By Frank Kamuntu
Kampala: President Museveni’s relationship with his counterpart Félix Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo is swiftly getting smoothed as the Ugandan government gets in preparation to finance projects of over 200 kilometres (124 miles) of the road inside neighbouring Congo as part of plans to boost trade between the countries.
According to Works and Transport Minister Gen. Katumba Wamala, Uganda is set to contribute about 20% of the project value while the rest will be met by Congo’s government in an envisaged public-private partnership.
Such an arrangement is unheard of in a region where governments struggle to expand road networks within their borders. Despite its vast size and wealth of natural resources, Congo remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Eastern Congo is particularly plagued by rebel violence.
“There is always a first time for everything,” Wamala said. “This is a joint project between the two countries and there is a very good reason for that.”
According to our sources, the move has been reached on after a meeting of Cabinet that authorized the surfacing or upgrading of the road from the border to Congo’s town of Beni as well as the road from the border post of Bunagana to the city of Goma.
“Cabinet approved the construction and upgrading of the national road from Kasindi section at the border to Beni(80km) and the integration of the Beni-Butembo axis(54km) to the national road and the Bunagana(border) to Ruchuru- Goma road (89km) on grounds that the project will benefit the government and people of Uganda through economic interconnectivity,” source said.
“The projects will boost investment and improve security in eastern Congo, he added.
Uganda’s decision to cooperate with Congo comes amid a standoff with neighbouring Rwanda, once a major export destination for grains and other produce.
Rwanda’s government closed a busy border crossing with Uganda in February 2019 in what Uganda describes as a trade embargo. Rwanda’s government ordered its citizens not to travel to Uganda, asserting that Rwandan citizens were not safe across the border.
Rwandan authorities also accused Uganda’s government of backing rebels opposed to President Paul Kagame. Ugandan officials, in turn, accused Rwandan state agents of operating unlawfully in Uganda, including in alleged abductions of citizens wanted back home.
This, however has left some inter-trade analysts thinking that Uganda’s move to associate with Congo in upgrading border roads is aimed at strengthening trade deals with DRC after being slapped a ban by the Rwandan government.
“This is a pure indication that President Museveni is getting tired of negotiations with his counterpart Kagame on border trade rows that has since put Uganda into billions of losses, and therefore Museveni may have signed some deals already with Tshisekedi to replace Rwanda’s Ugandan market with Congo” an analyst who prefered anonymity revealed.