It is a fortnight today since Rwanda shut its busiest border at Gatuna to commercial traffic from Uganda, citing ongoing construction of a one-stop border post. Granted.
Things quickly spun out of control. Kigali added a fresh layer of allegation that Kampala was harbouring and facilitating dissidents to destibilise it. Rwanda proceeded to ban its citizens from visiting Uganda where it claimed they risked arrest and detention.
Kampala has confuted those claims. Other than the rebuttals, Uganda has largely remained reticent. There is no articulation of fundamental inter-country differences to necessitate the obtaining sabre-rattling. We acknowledge tacit claims of leadership of one country plotting against the other.
However, no evidence has been publicly adduced to prove the counter-blame. So, the leaders and citizens are at a loss.
What exactly is the standoff about? Is it a case of personal difference between President Museveni and his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame, who share a long history of camaraderie?
We draw the attention of the leaders to the adverse ramification of their nascent belligerence on their countrymen and women whose welfare they each swore to promote. That the squabbles are hurting ordinary citizens is inescapable. They are no actors, but just victims.
Transporters abruptly blocked at Katuna/Gatuna border incurred huge costs and losses, especially those hauling perishables. Supplies to entrepreneurs in inland countries delayed.
Transport operators have had to lay off some employees. And individuals doing menial jobs at transportation hubs momentarily found themselves out of work.
These non-tariff barriers that impede citizen-to-citizen communication and businesses breach East African Community protocols on free trade and movement of persons, goods and services. It also undermines the significance of the regional bloc to the ordinary East African.
This is why President Kagame, as the bloc’s current chair, and President Museveni, as his immediate predecessor, should do all in their power to open communication and dialogue to resolve whatever seemingly intractable problem.
The two leaders cannot continue to proclaim integration and togetherness of the African people for market expansion and insurance of the continent’s future while blatantly banning citizens from crossing borders. Uganda and Rwanda are inextricably linked. Many of the peoples share common heritage. These countries are geographical neighbours, meaning each inevitably needs the other.
Its citizens have intermarried, some do joint businesses while citizens cross the border for education, health and employment opportunities.
We implore the leaders to disengage from bellicosity and respect the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of each other’s country. We welcome shuttle diplomacy by regional leaders and international partners. Let the leaders talk, listen and act in the interest of the led.