By Alex Muhumuza
Desperate Ugandan traders and businesses are resorting to smuggling, yet, Rwandan authorities insist, legal ways of doing things are open.
“When Rwanda said it was closing the Gatuna border post to heavy trucks from the Ugandan side, it did not mean that all other borders were closed,” said a Rwandan official that preferred not to be named. “Only heavy trucks cannot enter via Gatuna until construction of the One Stop Border Post is completed; but all other borders are wide open for all traffic including trucks,” he added.
But Ugandan traders and businesses are now clandestinely attempting to exploit “panya” – informal border crossings. This, according to sources, is due to the reasoning that the other routes, “are too long.”
An article in The Daily Monitor newspaper of Yesterday, Thursday 23 May, highlights how far Ugandans are ready to break the law to smuggle goods into (and from) Rwanda, or to encourage Rwandans to resort to smuggling as well. “Traders resort to smuggling as Rwanda border remains closed,” said the headline, repeating the false claim that the border is “closed.”
The article adds: “Local residents and traders said smuggling is risky but highly rewarding. The smuggling traffic is both ways, with Ugandans clandestinely moving goods across porous borders in the night, while also encouraging Rwandans to smuggle beans, peas and some manufactured goods into Uganda.”
Over a week ago Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni issued what seemed open encouragement of crime with remarks that, “if the Rwandan border remains closed, then people will resort to smuggling.” According to the Rwandan official we talked to for this story, “It seems that Ugandan traders have taken encouragement from their leader’s suggestions that they resort to crime!
“But the Ugandan leadership should know that as countries, we have to deal with each other in lawful, recognized and mutually respectful ways, otherwise it will be anarchy!”
Uganda’s main pathway into Rwanda is Gatuna. Rwanda has made clear that in no way is its closure of Gatuna (to heavy trucks) related to the Museveni regime’s hostility to Rwanda, and Rwandan citizens. Nevertheless, according to sources on the ground, Ugandan businesses and traders have been hit very very hard.
There have been many media reports of Ugandan officials crying out, everywhere, accusing Rwanda of, “unilaterally closing the border”. Uganda’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sam Kutesa complained to foreign diplomats about that. Philemon Mateke, Ruhakana Rugunda, Kahinda Otafiire are amongst the other high-ranking officials claiming that Ugandan businesses are suffering because “Rwanda has closed the border”!
Listening to these people, you will realize that their only concerns are the profits!, commented a Kigali analyst. “It is as if the Rwandans that Museveni’s security agencies have been torturing, are still being tortured or those facing imprisonment with no court process are not human beings. How selfish!”
At the end of February, Rwandan authorities decided to issue a very strong advisory to the country’s nationals against travel to Uganda. That was when it became clear that Kampala was bent on a policy of illegally arresting or abducting Rwandans, holding them incommunicado, in torture dungeons of the notorious “safe houses” and physically abusing them for days.
Rwanda had repeatedly – and through diplomatic channels – protested the mistreatment of Rwandans by Museveni’s security agencies, according to many reports.
According to Foreign Affairs Minister Richard Sezibera, there is very little guarantee that once across the border, a Rwandan’s safety is assured. Over a thousand Rwandans are said to be illegally incarcerated in various Ugandan prisons. Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, CMI, and Internal Security Organization, ISO, have been the main abusers of the rights of Rwandans.
But when you hear of Ugandan officials complaining that Rwanda has disrupted Ugandan trade, you ask yourself if they think that that is more important than human beings that are abducted and tortured almost to death, just because of who they are, commented the analyst.
Meanwhile, it seems, sober-minded economists like Ramathan Ggoobi, a lecturer at Kampala’s Makerere University have warned: “Rwanda is more important to the health of Uganda’s economy than China, India, Japan, the UK and USA! Rwanda bought goods and services from Uganda worth US$ 257 million, and earned only US$ 18 million.”
According to Ggoobi, and other economists, figures like this make it very clear that Uganda needs Rwanda far more than the other way round. Uganda, he wrote, exports to Rwanda mainly construction materials – earths and stone, plastering materials, lime and cement. She exports animal or vegetable fats and oils, prepared edible fats, animal products – meat, milk, cheese etc.
Ggoobi continued, “Uganda exports to Rwanda fast-moving goods and processed food, cereals, iron and steel and their products, as well as several manufactured products – plastic, sugar, beverages and spirits, paper, wood, chemicals et cetera. “It is clear that Rwanda’s basket of imports from Uganda constitutes the latter’s typical export commodities and products,” he remarked.
Security analysts have been asking themselves what is so important to the Museveni regime about being hostile to Rwanda that he is willing to ruin relations with as favorable trade partner and neighbor as Rwanda. A frequent question is why destabilizing Rwanda is so important for Museveni – who has been proven to be in bed with anti Rwanda elements like the FDLR and RNC – that he will risk everything.
The people of Katuna, in Uganda, are some of the people feeling the pinch the hardest. The Chairman of the Traders’ Association at Katuna Town Council, Mr. Franco Korinako said business in Katuna (Uganda side) had collapsed and many shops and hotels closed because of lack of customers, wrote The Daily Monitor.