Uganda and Rwanda have had a long history, including the current leadership in Kigali having been officials in the Ugandan army before they shot their way into power.
But the history dates back to 1959 when the Belgians started implementing political reforms in Rwanda in preparation for independence, challenging the then status quo of the Tutsi establishment. After the 1961 UN-supervised elections won by Party for the Emancipation of the Hutu, a wave of political violence followed, claiming many lives. This forced hundreds of thousands of Tutsi to seek refuge in Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and DR Congo. This is how Rwandan refugees including Kagame found themselves in the National Resistance Army and subsequently surviving then Uganda president Idi Amin’s wrath.
Uganda’s President Museveni has admitted publicly that he supported the Rwanda Patriotic Front led by President Paul Kagame of Rwanda in their pursuit to take over leadership in Kigali.
Historically the presidents of Rwanda and Uganda – and their countries – have been close allies. Kagame himself was among the “originals” of the National Resistance Movement that started a rebellion in 1981.
Uganda also gave crucial support to the Rwandan Patriotic Front during the civil war in Rwanda that ensured victory against genocide forces.
Unilateral border closure
However, the spirit of camaraderie has over the years suffered as a result of a series of hostile actions by the Kigali government towards Kampala, with the latest being the closure of the Katuna/Gatuna border citing infrastructure repair works. Kigali also blocked its nationals from traveling to Kampala.
However, in recent times, some Rwandans have been sneaking to look for food. Within days into the unilateral border closure, a Rwandan National identified as Elizabeth Mukarugwiza (37) collapsed to death as she fled from Rwandan forces at Cyanika border with Uganda. She was trying to cross into Uganda to buy food when Rwandan forces tried to block her from accessing Uganda through a porous border point. Currently, the price of soap in Kigali has gone up from 1,000 francs a month ago to currently 4,000 francs (Shs15,000).
The closure is seen by observers as another hostile act by the Rwandan government towards Uganda which has remained open to Rwandans intending to do business or visit their relatives. It should be noted that thousands of Rwandans live in Uganda peacefully despite accusations of harassment by Rwanda.
Deployment at the border
Following the unilateral border closure, Rwanda has deployed forces at the border with Uganda although Kampala has not responded.
The armed soldiers are visible in the hills at Mukaniga, Byumba, and Buganza. Also at Cyanika in Kisoro district, the Rwandan army can be seen patrolling the Rwandan side of the border.
Uganda's Internal Security Organization (ISO) officials and locals have confirmed the presence of the heavily armed Rwanda Defence Force soldiers along the borders. However, ISO officials say Uganda doesn't see a reason to also deploy armed personnel.
Kidnap of Refugees & Dissidents
Recently, President Museveni hinted at the dishonesty of Rwanda when he noted that integration and open border policy among East African countries will only succeed if various countries only use it for business other than working behind the backs of host governments for selfish activities. He gave an example of Idi Amin who sent spies to Tanzania during his regime, instead of focusing on business.
Similarly, Rwanda is said to have used Uganda’s hospitability between 2012 and 2016 to kidnap and illegally repatriate Rwandan exiles and refugees living in Uganda without following the due process.
Some of the kidnapped and taken to Rwanda are former security officer Joel Mutabazi and his brother Jackson Kalemera in 2013. Joel Mutabazi was Kagame’s former aide. While some Rwandan refugees and dissidents who were kidnapped in Uganda face life sentences, others have been killed and others never been seen again.
Harboring Ugandan Rebels
After the 2001 election in Uganda, three Ugandan colonels, Anthony Kyakabale, Edison Muzoora, and Samson Mande fled Uganda to Rwanda and declared war on Uganda. The three UPDF officers had supported Dr. Kizza Besigye during the 2001 elections.
The three including Dr. Besigye were said to be building what remained a shadowy rebel outfit named People’s Redemption Army (PRA).
The Kisangani attacks
At one of the darkest moments, the Rwandan forces launched a series of ambushes on UPDF soldiers during the infamous 2000 Kisangani clashes in the DR Congo, leaving hundreds of troops on both sides dead. Ugandan soldiers endured these surprise attacks by their Rwandan counterparts although they (UPDF) had instructions from the leadership not to escalate the situation.
Military sources in Uganda and regionally viewed this as treachery since Rwandan and Ugandan forces were friendly forces on the same side fighting for the same objectives. The actions by the Rwandan forces who could not have acted without Kagame’s express orders to attack Ugandan bases have according to sources guided Uganda’s relations with Rwanda. This relationship is now guided by caution, as illustrated by Kampala's measured tone approach compared to Rwanda ruble-rousing military and political brinkmanship.