Rwandan President Paul Kagame has expressed willingness to reopen the common border with Uganda but quickly added Kampala must first address what he described as the “origin” of a long-running rivalry between the two neighbours.
In February, Rwanda closed their main border crossing and slapped a trade embargo on Ugandan goods, accusing Kampala of arresting and mistreating Rwandans and harboring dissidents.
Uganda denied the charge, instead blaming Rwanda of espionage and engaging in destabilization activities.
Kampala said it was cracking down on illegal immigrants and suspected criminals.
But in the peace deal signed in the Angolan capital, Luanda, Rwanda and Uganda agreed to respect each other’s sovereignty, refrain from actions that destabilize the other’s territory, and resume “as soon as possible” cross-border activities.
Addressing a media conference in Kigali on Friday, Kagame set conditions for the reopening of the border.
“The demand from the other side is you must open the border. Yes, we will open the border, but what about the origin (dissidents) of the problem?” wondered Kagame.
“If you want to open the border, but borders which will be one way – the other ones who will use it will be arrested. If you are talking about trade, you arrest people using border points,” said Kagame.
“Do you want goods to move like these driverless vehicles? They just cross border without people. You find sacks of beans moving on their own… it is going to be difficult,” added Kagame.
The closure of the border has brought undue suffering to people from all sides.
Business remains low at the once bustling border point of Katuna. Ugandans have lost a sizeable market for goods.
According to the World Bank, Uganda’s exports to Rwanda were worth $182 million in 2017.
In Rwanda, millions of people who rely on Ugandan imports continue to grapple with acute shortage of consumable goods such as soap, food, cooking oil and clothing.
The rivalry between the two countries has steadily escalated in recent months with both parties prepping their armies for any eventuality.
At the briefing, Kagame expressed hope that “it’s a mess we can sort out. We should be better than this.”