By Patience Kirabo
When the activities of Ugandan security services brought about the closure of the borders at the beginning of March last year, Rwandans that conducted dealings across the border in Uganda began to look for alternatives. “Rwandans were not going to be held hostage by the aggressions of the Ugandan regime!” said a Cyanika businessman last year. The Rwandan administration thought so, and in concern for the safety and security of its citizens, issued a strong advisory against travel to Uganda.
Rwandans stopped going to Uganda for business, education, and travel, “all because Ugandan security agencies thought they could just pick and harass Rwandan nationals, ‘as if they thought we were just helpless chickens!’” added another border resident.
Now members of Rwandan business communities are fully settled into their new routines. For starters many have chosen to do their business transactions in China, Turkey, Dubai, Kenya, DRC, or domestic markets as their alternative.
Some of the business people that we talked to for this story include those that can foot the bill to fly across the world to do business, and those in small and medium enterprises that expressed a sense of optimism after expanding their horizons and looking beyond Uganda. “I think one of the best things the Ugandan regime did was to open our eyes to new possibilities,” laughed a trader. “Why risk arrest or death in Uganda when even better opportunities can be found elsewhere?”
“Rwandans definitely need to widen their horizons,” agreed Christelle Kamikazi, a businesswoman who deals in clothes and garments in Kigali.
Before opting for the Guangzhou (China) route, Kamikazi, and a number of other business colleagues of hers had been getting their stock from Uganda. Now the Kampala wholesalers “are cut out as middlemen and women,” said a business analyst.
Zaina Mukabagunga, a businesswoman that operates from Burera District, just next to Uganda thanks the Rwandan Government for encouraging them to explore ways to tap into different markets within the country, or open new markets in the neighboring Congo. She currently exports potatoes and other agricultural produce to the Congolese market, which she says is coming along well despite even the challenges of Covid-19. “Imagine how good things will be when life returns to normal,” she says.
Relations badly sored between Kampala and Kigali due Uganda’s hostile, anti-Rwanda policy that Kampala doesn’t even hide in its open backing of anti-Rwanda terror groups like RNC. But even after the two heads of state signed a memorandum of understanding in Luanda, Angola, in August last year as part of efforts by the Angolan head of state (with the participation of DRC), Kampala has only paid lip service to its commitments to restore normal relations.
Among the commitments are that Kampala end its dealings with negative anti-Rwanda groups, as well as ending harassment and persecution of Rwandans, in addition to releasing hundreds of Rwandans illegally detained, but never tried on any charges.