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Doubts Come a Day After Uganda, Rwanda Sign Pact

President of the Republic of Angola Joao Lourenço (C) shakes hands with Rwandan president Paul Kagame (R) next to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (L) after the signing an agreement, Aug. 21, 2019, in Luanda, Angola.
President of the Republic of Angola Joao Lourenço (C) shakes hands with Rwandan president Paul Kagame (R) next to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (L) after the signing an agreement, Aug. 21, 2019, in Luanda, Angola.

A day after the presidents of Uganda and Rwanda signed an agreement to lower tensions that led to a six-month border closure, political and economic analysts are casting doubt on what will follow. Observers say underlying trade issues have not been addressed.

The agreement signed Wednesday by Uganda President Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda President Paul Kagame is being only hesitantly welcomed in both countries.

In the pact the two leaders agree to respect each other's sovereignty and avoid action that could destabilize either country. But analysts say the deal does not address underlying issues that led to the closure of the border.

In Late February, Rwanda closed the border at the Gatuna-Katuna crossings in the Kisoro district. Since then, Rwanda citizens reportedly were advised not to enter Uganda, and business came to a standstill, with Ugandan traders denied entry into Rwanda.

Kiiza Africa, an economic analyst with the regional trade body SEATINI (the Southern and Eastern Africa Trade Information and Negotiations Institute), recorded complaints from 6,000 traders, 70 percent of whom were women, during the border closure.

He said even though the agreement indicates the two countries will open the border, including movement of persons and goods, the traders will not withdraw their legal case.

“The East African Court of Justice should pronounce itself that no such a thing should ever happen again in the region. Another, which is the core of the case, compensation for the affected parties, who are the cross-border women, the informal traders, that has not been done," said the analyst.

Since the border closure, Uganda’s Ministry of Trade recorded an intra-trade loss with Rwanda of $920 million by the end of July.

Since March, the two countries have traded accusations of kidnappings, detentions, killings and spying.

Rwanda publicly accused Uganda of abducting its citizens and supporting rebels who want to overthrow President Kagame.

President Museveni, in a letter published in the Uganda government newspaper, admitted meeting some of the anti-Kagame forces but said he does not support the idea of an overthrow.

In an effort to implement the U.N. Luanda Resolutions intended to stabilize the region, the leaders agreed to establish an ad-hoc commission that is headed by the ministers of foreign affairs and includes the ministers of internal affairs and heads of intelligence.

A need for political change

Political analyst Dr. Tolit Atiya thinks the ad-hoc commission will not resolve any issue because politics issues continue to directly affect citizens of both countries.

“In as long as the citizens continue to mobilize against good governance or what they see as oppressive governance, this shall continue to play alongside each other’s borders. And the principles need to look straight into the matter and begin to discuss probably what they are avoiding the most. And those are the issues of governance,” he said.

Both analysts also questioned why the agreement was signed in Angola and not within the East African region. That's where both countries are members of the East African community led by President Kagame, who is the current chairman.

Kiiza said there's a need for political change because of the constant differences between top political leaders.

“You start seeing a lot of protectionism, a lot of inward looking from the other partner states. And we can only do that by putting aside political differences and looking at economic gains. But also by strengthening the disputes-settlements body,” he said.

It remains to be seen whether the signing of this pact will see a final conclusion to the ever-growing political tension between the two countries.