It was the author Simon Sinek who wrote that “leadership is a way of thinking, a way of acting, and most importantly, a way of communicating”. As the political temperature in Uganda boils over what is going on at our border with Rwanda, no one knows for sure what our government thinks, what actions it is planning and even what message it is passing to the citizens. All we hear is the usual mantra that there is no fundamental problem between the two countries.
If indeed there’s no fundamental problem between the two countries, then they have a funny way of showing it. Top officials are trading accusations and counter accusations. There’s tension at the border, with heightened security.
Media reports said Rwanda had deployed heavily at the border with Uganda. A statement by Uganda’s Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa said Rwanda had closed its border seriously restricting the free movement of people and goods. The Ugandan Trade ministry has issued an advisory of border crossings.
President Kagame vowed to defend Rwanda and hinted at assassination plots against him. He even suggested that those responsible for the Tutsi Genocide are getting support from some regional leaders. Clearly, we have a tinderbox awaiting the tiniest of sparks to flare.
Speculation abounds. The statement issued by Mr Kutesa says very little about any plan to defuse the tension between the two countries. He just flatly denied the allegations made by Rwanda’s officialdom. The statement offers no assurance. Statecraft is complex. No country can admit harbouring hostile elements plotting the overthrow of another. Yet they routinely do it. It is the reasons for such actions that vary.
Tanzania hosted combatants who overthrew the Amin government. Libya helped train anti-Obote forces belonging to Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA) and Kayiira’s Uganda Freedom Movement (UFM). Rwanda and Uganda provided safe passage to forces that eventually overthrew Mobutu. Uganda also hosted the Sudan People’s Liberation Army that was fighting Khartoum.
Countries also tend to routinely lie about their relations with dissidents from other countries. Truth is the first casualty of conflict. Indeed I read somewhere that during periods of conflict the truth is so valuable that it has to be closely guarded by a pack of lies. I think this is the case here. There is no smoke without fire. The allegations being made by Rwanda against Uganda and by Uganda against Rwanda need independent investigation.
The arguments being peddled that this is sibling rivalry fuelled by the outsize egos of two men who want to dominate the region is not convincing. Equally unconvincing is the argument that Uganda is envious of Rwanda’s achievements relative to its size, population and resource envelope. If that were the case, South Africa would be envious of Botswana.
There’s something the two leaders are not telling us. Kagame has made some statements but Museveni’s silence is deafening! We need to seek explanations elsewhere. When leaders have been in power for long and have even changed rules of the game to prolong their stay in office, voices of dissent will become louder and louder. Both leaders in Uganda and Rwanda have erstwhile insiders who have joined the ranks of the opposition. It is possible that these dissidents enjoy sympathies from within the hearts of the two respective governments. Naturally, these voices of dissent create internal stress within the ruling group and may even galvanize external pressure to bear on a governing elite.
As matters stand now, it is the citizens that are paying the price of these unnecessary squabbles. It is laudable that Uganda has not closed its border with Rwanda but restrictions have come with consequences. The border restrictions must be lifted immediately. We also deserve the truth about what is going on. An impartial mediator trusted by both parties should urgently facilitate talks between the two countries.