and carrying assault rifles before the media at 80 years of age to intimidate civilians, and reclaim long lost relevance.

Hint: I am not talking about Uganda, I am talking about Zaire of Maréchal Mobutu.

Research shows that combatants that have been defeated on the battlefield turn against civilians, commit exactions, etc. As we all know, such an army is no army at all and sure enough, it posed little or no resistance when it was faced with a serious enemy, in spite of its fighter jets and other façade trinkets used over the years to keep civilians in check.

At times, as I was told by a soldier who marched to Kinshasa; “we didn’t even have to shoot at them, we were shooting in the air and they ran away.”

I am also told that after years of terror and bravado, Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada fled his State House, as did most of his soldiers when they heard that Israelis had raided Entebbe Airport.

Imagine flying in a country on a different continent, take over the airport, free your people, fly out, while the commander-in-chief of the said country has gone in hiding. The young Ugandan lieutenant-general of our time displays many of Amin’s attributes, except the hitherto last king of Scotland did not drink alcohol.

All signs of times point to the need for human solidarity and cooperation amidst a global pandemic. Yet our neighbors seem unwilling to let go of their fixation towards Rwanda.

To them every Coronavirus victim came from Rwanda, bats carrying the virus flew from Rwanda, parading a photo of an innocent Rwandan woman as a ‘spy’ sent to spread the Coronavirus in Uganda, and any objective reporting of measures taken by Rwanda to curb the pandemic trigger curious reactions from the Ugandan polity.

This piece aims to wish Ugandans well in these times of confinement while urging them to follow our lead and move on from us; at least for now.

The silver lining in the crisis has been that, as far as Rwanda is concerned Uganda has been mitigated. The massive detention and torture of Rwandan citizens – continuing to date in Uganda - has shed a light on citizens who, since time immemorial, have conformably accessed clinics, shops, schools, water points and other basic services across borders. That has now changed.

When the Rwandan government first issued a travel advisory targeting Uganda, some were hesitant at first asking whether their country could survive without Uganda. Uganda gave Rwandans months before we would go back begging for their goods to be delivered to us.

The reality has been different. As things stand today, we have no financial, nor security incentive to resume trade with Uganda. All that’s left is the human aspect. That too unhappily is being abused daily by Ugandans; it seems they took our kindness for weakness.

Yet this is something Rwandan negotiators are too polite to point out to their Ugandan counterparts: namely, that we have all to lose and nothing to gain in resuming trade with Uganda. Rwanda is Uganda’s market and them, not ours, as the rules of trade go, the client is king; in that sense we expect them to court us as we do foreign investors.  

If this crisis drags on any further, by the time Rwanda is ready to resume cross-border trade, it may not be to Uganda’s trade benefit. Key investments are being made in Rwanda to manufacture goods and offer services that were being procured in Uganda, and soon, Rwanda will have the capacity to offset the trade imbalance.

And numbers are there for anyone to see, since the beginning of the conflict, Rwanda’s economy grew at double-digit while Uganda had to request a quick loan from the IMF to bridge a financial gap. In a year since the crisis started, Uganda has suffered a three trillion trade decline.

To quote a Rwandan wise man, ‘abashatse kutugirira nabi nibo bahombye’ (those who wished us ill paid the price).

Alas, we aren’t in a zero-sum game; Rwandans do not gain from their neighbors’ loss. Ideally, we must grow together as a region. Uganda’s fortune is ours to celebrate, however, it mustn’t come at the cost of our security.

Our neighbors’ dreams of controlling us are insulting, given how they manage their own country. Even if we were to let them control us they wouldn’t know-how. The main characteristics of a system in disarray is its fear of shadows, hysteria and paranoia.

The Ugandan government is reduced to chasing ghosts, seeing spies in every Rwandan going about their business, and listening to a sort of Rasputin - a Tsarist-era dark figure holding malefic powers over the old Tsar, leading him to his slow, inescapable demise.

This was a strategic mistake by the Ugandan polity, not dissimilar to the French fifteen or so years ago, to demystify a long-held fallacy that Rwanda needed Uganda to exist.

I remember at the beginning of the crisis I had Rwandans to convince. Today, Rwandans and Ugandans alike have seen that Uganda’s ‘power over Rwanda’ is all hot air.

A good state of mind that will define our future encounters: commercial or otherwise.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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