The Gatuna Border Post was closed on February 26, with the Rwandan authorities initially putting the decision down to some construction work. However, combative oratory from both sides has made it clear that the border barricade was an indication of a far more serious issue.
Rwanda accuses Uganda of harbouring and supporting Rwandan dissidents seeking to destabilise the country and overthrow the Rwanda Patriotic Front-led government. Kigali further accuses Uganda of kidnapping and killing its citizens in Uganda.
Uganda in turn is accusing Rwanda of deploying spies in Uganda to undermine President Yoweri Museveni’s government and cause a regime change in Kampala. The fallout has been costly.
Uganda says it has lost more than $664million (R9.4billion) in exports to Rwanda, while Kigali has lost $104m in the three months Gatuna has been closed.
The data from Uganda’s East African Community Affairs Ministry excludes losses incurred by other service providers, such as transporters.
Uganda is believed to have over 30 000 professionals and semi-skilled people working in Rwanda. Kigali has a large number of students studying in Ugandan schools and universities.
Kenya, the regional economic hub, does not share a direct border point with Rwanda, but it has been affected indirectly, as Kenyan exports through Uganda have been locked out.
Andrew Mwenda, a Ugandan political analyst, writer and author, has warned that Rwanda and Uganda could be headed for war. Rwanda and Uganda have a shared political, ethnic and security history that has been friendly and hostile over decades.
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame fought in a guerrilla war that brought Museveni’s rebel group, the National Resistance Movement, to power in 1986. Years later, Uganda returned the favour and backed Kagame’s rebel group, the Rwanda Patriotic Front, to seize power to end the Tutsi genocide.
Kagame says the impasse between Uganda and Rwanda has to be resolved, because the alternative is “not worth thinking about”.
An urgent resolution to the stand-off must be found, but the big question is: Who should initiate the process?
Political analysts have touted Tanzania and Kenya as possible mediators. Others have suggested South Africa. But Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa appears to be best suited for the task, given his standing in the geo-politics of the Great Lakes region.
Mnangagwa is close to both Kagame and Museveni. He has not hidden his reverence for Kagame, who is admired for transforming a country devastated by war and genocide into a model country now touted as the “Singapore of Africa”.
* Jakachira is group editor-in-chief of AB Communications, a Zimbabwe multimedia firm which owns business, financial weekly and 3 radio stations.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.