By Frank Kamuntu
The Republic of Rwanda, under the government President Paul Kagame, has agreed to end border restrictions with its neighbor DR Congo led by Félix Tshisekedi, which had lasted almost three months due to the Coronavirus (COVID-190 Outbreak.
However, we have established that the two Presidents have since maintained the same restrictions on their borders with Uganda, until they reach an agreement with President Yoweri Museveni on how to proceed.
Senior Rwandan officials and their counterparts from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (RDC), on Thursday, May 27, 2020 agreed on a set of mechanisms to revive cross-border trade despite the COVID-19 outbreak.
According to our sources, the senior officials met in Rubavu District at La Corniche One Stop Border Post for a closed door meeting that lasted over five hours.
The Rwanda delegation comprised Health Minister Dr. Daniel Ngamije, Trade and Industry Minister Soraya Hakuziyaremenye and Local Government Minister Prof. Anastase Shyaka, among other officials.
The DR Congo delegation comprised Innocent Bokele Walaka, the deputy minister for Internal Affairs, the deputy minister of health – Dr. Albert M’PETI Biyombo and the Governor of North Kivu Province, Carly Kasivita Nzanzu, among others.
The purpose of the meeting, according to officials, was to formulate proposals for high-level political commitments meant to guide the strengthening of cross-border cooperation in surveillance of COVID-19 pandemic and its implication for cross-border trade, in compliance with the specific measures taken by either country.
The two delegations discussed the measures to be taken to ensure the continuity of commercial activities and the cross border movement of essential goods notably medicines, medical equipment and basic necessities.
Before the closure of the meeting, about 55,000 people from both countries would cross through Petite Barrière Border while about 7,000 used Grande Barrière border on a daily basis, according to figures from the Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration.
Addressing journalists, Minister Ngamije noted that the bilateral meeting was crucial towards containing the spread of Coronavirus while allowing for resumption of cross-border movement in compliance with measures taken by either country in a bid into curb the pandemic.
“Both countries agreed on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 through sharing information on those who tested positive in a move to trace groups of suspected cases. We also discussed ways cross border trading should resume without disregarding measures to contain this pandemic,” he said.
According to a statement signed by the two countries after the meeting, it was agreed to encourage traders to operate in cooperatives in order to reduce the number of people who would have to cross the border on daily basis.
However it’s not only DRC that was on halt to cross into Rwanda. It should be remembered that the longstanding Uganda – Rwanda border dispute is another unsettled matter within East African region that has spurn over a year now ever since Rwanda closed her borders at Cyanika and Gatuna to Uganda.
The dispute started after President Kagame accused his former ally (Museveni) of allegedly backing rebel groups and dissidents who want to overthrow the government on Kigali.
The allegations were uttered Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister Richard Sezibera in March last year, in a presser, in which he accused Kampala of supporting the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), although Uganda denied the allegations through government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo.
A month later during a speech to mark 25th anniversary of Rwanda genocide, a visibly angry Kagame warned Uganda against interfering in his country’s internal affairs.
“Those who think we have not seen enough of a mess, and want to mess with us, whether from here or from outside, I want to say: We will mess up with them big time,” said Kagame, who accused Uganda of sponsoring attacks in his country.
“We are going to raise the cost on the part of anybody who wants to destabilise our security,” Kagame said in last November.
However, after a series of meetings with other African Presidents, Museveni and Kagame to sit on the round table and sort their difference and before COVID-19 Pandemic, the two parties were to meet again to strengthen border relations and implementing agreed resolutions. But alas! This could not be possible because they had to close the already closed borders due to COVID-19!
During a recent interview of President Museveni by NBS TV scribe Canary Mugume, while commenting about the Rwanda impasse, Museveni revealed they were supposed to meet but only interrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak. He however noted that he had hope that the matter would be sorted soon.