General Paul Kagame and his family spent the 2011 Christmas weekend in Uganda. The break the family took in Uganda, although barely mediatized by the press in the two countries, may nevertheless signal a major geopolitical realignment in the Great Lakes Region of Africa.
In the recent days the two presidents and their two families have been spending a lot of days together. In late July 2011, Yoweri Museveni went on a four-day visit in Rwanda, touring several official sites. The high note of the visit appeared to be perhaps when Yoweri Museveni surrounded by his wife Janet and his influential daughter Natasha Karugire, who is also his personal advisor, toured the ranch of the Rwandan President Paul Kagame. During the visit, Paul Kagame asked Yoweri Museveni to select a gift of cows, among Kagame’s cattle. According to the Rwandan tradition, the act of “cows exchange” signifies more than a friendship.
Just two weeks ago, on December 11-13, 2011, barely four months after Yoweri Museveni’s visit, Paul Kagame reciprocated with a two-day visit to President Yoweri Museveni. He was officially a guest speaker at the Young Achievement Award ceremony, during which he received a “life time achievement award in recognition of his exemplary leadership.” But, according to the sources close to the Ugandan government, General Paul Kagame took the opportunity to continue from where they had left off in July 2011. After the July 2011 visit, Yoweri Museveni had continued to South Africa, where he was to intercede on Paul Kagame’s behalf for the restoration of the relations between Rwanda and South African governments, strained following the failed assassination of the Rwandan dissident General Kayumba Nyamwasa allegedly by Rwandan operatives.
Yoweri Museveni had promised to do something for General Paul Kagame. Whether he did anything or not, since the South African government does not appear to have budged, may not be the most revealing aspect of the new relations. What is interesting is that Yoweri Museveni and General Paul Kagame of Rwanda, along with their families, have spent Christmas together, three months after Yoweri Museveni spent days on General Paul Kagame’s ranch with their families, and less than two weeks after Paul Kagame visits Uganda. Hence the reciprocal visits and the prolonged time together clearly indicate continued effort to strengthen the relations between the two countries.
These relations have been strained for the last decade.
In fact, a decade ago, when the armies of the two countries clashed in Kisangani, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Yoweri Museveni fell out with General Paul Kagame and their relations have been deteriorating since. At some point, the Rwandan Government accused Ugandan government of supporting Rwandan opposition leaders of the Rally of Unity and Democracy (RUD-Urunana) and the Rally of the Rwandan People (RPR). The Ugandan Government accused the Rwandan Government of supporting Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye and the armed rebels of Allied Defense FOrces and NALU.
When the Ugandan government rounded up some rebels of the RUD-Uruna and RPR, and handed them over to Rwanda in 2006, the Rwandan government expelled to Uganda a truckload of Kizza Besigye’s supporters. These reciprocal acts did not quell the mutual suspicions, but the relations went from open bitterness to covert enmity, allowing behind the scenes maneuvers to continue.
This was evidence by Yoweri Museveni’s statement when he said: “This visit is also aimed to disprove those who say Rwanda, Uganda did not have good relationship.”
The fact that there were talks of past bitter relations among the two governments shows how far the two have come and how friendship in politics can be a cheap commodity.
Back in 1990: Yoweri Museveni, then publicly a close friend of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, who had basically funded and supported Yoweri Museveni to conquer power, invades Rwanda seeking to overthrow Juvenal Habyarimana’s regime. The invading Ugandan army is mostly composed of Rwandans from the ethnic Tutsi group.
In the first days, Juvenal Habyarimana’s forces beat back the Ugandan forces and killed the Tutsi rebel leader, General Rwigyema. Yoweri Museveni, who had sent then Colonel Kagame to the United States for military training ordered him back and tasked him with regrouping and leading the now ragtag rebels. Yoweri Museveni considered Paul Kagame, his chief intelligence officer, as a son.
Within four years and with the full backing of Yoweri Museveni, General Paul Kagame’s rebels overthrow the Rwandan government, after allegedly assassinating the former friend of Yoweri Museveni, General Juvenal Habyarimana.
But, as it usually happens, once General Kagame ascended to the helm of power, he no longer regarded Yoweri Museveni as a godfather. He viewed him as a mere equal, even had a few moments of contempt against him. This angered Yoweri Museveni, who felt betrayed by a person he considered as a protege, or more so as a son.
The bitterness among the two leaders grew with the years, leading to the Kisangani open conflict among the two armies in 2000. In the process, the two armies massacred 3000 Congolese civilians in the town of Kisangani alone.
Hence, the observed thaw in relations may signal political pragmatism. The two leaders are now under pressure to democratize their regimes and each leader may view the other as a potential main backer of the other’s opposition. Hence, the best way to prevent the other from harboring his own opposition is the engagement. The engagement can only happen if General Paul Kagame, like the prodigal son, comes back to father Yoweri Museveni, and apologizes. That is what he may be doing exactly with the gift of cows and the Christmas spent at Yoweri Museveni’s home.
In the days to come, it can be expected that oppositions leaders are once again rounded up and sent over the border from each country, in an publicized or covert operations.
The days of political realignment in the Great Lakes region may have arrived.
©2011 AfroAmerica Network. All Rights Reserved.
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