18 March 2019

Uganda: Terrible Trouble Between Kampala and Kigali, but Nobody Wants to Talk About It

Photo: The East African
Rwandan President Paul Kagame (left) and his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni.

A Kampala cynic last week said he tapped an angry telephone conversation between two regional public officials -Kampala government spokesman Ofwono Opondo popularly known as OO -blasting an unnamed official in Kigali.

"You are envious of the freedom Ugandans enjoy; in Kampala you can abuse Museveni and freely return home without fearing arrest."

"That's no big deal," OO's Kigali counterpart responded calmly. "Even in Kigali you can abuse Museveni and freely return home without fearing arrest."

This summarises the different public relations management styles between Kampala and Kigali. Kampala's is relaxed and more open while Kigali's is tactful with quick defences at the fingertips of officials. But how much longer the two styles will remain is now the question.

Ugandan officials are getting more guarded with their reactions. First Deputy Prime Minister General Moses Ali bluntly told parliament that while the government of course knows what is going on between Kigali and Kampala, the public should not expect to be told what it is. Even OO is no longer quick with his barbs - except when shooting at Uganda's opposition politicians.

Even Rwanda's approach is changing. The usual smart comebacks were missing when they denied closing the border, blaming construction works, while in the same breath advising Rwandans not to enter Uganda saying they risked arrest and torture by Kampala.

The connection between roadworks and torture wasn't obvious.

What has not yet changed is the care Ugandan mainstream media take not to offend Rwandan authorities. While social media is firing away at Kigali, mainstream media is taking a leaf from government and being careful not to appear to blame the Rwanda government for whatever is going on, even as Kampala refuses to give its side of the story.

There is also another reason why media in Uganda cannot quickly change its attitude towards Kigali - there has been so much praise for the efficiency of Rwanda's government over the years.

The image of Kigali's intolerance of corruption was cemented in the Ugandan psyche by President Museveni himself when on a 2011 visit to Rwanda he heaped praise on his counterpart while criticising his own countrymen, saying Uganda is full of thieves who frustrate government programmes.

That was the last authoritative comparison between the public affairs management of the two countries that we have for reference, and it's skewed in favour of Rwanda. We Ugandans are now waiting for a reassessment of Rwanda from our president, but it has been long coming.

And going by Gen Moses Ali's words in parliament, it may not be coming soon. So don't expect much discussion of the two countries' relations, worrying as they are.


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