For anyone wanting to understand the reasons behind a conflict, a war, a standoff and the like, usually the first question to ask is: Who started it?
It’s a matter of logic, simple and straightforward. The party that deliberately starts something is the one that stands to gain, some way or other, from what they’ve started.
With this in mind one may then ask: in whose interest was it to provoke the current standoff between Uganda and Rwanda; and what did he think he had to gain?
To get clear answers to these questions is key to understanding how we’ve gotten to where we now are, with relations seemingly worsening by the day.
People, both in Uganda and Rwanda have heard a lot of things about the simmering quarrel.
They’ve heard numerous angry accusations and counter-accusations, of “spying”; of one party illegally arresting and incarcerating the other’s citizens; of one hosting groups bent on destabilizing the other’s security and peace and the like.
Now Ugandan security forces are openly rounding up Rwandan citizens in wartime-like scenarios in Kisoro, loading them onto garbage trucks, and taking them to undisclosed places of detention, or dumping them at the borders.
It isn’t the first time Uganda is taking its anger out on ordinary Rwandan civilians – normally people with zero involvement in politics, government, or security.
It is not the first time for Rwandans to face such mistreatment there, but the recent dragnet targeting them in Kisoro indicates one thing: Uganda is escalating matters.
On its part Rwanda has slapped an embargo on heavy Ugandan commercial trucks, Kigali’s position being: how can trade happen when the safety of the citizens of one country cannot be guaranteed upon travel to the other?
The embargo followed a strong travel advisory earlier this year to Rwandan citizens against crossing to Uganda, to safeguard their safety. One effect is that Ugandans from border communities – suffering lost income as they no longer have Rwandans to sell their goods to – have resorted to smuggling, of the most desperate kind.
Rwanda’s complaints of persecution of her citizens aren’t empty accusations. The Rwandan embassy in Kampala repeatedly has given the names of people CMI, ISO and others have abducted, detained with no trial, and whose families have been crying for help. These are real people with families, relatives and friends.
In addition to the abuses inflicted by the intelligence agencies, or the police and military (such as the ones rounding up Rwandans in Kisoro), hundreds more have been subjected to hard-to-describe injustices at the hands of Ugandan prison wardens.
The brutal practices of the latter include renting out Rwandan prisoners to do slave-like labor on farms of wealthy Ugandans.
So how have we gotten to this situation? Whose actions have dragged us into this mess?
To find the answers, again the first question must be asked: who thought they stood to gain in a conflict between the two states?
Here the logic of Occam’s razor comes in handy. It demands we look first at the flip side of that question. Who has no interest in starting hostilities?
One may begin with Rwanda. All its energies are geared to its rebuilding, and re-unification effort.
Rwanda is intent on building up its industry, air transportation, tourism, information technology economy and similar work. In short it has no time for quarrels with anyone.
Rwanda has some natural resources but they are few, and she only is intent on using them to uplift the well being of the mass of her population. Not in wars.
She has no direct access to the ocean, and must rely on peaceful co-existence with neighbors through whose routes her imports and exports pass.
Matters speak for themselves. Rwanda has about zero reasons to start, or provoke hostilities with anyone. This though is not the same thing as saying Rwanda cannot stand up and defend herself when provoked, or aggressed. The opposite is true.
This isn’t a country to passively sit, and say or do nothing when a neighbor cavorts with groups that have openly declared war on her, and her people.
Also, it isn’t the country to meekly keep quiet when neighbor’s security forces relentlessly target her nationals, subjecting them to the persecutions and horrific abuses often described by the victims.
But why has the neighbor decided to do these things?
This brings us to the second equation in our Occam’s razor deductions.
Uganda, or more precisely its ruler President Yoweri Museveni has revealed himself over the years as someone with a keen interest in destabilizing Rwanda.
To be more to the point, the man wants regime change in Kigali. The only Rwandan or Ugandan unaware of this is the one that was born only ten years ago and after.
President Museveni has never gotten over the fact he doesn’t call the shots in Kigali. Ugandan opposition politician Kiiza Besigye put it best in a YouTube video that went viral when he described this attitude as the same patronizing one with which Museveni treats all Ugandans – as if the country like his personal household, calling people bazzukulu “grandkids” and so on.
“So he thought he would do the same with Rwanda!”, commentators, both in Uganda and elsewhere have observed.
Museveni has this hang-up that because the Rwandan president once served in the Ugandan military, he should always be under Museveni’s command!, so many have commented. It is beyond weird, people shake their heads.
The Rwandan leader in the first place got where he was, even in the Ugandan military, on his own merits. Just like the thousands of other young Rwandan fighters that shed their blood, and were a vital factor in Museveni’s military victories.
When the Rwandan fighters left Uganda that was the time for Museveni to recognize that these weren’t “his boys”, everyone thought.
These were men fighting to liberate their own people and when they did, any other leader would have seen they were part of the leadership of a sovereign state, and not in the quasi-colonial terms Museveni envisioned. He kept on trying to meddle, in the affairs of another country.
When Kigali inevitably grew tired of this and firmly spelt out the terms: treat us with respect and we will treat you the same; refuse and we will refuse!, the Ugandan ruler was mad.
One widely accepted theory is that the battles of Kisangani – where the Rwandan army went to take the fight to genocidal forces; but where they also ended up clashing with Uganda’s on three occasions (because the latter’s military brass thought they could order Rwandan counterparts around) – stemmed from Museveni’s beef with Kigali. It was UPDF that ended up being routed.
It is said Museveni’s strategy to use Kayumba Nyamwasa and his RNC as proxies in plans to destabilize Rwanda was hatched after the Kisangani humiliation.
That defeat must have rankled particularly badly, for the Ugandan ruler later even got into bed with genocidal groups like FDLR, as credible documents, like the UN Group of Experts on DRC Report of December last year, indicate with much evidence.
The upshot? Every quarrel and conflict between Uganda and Rwanda has been started by President Museveni.
Whenever people listen to talking heads on TV claim, “both Museveni and Kagame ‘should put their egos aside’ and sort issues”, the question to ask is: who started this thing?
The same when Ugandans complain of “border closure”. The same when Ugandans complain their businesses suffer because Rwandans aren’t crossing the border any longer.
Who started this thing?
Answer: the same one whose responsibility it is to end it.