OPINION: Uganda Versus Rwanda: Heads They Win, Tails We Lose

Ian Ortega.

By Ian Ortega

Tensions between Uganda and Rwanda have continued to escalate for over a year. It has been a game of ping pong that saw Kagame make a rushed working visit to Uganda some time last year. That too, didn’t save the situation.

Museveni at the time who had a bandaged hand could not offer a shake. Thus, the shake didn’t happen both literally and figuratively.

Rwanda claims Uganda has continued to arrest its citizens, torture them and keep them incarcerated without any explanation. Rwanda also claims that Uganda is harbouring or better still secretly supporting the likes of Kayumba Nyamwasa, his RNC fraternity and the new rebel outfit of P5 that recently declared war on Rwanda. Rwanda has all reasons to express its disgruntlement.

Uganda on the other hand claims Rwanda for far so long was illegally repatriating Rwandan refugees back to Kigali. This happened under the watch of some top police officers. Beyond the repatriation, Uganda has no strong case against Rwanda.

To explain why, we must understand Rwanda in the context of Rwanda. It is impossible to rule Rwanda without expecting that it will always come with some paranoia. Paranoia is how Rwanda works not how it fails. As such, Rwanda must always leave nothing to chance. The margin of error in Rwanda is too small that any slightest of errors could cause high impact. In statistics, we could call these fat tail risks. The probability of them occuring may be low, but the outcomes are extreme.

So put yourself in the position of Kagame. You have a cold blooded Tanzania that has never fully warmed up to your love. It once expelled some of your citizens. You have a Burundi that is convinced you orchestrated the failed coup. You have a DRC that for goodness sake is a world where anyone operates, from FDLR to P5. Then all of a sudden, you have a Uganda that has failed on all matters, diplomacy.

The beauty about guerillas that go on to capture power is that they learn to be highly sensitive to all matters of security. In security, the rule is, better to err on the side on caution than on inaction. As such, if you suspect someone is about to attack you, attack them first. Prempt their attack.

That is to say, if Rwanda suspected that Uganda was about to attack, Rwanda would waste no time but launch a war on Ugandan soils. In Rwanda’s case, this would prempt Uganda’s attack but it would also increase Rwanda’s strategic depth.

Rwanda is a very poor country, it cannot afford a war on its soils. But beyond that, Rwanda lacks geographical depth (the distance from Kabale to Kigali is shorter than Kampala to Kabale). If Uganda attacked first, it would be a matter of time before the forces reach Kigali. In this case, Rwanda would rather push the war to Mbarara and build resistance around there.

Secondly, Rwanda lacks political depth. You have a majority Hutu that is subservient to the RPF rule largely because of RPF’s military strength. Can Rwanda risk having a military rebellion on its soils? This too makes security a sensitive card in Rwanda. This also explains why Museveni has ruled Uganda for over 30 years. Although Museveni can tolerate dysfunctionalities in health, education, name it all. He has zero tolerance for the same in military. It is often said, that no one can move a platoon of soldiers a distance of more than 10km without permission from Museveni himself.

Why would Rwanda for example close borders or appear to be closing them? What if for example Uganda was smuggling firearms into Rwanda? And you as Rwanda got wind of that information, you would have to take some precautionary measures without directly appearing to be doing so. You can’t trust someone who brought you into power, they are always capable of trying to bring another person into power.

In 2011, Museveni and Kagame appeared to have made peace, to the extent of making endless visits to each other’s country homes. But it appears Museveni has never healed from the beatings of Kisangani. Could he be looking to settle that score?

What else could explain the appointments of people hostile to Rwanda? The past 3 years have seen Museveni appointing such people into serious positions. You have a Philemon Mateke, you have a Kaka, an Abel Kandiho and Salim Saleh himself. You can read the mind of a leader based on the appointments he makes. If Museveni is appointing people Rwanda is skeptical about, what does that say about Museveni’s attitude to Rwanda?

Above all, Rwanda thinks Uganda has been sabotaging it economically. There was the Northern Corridor project where Uganda changed its mind. Uganda was supposed to construct a rail line to Katuna/Gatuna. Then Rwanda would construct a line from Gatuna to Kigali. Uganda instead reneged on its promise. It claimed it would build a line first to West Nile on the border with DRC and South Sudan. It has been the same story with the fibre optics, oil pipeline, and even Rwandair, which Uganda has continuosly sabotaged.

As it stands, Rwanda seems to have a bigger case against Uganda. Uganda has tried to undermine Rwanda both politically and economically.

The question is; “beyond the claims of illegal repatriation of refugees, what case does Uganda have against Rwanda?” Uganda is a net exporter to all its neighbours. Uganda exports more to Rwanda both in volume and in value. Rwanda exports almost nothing. A friend joked that apart of the great chilli of ‘akabanga’ and one other item that’s a delicacy for those who frequent a venue along Acacia and Lugogo, there is no Rwanda export to Uganda worth mentioning.

Rwanda and Uganda are to put it, inseparable. The Banyarwanda are a tribe in Uganda. And a good number of people across the border speak Rukiga. In fact, President Habyarimana was Mukiga. If anything is to go by, Uganda needs Rwanda more than Rwanda needs Uganda.

In this fight of Uganda versus Rwanda, it is heads they win, tails we lose!

The writer is a Ugandan journalist and blogger with interests in business, engineering and technology.

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