The relationship status between Rwanda and Uganda may look complicated from the outside, but inside there is surprisingly no serious friction that should place citizens in panic mode across the borders.
It is squarely hinged on the bullish attitude exhibited by the ruling clique of Kampala and the refusal by Kigali to take it in that occasionally leads to what we see on the outside as complicated relationship.
This attitude is old stemming from late 90s as Uganda attempted to play the ‘godfather’ to Rwanda yet this was diplomatically disrespectful, arrogant and provoking.
However, Rwanda has played it cool and avoided getting dragged into this game and confined to proper diplomatic engagements.
For example Kigali has maintained Gen. Frank Mugambage as Rwanda’s High Commissioner to Uganda, a very excellent choice that Kampala never complains about.
Gen. Mugambage is invited to nearly all important national events, meaning he is a very welcome diplomat.
The General is a man schooled in Uganda, can speak some of the Ugandan languages and easily and freely mingles with the Ugandan elite.
Contrary in 2017, Uganda appointed Oliver Wonekha as High Commissioner to Rwanda stationed and resident in the Capital Kigali. She was fresh from a similar posting in the United States since 2013.
Unlike her predecessor, Wonekha may be present at some events in Rwanda, but she is not as visible and media friendly as her predecessor Richard Kabonero.
Definitely Kigali would have wished that Uganda posts to Kigali an equivalent of Gen. Mugambage, contextually speaking, a diplomat that would easily permeate the leadership in Kigali, at least one who the foreign policy strategists would relate with beyond formalities.
For example, Kabonero would easily speak Kinyarwanda; throw weekend parties inviting all Rwandans and Ugandans at his residence in Nyarutarama. Foods, alcohol and business cards and deals would be executed.
But for High Commissioner Wonekha, she is a rare person in public and there may be less than 20 articles she has been quoted or reported in local newspapers. In Uganda, Gen. Mugambage makes it to several headlines and quotes on a daily basis.
In diplomatic language, Kampala’s choice of Wonekha was to tell Kigali that there is no more milk and honey in your country, for those who know Rwanda’s deep folklore.
Because of this lack-of-honey-in-your-country game, Kampala has chosen to offer a quiet Wonekha to Kigali and would only send Sam Kutesa only for deeper engagements.
Yet, Rwanda has changed its Foreign Affairs Ministers several times.
Rwanda can only guarantee that there would be a deal if Kutesa flies direct from Kampala to Kigali.
In September when Uganda and Rwanda teams met in Kigali as part of discussions leading to implementation of the Friendship Agreement signed in Angola, something happened behind the curtains as they were locked for hours in a private meeting.
Rwanda had assembled a very unique team, strong in intellectual, legal, diplomatic and intelligence muscle and able to defend or negotiate strongly for Rwanda.
This team was led by Rwanda’s Minister of State in charge of East African Community Affairs Olivier Nduhungirehe.
The Ugandan team (pictured below) equally strong was led by Minister of Foreign Affairs Sam Kutesa. Both sides said they desired to have the full implementation of the agreement.
Someone privy with happenings at this closed meeting told Taarifa on condition of anonymity that although both countries had very strong and well assembled teams, Kutesa was not happy with the presence of some members on the Rwandan team.
For Kutesa’s gesturing, discussions between Uganda and Rwanda should seemingly be as though they are between former village mates or high school classmates.
We learnt that Kutesa is said to have made comments belittling some members of the Kigali team.
The Rwandan team is said to have expressed frustration that the situation has stooped too low to the extent that the two friendly nations have ended up in a room to be counselled and mediated by countries they fought, DRC and Angola.
For those familiar with regional history and geopolitics, Rwanda marched through the jungles and DRC all the way to Kinshasa and toppled Mobutu’s government before running the country’s military, with Gen. James Kabarebe serving as the army chief.
Subsequent wars were fought in DRC, Uganda being Rwanda’s ally.
Angola and other countries suffered a miserable defeat, before Museveni’s army gotten seriously beaten by Rwandan army in the Kisangani friendly clash.
Seating in a boardroom to negotiate a settlement between Uganda and Rwanda, with Angola and DCR as mediators, perfectly looked like an insult, undiplomatic as it sounds.
Rwanda and Uganda managed to conceal this fact, but it was flowing underneath their skin and a member of the Rwandan team politely reminded Kutesa how bad the setting looked like.
On their return to Kampala, Uganda is said to have explicitly told Kigali that when they send a team to Kampala for further talks, some members on the Rwandan team they hobnobbed with while in Kigali should not be included.
Rwanda and Uganda were scheduled to meet on November 18, but about 15 days before the meeting date, President Paul Kagame made changes in the cabinet and appointed Dr. Vincent Biruta as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation.
It is not yet clear whether this new appointment was aimed at reflecting the desires of the Ugandan side.
Since the Kigali meeting was also represented by members from the security, Gen. Patrick Nyamvumba, who is now heading the newly created Ministry of Internal security may also form part of this team that will go to Kampala.
Gen Nyanvumba was one of the commanders in the Kisangani clashes, same as Gen Jeje Odongo on the Uganda side, who was part of the Uganda team in Kigali.
Observes are suggesting both Generals should be in the same negotiating room.
Rwanda seems set to have these Angola agreement implementation talks concluded and may have adhered to all the changes Uganda wants effected on the Rwandan team.
The meeting date has become another challenge because on November 22, Uganda and DRC are supposed to report to the International Court of Justice for a hearing on compensation.
Uganda owes $10billion to DRC resulting from damages accrued during UPDF occupation of parts of DRC 20 years ago.
Similarly on November 30, the East African Community Heads of States were meant to meet in Arusha and President Kagame is the current Chairperson of the rotating EAC seat.
Rwanda’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has written to EAC partner states that the bloc’s Heads of State summit will not take place on November 30, but has been pushed to early next year.
This communiqué signed by Olivier Nduhungirehe, the State Minister for EAC Affairs, does not provide reason for extension of the summit, but he said that it was at the request by an undisclosed member of the summit.
So, is the Kigali-Kampala relationship complicated?