By Fidel Munyeshyaka

Senior Research Rwanda


This week Chiefs of Defense and Intelligence Services from Rwanda and Uganda decided to revive previous mechanisms and set up new confidence building measures to normalize their relationship. Both Rwanda and Uganda   promoted the normalization of relations for political, security and economic interest.


Defense Chiefs and Intelligence Services from Uganda and Rwanda held their first quarterly joint meeting in Kigali to discuss their contribution to fast tracking the normalization of relations between the two countries. Both the Ugandan delegations, led by Chief of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), General Aronda Nyakairima, and the Rwandan delegation, led by General James Kabarebe Chief of Staff of the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF), have decided to contribute to a new spirit of camaraderie in the interest of the two countries.

“We cleared all obstacles including bureaucratic blockage and resolved on practical steps towards the fulfillment of good relations,” said Major Jill Rutaremara the RDF Spokesman. ”Designated officials would constitute an evaluation committee charged with fast tracking the normalization of relations. Moreover, we had agreed on new confidence-building mechanisms including, among others, the interaction of officials from the RDF and UPDF,” he added.

The Chiefs of Defense and Intelligence Services meeting follows similar meetings between Presidents Kagame and Museveni.  Both Presidents have visited one another, more often than ever in the recent times, accompanied by other senior officials of their respective governments. President Paul Kagame has made two historical visits to Uganda recently. The first was at the swearing-in ceremony of President Yoweri Museveni at Kololo. Then, the two Presidents also graced the Ntare School’s 50 year’s celebrations. Both Presidents requested to fast track the harmonization of relations.

This week’s meeting between Chiefs of Defense and Intelligence Services follows an earlier one on 28 October in Kampala. The Rwandan delegation led by Rwanda’s Chief of Staff, General James Kabarebe, discussed with their Ugandan counterparts how to share information on regional security with a view to developing a common approach and strategy to address mutual problems.

Major Jill Rutaremara expressed that the series of meetings resulted in a reviving of all joint mechanisms set up to harmonize relations between the nations with a timeframe for implementation of resolutions agreed upon. These include the Joint Permanent Commission (JPC) formulated to address bilateral issues affecting the two states. During the sixth JPC meeting held in Kampala from 4 to 5 July 2005, delegates agreed to intensify activities of the Joint Technical sub-committees in all areas and to expedite the strengthening and formalizing of cooperation in social, economic, governance and security areas.

Rwandan Ambassador to Kampala Ignace Karegyesa stressed these frequent visits between political leaders have marked the beginning of a good relationship. Uganda’s Ambassador to Rwanda Richard Kabonero said relations between Rwanda and Uganda are excellent adding that both addressed challenges that existed between them and issues that would undermine their long history of togetherness and brotherhood.

Relations between Uganda and Rwanda have been strained for years. Rwanda and Uganda have accused each other of harboring its dissidents. This started since the departure of Rwanda Parliament Speaker Joseph Sebarenzi Kabuye for Kampala in December 1999. Rwanda also accused Uganda of using rebels, mostly former soldiers of the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) and Interahamwe militiamen to attack Rwanda’s northwestern border.

This time both Rwanda and Ugandan officials appear to be committed to end all disputes through normalizing relations as a milestone to their economic, political and security interests.


“Rwanda and Uganda depend upon each other as they are neighbors. Trade between Uganda and Rwanda is growing in leaps and bounds by the day. The volume of trade between the two countries has shot up in the recent past,” said officials.
Between January and June 2006, Rwanda imported goods worth 16.4 billion Rwanda francs (frws) from Uganda. This is a 15 percent increase from the last year.  Being a landlocked country, Rwanda exploits its north corridor (Uganda and Kenya) for its imports. In terms of transport, five buses ferry daily between Kigali and Kampala while Rwandair flies seven times a week to Uganda.


On the other side, Ugandans exploit several business opportunities that exist in the service industry, like hotels and schools. Most of the Ugandans living in Rwanda are artisans working in garages and others have shops. A small number of the estimated 5,000 Ugandans living in Rwanda are professionals working with institutions of learning and international agencies. Nevertheless, the number of Ugandans in Rwanda is certainly high, and they are benefiting greatly through income-generating activities.


On the tourism side, Rwanda and Uganda signed a gorilla trans-boundary agreement to share revenue in areas shared by the two countries while in terms of education Rwandan students are flooding universities in Uganda as Ugandans also rush to Rwanda institutions.


Besides economic interest, the normalization of the relationship has had an impact on security between Rwanda and Uganda.


Sources revealed that the bilateral talks have been fruitful. Recently Ugandan police in Ntugamo district handed over to Nyagatare Police Station over ten women alleged to be Rwandan dissidents from the Rwanda Democratic Liberation Front (FDLR). The suspects crossed to Uganda from Kibuwa camp in Masisi in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).


Restoration of good relations is vital to the stability of both countries. While talking to the media, Rwanda President Paul Kagame vowed to do whatever it takes to restore good relations with Uganda. He stated that Rwanda and Uganda must focus on living as neighbors in peace.
“I think we must, however, remain focused on two neighbors living together in peace. So irrespective of what has happened in the past, irrespective of the misunderstandings and their causes, by focusing on the importance of living as neighbors in peace, we have to work towards getting rid of the causes of the problems between Uganda and us,” he said.

GLCSS believes the restoration of a good relationship between Rwanda and Uganda is also crucial to regional stability as Rwanda is preparing to be integrated into the East African Community (EAC). Ambassador Kamali Karegyesa stated that the creation of stable relations in the region and the East African economic federation would further enable Rwanda to benefit from the export and import of services.


“The integration of Rwanda in the EAC will enable Rwanda to easily access markets in the region. Rwanda had a lot to gain from the warm bi-lateral relations within the partner states of the East African society,” Karegyesa said.


Kabonero stressed that Uganda is supportive of this venture for Rwanda to join the community. Rwanda has since 1996 requested to join the EAC and it could be integrated this year together with Burundi.


The Great Lakes Centre for Strategic Studies is a London-based think tank with offices in Kigali and Kampala.


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