RWANDA-UGANDA: When Covid-19 restricts the rejoicing of the reopening of the border!

By Erasme Rugemintwaza

The reopening of the border between Rwanda and Uganda was a big step towards the normalization of relations between the two countries in tension for more than 20 years! It is joy in the whole region of East Africa and all of Africa! However, the assessment of the first week of this diplomatic warming between two brotherly countries seems to be a rose whose thorn prevents to admiring the beauty of the flower? What about?

Problems of road works

The border between Rwanda and Uganda reopened on Monday, January 31, 2022, after three years of closure. This reopening did not initially go as planned since the Gatuna border post, on the Ugandan side, was still under construction. This first day, on the Ugandan side, the section of road leading to the border was still far from being finished and the workers were still much more numerous than the travelers, hence the crossing by heavy vehicles was difficult.

The driver who came from Bukavu, in the DRC, arrived on January 31, 2022, at three in the morning. It took him several hours to clear customs, and his truck, stuck on the road turned to mud by the heavy rains that night, had been pulled by one of the site’s tractors.
Note that the Gatuna border post is the easiest route to South Kivu and Burundi. It is, with the border post of Rusumo, like two arteries of the heart for Rwanda. Thus its reopening should allow the return of Ugandan products to the Rwandan market. In 2018, Ugandan exports to Rwanda – notably cement and foodstuffs – represented more than 211 million dollars (188 million euros), according to the World Bank. Rwanda exported 13 million dollars (11.5 million euros) of goods to Uganda. These figures had fallen from 2019, further aggravated by the Covid-19 crisis.

Satisfaction fuses all over the place

The son of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Lt. General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who went to Kigali on January 22, welcomed on 01/31/2022, on Twitter this “fully opening (of) our borders”: “This is a wonderful achievement. Now our people can freely move, trade and interact as Almighty God always intended!”

Border users are more than satisfied.

“Everything is great, we thank the Lord that the border is reopened. It is really good that it has been reopened and we are happy about it,” said Kassim, a Kenyan truck driver.

“We were losing a lot of our money, because we couldn’t cross the border. Sometimes when you wanted to buy something, you had to do it through mobile money, […]. Now we are glad the issue was resolved.” said Jean Marie Vianney Murwanashyaka, a Rwandan who lived in Uganda.

Before the effective opening of the border, the two governments showed exquisite satisfaction. The Rwandan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, in a statement published early Friday morning, stated that “(…) the Government wishes to inform the public that the Gatuna border post between Rwanda and Uganda will be re-opened from January 31 “. ” The Government of Rwanda remains committed to ongoing efforts to solve pending issues between Rwanda and Uganda and believes that today’s announcement will contribute positively to the speedy normalization of the relations between the two countries, “concludes the communique.

For it’s part, the Ugandan government, through the Foreign Affairs Ministries, made public a satisfaction statement:
“The Government of Uganda welcomes the statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the Republic of Rwanda through their official Twitter handle, about the reopening of Katuna/Gatuna border post.

We appreciate the efforts by the two Heads of States; H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and H.E Paul Kagame towards restoration of the strong historical ties, crucial for the well-being of the peoples of both countries. We look forward to continued cooperation in addressing any other obstacles to cordial relations.

We appreciate the Lt General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the Commander of the Land Forces of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) whose visit to Rwanda on 22nd January, 2022 gave assurance to the Government of Rwanda on Uganda’s commitment to addressing the remaining obstacles, hence the reopening the border on 31rst January, 2022 ”

Alongside these satisfactions from the respective governments involved in this politico-commercial affair, the Secretariat of the East African Community (EAC), “applauds the leadership and the governments of the Republic of Rwanda and the Republic of Uganda for their efforts towards reopening of the Gatuna/Katuna border post on 31rst Jan, 2022.” Just because their conflict has bruised a lot of the idelishment of the community.

Confusion due to Covid-19 protocols

Despite the reopening, the confusion was total at the border on Monday 01/31/2022. And this confusion which reigned this first day of the reopening caused a controversy.

A Ugandan security official at the border said on Monday that despite the announcement, there are still many unresolved glitches Rwanda is yet to clear.

According to an official who requested anonymity, Rwandan nationals are still being blocked from crossing to Uganda.  Ugandans are also still being blocked from crossing to Rwanda through Katuna and Chanika. Only those with Rwandan national identity cards are being allowed to cross to Rwanda from Uganda.  The official says that Rwanda is yet to reveal the reasons behind this.

Christine Tushabe, a Ugandan from Bageza sub county, Mubende district was found stuck at the border. She says that she had traveled to cross to Rwanda through Katuna border to accompany her relative for a burial ceremony. Tushabe however says that despite having all the necessary requirements she was told by Rwandan authorities that no Ugandan is supposed to cross to their country.  Tushabe says she was told that only trucks are the ones cleared to cross through Katuna and Chanika borders. Tushabe says that she was not told the reason. Tushabe says that what is being published in media that the border is fully open is completely different from what is on the ground. She says that she is now stuck since her journey has been frustrating. She wants Rwanda to tell the truth.

Sarafiina Nyiransengimana from Mubende district says that she was cleared to cross to Rwanda to attend the burial of her mother in Kigali but others who were accompanying her have been blocked. Nyiransengimana says that she is also still at the border wondering what will happen to Ugandans who have been blocked yet were accompanying her.

Abdul Ndilima, a businessman from Kabale town who was going to Kigali to visit his relatives says that despite the glitches which are yet to be solved, he will abide by the orders, while Kisoro District Chairman Abel Bizimana, protesting Rwanda’s blocking Ugandans from crossing into Rwanda yet Rwanda’s statement is clear that the border is open, now wants Rwanda to solve every glitch for the effective crossing by the people.

On the Rwandan side, the complaints were tempered.
“I was told the border was open, I came with the intention of crossing to Uganda and buying goods. But Rwandan immigration officials told me I could not cross until further notice. It’s quite confusing,” said a Rwandan trader who requested anonymity.

A woman also said she was told by an official to go home because “it is not possible to cross at the moment”.

Finally, the authorities of both countries explained that due to restrictions due to Covid-19, access was limited to citizens or residents returning to their country, as well as to goods trucks.

“Trucks, Rwandan citizens/returning residents are crossing into Rwanda at Gatuna as at other border points, in accordance with Covid protocols,” Rwandan government spokeswoman Yolande Makolo said on Twitter. “Rwandan and Ugandan health officials are working on joint Covid protocols, which will allow everyone to cross on both sides.”

Similarly, Ugandan Immigration Commissioner Marcelino Besigye told AFP that it has been “agreed with our Rwandan counterparts that priority is given to cargo trucks”. “Due to Covid-19, travel by non-residents is not encouraged”, as it is “at all borders in accordance with Covid-19 health protocols in East Africa”, he said. he adds.

Conclusion

The reopening of the border between Rwanda and Uganda is a “historic moment” for the two brotherly countries, because at least this time, since Kisangani in 2000, reason prevails. Everyone hopes that with the easing of preventive measures against the Covid-19 pandemic, which are like, in this situation of the reopening of the border, a thorn in the rose, the two peoples will once again be able to meet again to embrace each other fraternally. Because in fact the lives of Rwandans and Ugandans are so intertwined that it is difficult to separate them. A peasant from Cyanika Sector in Burera District eats banana from Chahafi in Kisoro sub-county on a daily basis, while a farmer from Chahafi sub-county is very fond of “Rukwakwa and Mafufu”(Sorghum beer) from Butaro and Cyanika Sectors in Burera District! May the gods simply preserve these peoples from the arrogance and geopolitical rivalries of the Museveni-Kagame tandem!

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