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Rwanda-Uganda crisis: Khisa wastes opportunity to exercise intellectual independence

By Albert Rudatsimburwa

Only Khisa’s imagination sees “a web of mean-spirited ping pongs as to who is doing wrong to whom.”

On Saturday June 15, 2019 Uganda’s The Daily Monitor published an article titled “The Kampala-Kigali feud is bad: Majority report.” Most people who choose academia as a life-long commitment will tell you that the main reason for going there the kind of independence that allows them to pursue – and tell – the truth.

So, normally when someone in academia speaks, it is expected that, one, they know what they are talking about and, two, they have the courage to speak truth to power.

The author, Moses Khisa, an Assistant Professor at North Carolina State University, fulfils none of the above in his comment on the “Kampala-Kigali feud.” One wonders where he got all that time to end up saying – nothing.

For starters, the author spends the first part of his article waffling on a series of rumours about this or that – unsure of any of it and unable to access a reliable source to confirm any of them – then casually concludes that those rumours “may well be valid.”

Unfortunately, this is as close to any novel contribution to the discourse as the author’s ‘analysis’ gets.

The rest are the usual rehashed stories of deep “social cultural links” that the pro-government elite in Uganda has endlessly recycled to silence anyone who demands accountability from their government.

In fact, the only way to show any alleged deep social cultural links between the two countries would be through assurance of security.

However, the harassment of Rwandans in Uganda – kidnap, torture, refusal to grant access to consular support or lawyers and family members, deportation without due process – all are the very antithesis of any such “deep social links.”

While such superficial arguments might be expected from casual commentators, including those who must defend their government’s excesses, it is rather unfortunate that it is Ofwono Opondo and Sarah Kagingo who are influencing the thinking of Moses Khisa rather than the other way round.

The author similarly expresses the view that these “bonds of friendship and familial ties” are being eroded by the border closure, which is also “inhibiting the free movement of people.”

Again, the rhetoric of the border closure is taken straight from Kagingo and Opondo’s talking points. Someone of Khisa’s status ought to verify the facts of the ‘border closure’ before casually echoing the Kagingo and Opondo Associates – otherwise known as Soft Power, as if he were their junior partner.

Moreover, the strongest deterrence to the free movement of people is insecurity – the feeling that one’s personal safety is not guaranteed.

Khisa is in a position to know that even if countries removed border authorities and flung the gates wide open, people would only cross into a territory that has their personal safety assured. In fact, since trade is conducted by people, there can be little trade to talk of when people fear for their personal safety and security.

In other words, the spurious arguments he pushes in his article neither do him, nor his chosen profession, credit.

It is rather revealing that an article that was supposed to speak on behalf of the ordinary person ended up without a single mention of those who have suffered most from the unfortunate “feud”, nor in any way condemn those who have inflicted the suffering of such common people.

The hundreds who remain incarcerated in ungazetted cells across Uganda and those who have been deported after intense rounds of torture remain completely unmentioned.

Yet, the author finds it important to share his “ordeal” at Kanombe airport where he was asked a few questions by immigration officials, a situation he frames as if he was a victim of harassment.

It is lost upon him that no one tortured him; that being questioned and let go is the worst mistreatment any Ugandan has faced in Rwanda, and that, unlike the dozens of Rwandans who have returned home with torture marks and broken in body and spirit, he was able to go about his business in Rwanda and return home fully intact.

In fact, if all the “harassment” Rwandans have faced in Uganda stopped at merely questioning them – as happened to Khisa – then Rwanda would not have needed to issue a travel advisory to its nationals against travelling to Uganda because it could not guarantee their security there.

So, only Khisa’s imagination sees “a web of mean-spirited ping pongs as to who is doing wrong to whom.”

The metaphor is misplaced because it suggests two-way mean spirited actions. Clearly, Khisa’s own experience at Kanombe airport – and that of thousands of his fellow Ugandans who live freely in Rwanda – is evidence that the mean-spiritedness is a one way game that is “inhibiting” the people from living out ‘their deep bonds’ unmolested.

Khisa – like Andrew Mwenda and Winnie Byanyima before him – can do better. He should do better than act as a propaganda vehicle of the Uganda government even as he mightily strives – unsuccessfully – to pose as an objective commentator.

Source: The New Times / Rwanda.

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