Passion For Humanity

what's new

Uganda, Rwanda: please make peace, not war

Edited by Admin
Uganda, Rwanda: please make peace, not war

The leaders of Rwanda and Uganda rarely tire of celebrating their greatest shared accomplishment, namely, the pacification of their respective countries after years of political and military instability. They boast, with justification, of their respective armies’ exploits in far flung places like Somalia and Darfur, Sudan where they have been engaged in peace-making and peace-keeping. 


Unfortunately, the two men’s ability to make peace has, so far, fallen flat when it comes to dealing with the dangerous tensions that have existed between them for 20 years. As I write, the two men’s armies are in a heightened state of alert, with some reportedly deployed against each other in the hills that form the boundary between Rwanda and Uganda.


Whereas Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame are unlikely to order their troops to start firing at each other tomorrow, it would not take much to trigger a disastrous full-scale war. A mistake by a drunken or fearful soldier on one side could invite deadly retaliation by an equally impulsive soldier on the other.


One recalls a war a century ago whose immediate trigger was a foolish act by a man called Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist that was part of a secret military group called  

Black Hand. On Sunday June 28, 1914, 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip  assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Heir-Apparent of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  The assassination in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, coming on top of a long history of unresolved tension and resentment among relatives (King George V of Britain, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia), triggered the First World War, one of history’s bloodiest conflicts that cost the lives of 17 million and left 23 million wounded. 


By the end of the war, the Russian Tsar was dead, executed by his captors. The German Kaiser was in exile, having abdicated from the throne. The British King was the master of a fracturing and broke empire.


War is very ugly business. Hopefully nobody knows this better than Museveni and Kagame, both of whom have spent the majority of their adult years fighting or directing wars in Africa’s Great Lakes Region. To be sure neither Uganda nor Rwanda can afford a war. Neither country can win a war between them. 


First both countries are politically fragile, with wobbly internal politics that could become unhinged by the distractions of a destructive war. It is not hard to visualise an interstate war triggering internal rebellions and civil war, especially in countries that are fragile eggshells. 


Second, the two are so economically interdependent that a war between them would be an exercise in mutually assured destruction. Rwanda remains highly dependent on Uganda for its food and other imports, as well as  a critical artery for the transit of its goods. Ugandan exporters derive major revenue from their trade with their southwestern neighbours. 


The disruption, including the inability of border-area children to continue with their cross-border education, would inflict unnecessary damage. 


Third, their fragile and underdeveloped economies do not have the capacity to survive and quickly recover from a destructive war. What gains have been made in the last quarter century can go up in smoke before the guns fall silent.


Most importantly, war disrupts and destroys the lives of innocent people, most of whom are clueless about the causes of a conflict into which they are passively drawn by their armed rulers.  


While the rulers and their courtiers enjoy maximum security in their capitals, with their passports and pocket money ready for a hurried exit on a government jet, the peasants and other residents of the border areas are sitting ducks living with justifiable fear. An outbreak of hostilities is guaranteed to bring havoc to them, including deaths in the crossfire. 


For my relatives in Kahondo ka Byamarembo, right at the border with Rwanda, the dark memories of war remain very fresh. During the Rwandan civil war of 1990-94, a Rwandan army artillery shell landed in my cousin’s compound, instantly killing my sister-in-law Tereza Bakesigaki ba Bwanyina and her son Asiporo Bakesigaki. They are forgotten collateral damage, only remembered by their relatives and friends. Reports of soldiers in the hills high above Kahondo have triggered supressed memories of death and mayhem at the hands of strangers fighting strangers.


One hopes that as the powerful men and women in Kampala and Kigali flex muscles and sound the drums of war, they remember that they share Rwanda and Uganda with other breathing mortals who prefer peace over war. 


 It is probably not too late to deescalate the tensions and embark on a sustained process of reconciliation through dialogue. However, any hope of achieving this must be founded on an honest conversation that involves telling the truth to the people of both countries. 


We have heard claims by very reliable Ugandan sources that Rwanda had been involved in a complex scheme to capture the Ugandan state. We have also heard counterclaims by reliable Rwandan sources that Uganda has been supporting efforts by Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa, an ex-Rwandan army commander now exiled in South Africa, to organise a rebel army with a view to overthrowing Kagame’s government. 


Whether true or not, such allegations can trigger disastrous reactions by the two countries’ security and intelligence services. Yet this is a moment that demands the most sober and reflective approach, recognizing that escalation of tensions is akin to conjoint twins sleepwalking towards the edge of the crater lake on Mount Muhabura. 


We know Ugandan Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa to be a consummate diplomat. Likewise, Gen. David Muhoozi, the UPDF Chief of Defence Forces, is widely reported to be a very sober and cool-headed soldier. These  two men ought to be the only ones speaking on behalf of their ruler about the crisis and holding formal talks with their Rwandan counterparts. 


Ultimately, the crisis will either be diffused or sustained by the principals – Museveni and Kagame – whose personal survival is at stake. The great leaders, and even rulers, are not those whose armies destroy opponents and bring home trophies of exploits and conquest. It is he who brings peace, justice and prosperity to the people – all law-abiding citizens – that has a legitimate claim to greatness and true leadership. 




Recent Posts

Popular Posts