By Michael Woira
Rwanda is one of the smallest countries on the African mainland, located a few degrees south of the Equator and its president is the current chairperson of the East African Community, which unites all the countries in the East African region.
Trade between Uganda and Rwanda has been affected, with goods trucks stuck on either side of the border. Informal traders, too, have found it difficult to cross because of lack of affordable transportation since there is no easy means of transport after Rwanda closing its border and restricting its own residents from crossing to Uganda.
On Thursday 28th February 2019, Rwanda Revenue Authority issued a statement saying it was restricting cargo trucks from Uganda from entering the country at Katuna to allow for the completion of infrastructure upgrade at the one-stop border post. Hundreds of travelers were stranded at the border crossing, after they were barred by Immigration officials from crossing into Uganda.
Many of the travelers pleaded with the border officials, arguing that their reasons for travel were urgent, but to no avail. They were forced to return to Kigali kindly by force. The travelers who crossed into Uganda had to find other means of travel, as the road was blocked by trucks, and bus companies plying the route had suspended operations. Taxi operators took advantage of the situation and flocked to the border post to offer services at some hiked price.
On Friday 1st March 2019, the government Spokesperson Ofwono Opondo in a press briefing at the media centre addressed the media concerning what was happening and he openly assured Ugandans that there wasn’t any bad blood between the two countries since Uganda has always been a friend to Rwanda for the past many years that Rwanda has existed.
He was worried about how some of the people in Rwanda were barred from coming in this welcoming country, students too who study from Uganda were stopped from crossing the border yet at first the reason was that they were renovating the road then the story shifted to their president having a session at the district which is close to the border and in response to what Mr. Ofwono Opondo said that day, there came the Rwandan Minister of East African Affairs Olivier Nduhungirehe who accused Uganda of deporting and arresting its citizens.
The statement made by this minister was now enough to understand that there must be other issues as to why Rwanda closed the border which must be beyond the alleged road construction. Myself and a group of journalists from various media houses travelled to the borders to see what was exactly happening.
By exactly 7:13am, we were a few metres from Katuna and the many trucks that were lined up on the other side of the road were just enough for us to know we were almost at this border that is mainly used by the trucks to access Rwanda. Over 136 trucks were stuck there and in our engagement with the drivers, many of them told us that they were stopped from accessing the border but they never got to know of the real reasons as to why they were stopped.Many of the drivers had carried perishables like fish, tomatoes and other foods while as other trucks were carrying petrol and other flammable goods.
We went straight to the no man’s land and here the security officers from the other side were busy taking photos of us with their cameras which never stopped us from concentrating on the issue that had taken us at the border. Mr. Emmanuel Bamanya, the Team leader Uganda Revenue Authority, Customs department, Katuna border informed us that over 130 cargo trucks were stuck at the border point despite 52 having their papers processed by the URA Customs for entry to Rwanda. He also assured us that "My Commissioner is still engaging the counterpart to see to it that the vehicles that were denied entry are free to go".
By the time we left Katuna the situation was still the same with a few travelers being cleared at the Ugandan side to access Rwanda but no Rwandan was allowed to access Uganda for any reason.
Then our other stop over was Kyanika also called Cyanika by our counterparts in Rwanda and this border point is at Kisoro district in Uganda and Burera district in Rwanda. Here Ugandan registered cargo truck units were being kept at bay at the parking yard and none was allowed entrance. Though Kyanika is not one of the commonly used borders, there were still a number of trucks waiting to be cleared but the situation that we found at sight showed no business at all happening at the border.
Here at Kyanika, there was also an increase in the tariffs levied on the different kinds of goods that were heading to Rwanda and the price was doubled from 200,000 Rwanda Francs to 400,000 Francs (approximately 1.6M) and Maize from Rwandan Francs 150,000 to Rwanda Francs 300,000. But however much that these trucks were being cleared, they were not allowed in until the media team arrived that they allowed a few to enter the Rwandan side but still remained at the check points.
All in all, Rwanda never made any clear communication as to why it closed its borders and anyway it’s up to them because our Ugandan borders are open and will always be open to every rightful person who wants to work, stay and do any other lawful business in the country.
I personally don’t see any reason as to why a country like Rwanda which needs Uganda more can close the borders, they need food and many other products from our country and on while at the Kyanika border, those crossing were telling us of how angry and hungry some of the Rwandese were because they needed food which food was not being allowed in their country.
As we wait for the responsible ministries to deal with this issue, I request that our dear neighbor Uncle Kagame should act like the chairperson of the East African Community whose role is to unite the member states but not cause tension between them on mere allegations.
UGANDA MEDIA CENTRE