KAMPALA – Ugandan parliamentarian and musician Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu alias Bobi Wine has said the impasse between Uganda and Rwanda can only be solved through diplomatic means to avoid armed conflict.
Bobi Wine says too many lives and livelihoods have been needlessly lost in previous flare-ups of war between ‘Rwanda and Uganda, claiming that there is a lot more that “unites us than what divides us.”
According to a statement issued on Monday, March 4, as tension continues to escalate at Kyanika border, Bobi Wine urges the principle actors in this state-of-affairs to stick to the diplomatic path for the benefit of the citizens of either country or the broader peace and prosperity of the Great Lakes Region.
The impasse escalated at the end of last week, after Rwanda fired the first shot, warning its citizens from traveling to Uganda citing safety concerns as announced by Rwanda’s minister for Foreign Affairs and government spokesperson Dr. Richard Sezibera.
Tensions then engulfed at Kyanika border as business came to a standstill after Rwandan authorities blocked vehicles carrying goods from Uganda.
Rwanda also refused pedestrians to cross to Uganda.
The Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) however, sought to mask the tensions and claimed that the cargo trucks from Uganda who were blocked from crossing into Rwanda at Kyanika border intended to pave the way for the upgrade of the one-stop border post. This explanation was entirely dismissed by the Ugandan government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo as false.
The bickering continued into the weekend as the diplomat Corp on both sides engaged, even on social media.
Given the background, Bobi Wine says the two neighbours are state parties to regional instruments and international protocols on trade and other forms of regional/international cooperation urging that this could help to settle the impasse as these instruments, he said, are backed by institutions and implementing mechanisms such as the East African Community Council of Ministers, the Summit, Court of Justice and farther afield, the General Assembly, among others.
Besides avoiding armed conflict, Bobi Wine says relying on these bodies will also help the region grow a culture of working through institutions and “insulate us against the ever-present dangers of personality cults.”
“As leaders, we should always bear in mind the fact that we have not inherited our respective countries from our forefathers but rather, borrowed them from future generations whom we owe a duty of care to ensure that we leave them a better world than we found,” he says.
Estimates indicate that the business community which is a crucial component of the region’s development as an economic bloc – is bearing the brunt of this impasse and has so far incurred combined losses upwards of fifteen million dollars in the past several days.
Cross-border retail sales, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, manufacturing and processing industries have suffered alike and that this will likely curtail our opportunities of registering a trade surplus as a community this financial year.
Uganda earns multiple times more in exports to Rwanda, which is its third largest East African trading partner after Kenya and South Sudan than the forex earning Kigali picks from Kampala.
In normal times, 300 to 400 vehicles ply to Rwanda via Katuna/Gatuna border, carrying household items, food, minerals, beverages, construction materials, and other manufactured goods.
Uganda last year raked in $197m from exports to Rwanda, lower than the $254m peak earning three years, but still ten-fold higher than $20m worth of Rwandan exports to Uganda.
Katuna Town mayor Nelson Nshangabasheija said he suspected the problems between Uganda and Rwanda were bigger than the official tiff over border access and alleged arrests.
“The problem looks more complicated and it requires the urgent attention of the two heads of states,” he said.
The traders’ chairman at Cyanika border town in Kisoro District, Mr. Geoffrey Barore Nombe, at the weekend said the border there had been closed for four days yet there was no construction going on the Rwandan side.
“All Rwandan nationals that have been crossing to Uganda through Cyanika border have been stopped. As business community, we are worried,” Mr Nombe said.
This border post clears about 70 cargo vehicles crossing to Rwanda during normal business, Mr Rogers Beingana, its head, said. He also said about 20 trucks were stuck there.
Mr. William Kiwarabye, a truck driver transporting fish, said he has been stuck at Cyanika border town for three days and the fish had started decomposing after he was denied entry into Rwanda.