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confidentially speaking

The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 13th June 2019

Kagame, border-basher

Blue Lines

Whether the aims behind President Paul Kagame's closure of Gatuna (Ugandans call it Katuna), Rwanda's busiest border crossing with Uganda in February, were diplomatic, commercial or security, it seems to have failed on all counts. Although Kagame complained at length to diplomats and journalists about Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's 'betrayal' and his government's alliance with oppositionists such as tobacco magnate Tribert Rujugiro Ayabatwa and former chief of staff of the Rwandan Army, General Kayumba Nyamwasa, Museveni has dismissed them as non-issues. Rujugiro and Nyamwasa are both linked to the Rwandan National Congress which wants to overthrow Kagame (Pointer, Enemies without, and within).

Commercially, the border closure has hurt Rwanda far more than Uganda. It also disrupted regional trade routes from Kenya's Mombasa port through Uganda and into Burundi and Congo-Kinshasa. As current chairman of the East African Community and an avid backer of a pan-African free trade zone, Kagame's move disrupted the regional economy, as well as weakening his own country's economy.

On 10 June, Rwanda's announcement that it would reopen the border for 12 days looks like an admission of defeat. Kigali says it will still ban its nationals from crossing into Uganda to protect them from harassment by Museveni's security agents. But officials in Kampala insist this is to stop a growing number of Rwandan dissidents from seeking sanctuary.