Rwanda: What Next After Muhoozi's Visit to Kigali?

25 January 2022

President Paul Kagame on Saturday, January 22, met with Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, Senior Presidential Adviser on Special Operations and Commander of Land Forces of the Uganda People's Defence Forces (UPDF), in Kigali.

The two discussed steps required to repair ties between Rwanda and Uganda.

According to Village Urugwiro, Kagame and Muhoozi, the son to Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, "had cordial, productive and forward looking discussions about Rwanda's concerns and practical steps needed to restore the relationship between Rwanda and Uganda."

Soon after he returned home, Muhoozi tweeted that they held "very cordial and in-depth discussions about how to improve bilateral relations."

He indicated that he was confident that under the "leadership of our two Presidents we shall be able to quickly restore our historical good relations."

Muhoozi's visit followed that of Amb Adonia Ayebare who was in Kigali to transmit a special message from President Museveni.

To observers, Muhoozi took a good step but Kigali waits to see more convincing practical steps taken by Kampala where outstanding issues that must be believably dealt with include the continued arrest and harassment of Rwandans in Uganda, and the activities of terrorist groups operating in Uganda intent on destabilizing Rwanda.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr Vincent Biruta, said in June 2020, it will take political will to restore relations between the two countries.

Asked what he thinks should happen following Muhoozi's trip, or what should be expected, Gatete Nyiringabo Ruhumuliza, an independent political analyst, pointed to the release of all prisoners, an official letter communicating to all Ugandans institutions to cease cooperation with the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), and "revocation of any diplomatic passport issued to RNC people."

The RNC is a terrorist organization whose fugitive leader, Kayumba Nyamwasa, is based in South Africa.

The RNC maintains an armed group in eastern DR Congo which suffered heavy setbacks during operations by the Congolese forces since 2019 but it also has, according to Kigali, agents freely roaming and mobilizing and recruiting in various parts of Uganda with the help of state institutions especially the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI).

Despite persistent denial by Ugandan officials in the past few years, Kigali maintained that the terrorist group continued to receive considerable support from Uganda.

Besides a host of militia groups linked with Uganda such as FDLR, RNC and RUD-Urunana, in December 2019, officials in Kigali revealed that Mateke Philemon, Uganda's then State Minister for Regional Cooperation, was directly linked with the fatal attack on Kinigi, in Musanze District, by RUD-Urunana in October 2019.

During the fourth Ad Hoc Commission meeting - a session of senior Rwandan and Ugandan officials - in early June 2020, Dr Biruta was categorical when pointing out that there were still activities of terrorist groups operating in Uganda whose primary mission is to destabilize Rwanda.

According to Eric Ndushabandi, professor of political science at the University of Rwanda, "we should understand the Rwanda-Uganda foreign policy crisis beyond the behaviours of actors."

He said: "What we have seen and heard up to date can be seen from a psychological perspective, that there is a possible appeasement."

Ndushabandi, who is also Director of the Institute of Research and Dialogue for Peace (IRDP), a Rwandan think-tank, noted that recent developments "should be followed by concrete actions."

"Next should be systemic, meaning the political will, and capacities to influence [the] operational environment. Here I mean modifying and acting on internal or domestic actors, both state and non-state actors, behind the crisis or those who take advantages in the crisis internal and external Uganda and the region."

But Ndushabandi wonders whether Muhoozi is capable of ensuring that "all forces in Uganda" can join the effort on the normalisation of relations.

"Is the General [Muhoozi] really capable and has all powers to act on and implement and monitor what is decided in Kigali, on the ground in Uganda, and in the region considering multiple and divergent interests in the crisis?"

Next, Ndushabandi noted, is to do everything possible to bring the highest levels of decision making in foreign policy matters, that is, the two countries' leaders, to meet.

A Kagame, Museveni meet?

Both countries should modify their operational environment, he said.

If the two countries' leaders are to meet, Ndushabandi suggested, there are prerequisites.

"This [president's meeting] should come after modifying attitudes and behaviours of intelligence and security bodies on both sides, exchange information and formal joint mechanisms to address issues such as mutual trust, address arbitrary arrests of Rwandans in Uganda, put in place joint mechanisms to control borders and fight illegal movements of enemies from each country against another, redefine economic cooperation and give support, all together, to the regional integration agenda. Both countries should modify the operational environment," Ndushabandi said.

"Rwanda and Uganda should agree to support each other at international level in their relations with other countries including direct neighbours, and foreign countries. All this agreed, then the two Presidents can meet and sign the agreement and put in place joint and regular mechanisms of verification to monitor and re-evaluate the progress."

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