Rwanda-Uganda relations warming: will this time be the right one?

The commander of the Ugandan armed forces, Lieutenant General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, recently held talks with Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Could this be a sign of a rapprochement between Uganda and Rwanda?

The commander of the ground forces of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF), Lieutenant General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, arrived on Saturday, January 22, 2022, in Kigali, where he met with the Rwandan President, Paul Kagame.

At the heart of the discussions between the two men is the warming of relations between Rwanda and Uganda after years of endless blurring. Both on the Ugandan side and on the Rwandan side, there was enthusiasm following the discussions between the two senior officials. “We had very cordial and in-depth discussions on how to improve our bilateral relations. I am convinced that, under the leadership of our two Presidents, we will be able to quickly restore our good historical relations,” said General Muhoozi, who is also the son of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

Without giving many details about the meeting between the two men, the Rwandan Presidency called the meeting cordial. “President Kagame and General Muhoozi Kainerugaba had cordial, productive, and forward-looking discussions on Rwanda’s concerns and the practical steps needed to restore Rwanda-Uganda relations,” she said in a tweet.

The visit of General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, presidential adviser in charge of special operations and potential successor to his father, now 77 years old, seems to mark a turning point in relations between Kigali and Kampala, after years of tensions characterized at times by positions cluttering few diplomatic circumlocutions.

Far from being a first

However, this attempt at normalization is far from the first. Indeed, it has been more than two decades since all the initiatives initiated to reconcile Rwanda and Uganda have all ended in a fishtail. The first dates back to the early 2000s when the two countries, which will be pointed out by the reports of UN experts in the destabilization and looting of the DRC’s natural resources, came to violently clash in Kisangani (a city located in the north-east of Congo).

In order to bring both sides to their senses and stop the merciless war that they were waging in this city for the control of diamonds and timber, the British Secretary of State for international development, Clare Shorte, invited Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame to London. Even if relations between Kigali and Kampala have not yet become cordial, the two countries decided to end their armed clashes.

In the years that followed, their relations deteriorated further, with both neighbors accusing each other of attempts to destabilize. The tensions between Uganda and Rwanda have also directly impacted the stability of the African Great Lakes region, with Burundi becoming a key focus of the rivalry between Kampala and Kigali. However, discussions between the two countries’ leaders have continued and attempts at rapprochement have been observed, but they have not been successful.

Between 2017 and 2018, Rwanda and Uganda held a series of meetings aimed at defusing tensions following a series of controversial expulsions of Rwandans from Uganda. The most important one saw President Paul Kagame meet his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni on the sidelines of the 30th African Union summit held in January 2018.

As a result of this discussion, the exchanges of hostile rhetoric have eased. However, relations have remained fragile, and in February 2019 Rwanda closed its border with Uganda due to deep-rooted friction and antagonisms between the two countries. The regional mediation processes initiated by Angola and the DRC over the past two years to bring them closer together have all failed…

What about the sequel?

Could the arrival of Lieutenant General Muhoozi Kainerugaba in Kigali and the signs of goodwill shown on both sides mark the beginning of a new era in relations between Kigali and Kampala?

If it is still too much to say, the fact remains that on the Rwandan side, everything leads us to believe that we would like to definitively turn the page of estrangement, just to get out of the isolation in which the country has been confined for a few years now. The security situation in eastern DRC, where Rwanda and Uganda have deployed troops to advance their respective interests, could also give interesting indications on the restoration of relations between Kigali and Kampala.

Rwandans took a dim view of the arrival of Ugandan soldiers in Ituri, eastern DRC, at the end of November 2021, to hunt down the rebels of the Allied Democratic Forces. Are they ready to find a modus vivendi with their northern neighbor in the name of reconciliation and the warming of relations with it?

Only the future will tell, and despite the posture adopted by Lieutenant General Muhoozi Kainerugaba and President Paul Kagame in Kigali, the future of relations between Uganda and Rwanda will also depend on their positioning in relation to the DRC, where they have important interests to defend. This was the case in the early 2000s when they clashed in Kisangani, and it is likely to be the case in the days and months to come…

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