21 February 2019

Rwanda: A Sign of Thaw in Uganda, Rwanda Relations?

Uganda's High Commissioner to Rwanda, Oliver Wonekha, paid a courtesy call on Rwandan Foreign Affairs minister Richard Sezibera in Kigali on Thursday, a move seen to signal the intent to ease tension that has threatened to severe relations.

Ties between the two neighbouring countries have soared in recent years with both Kampala and Kigali accusing each other of espionage.

A recent United Nations report citing Uganda as harbouring rebels opposed to President Paul Kagame's government put further strain.

Rwanda has also accused Uganda of harassing its nationals through arrests and torture, a claim denied by Kampala saying those detained are individuals suspected of spying.

In the half-hour meeting on Thursday morning at Dr Sezibera's office, sources said, the two envoys did not discuss the differences.

Instead, they dwelt on developing close ties as it was the first time that the two officials were meeting in their capacity as countries' representatives.

Ms Wonekha, speaking to The EastAfrican, confirmed that the meeting was an opportunity to establish contact with each other.

"It was a normal courtesy call. It was the first time I was meeting Minister Sezibera officially since he took up the new post. So, I went to congratulate him on his new job. In such a meeting, you of course assure each other of good working relations, and promise to solve whatever is pending," Ms Wonekha said.

"We did not discuss those issues [political tension]. Normally you discuss such issues after you have been summoned as an ambassador, especially when there are grievances to sort out. But this was a cordial meeting which involved presenting my official capacity to him."

She said Uganda was keen to address the differences and that it was "only a matter of time" before the problems between the two countries are resolved.

"I am aware that both presidents have met and the ministers of foreign affairs have also met," she added.

In a recent exclusive interview with The EastAfrican, President Kagame had expressed disappointment over the bad blood between the two nations which share a long history of cordial ties.

"It is very intriguing to find that, even with that history and a good foundation, we have something like this going on," Mr Kagame said.

"It is hard to just put it in one word, or even in a few words. All I can say is that it's a matter that can be resolved... that must be resolved. Because the alternative is not something that we should even be thinking about, or entertaining."

Ms Wonekha replaced Richard Kabonero in July 2017. Mr Kabonero had served as Uganda's ambassador to Rwanda for nine years.

Dr Sezibera, a former secretary general at the East African Community Secretariat, was appointed to the Foreign Affairs docket last year after his predecessor Ms Louise Mushikiwabo, who had served in that position since 2009, left to head the Francophonie bloc.

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