At the annual Diplomatic Corps Luncheon on January 29, President Paul Kagame delivered a candid speech explaining the Uganda-Rwanda crisis.
Kagame underscored that it is bad neighbourliness that “closed” the border between the two countries, which he illustrated through analogy regarding his relationship with neighbours at his private home in Rwanda’s eastern province.
“Where I live,” Kagame began, “an hour away by road, I have a neighbour. If you remove the existing border, the one on his other side becomes the new neighbour. Depending on how I treat my neighbour, or how the neighbour treats me, we can have freedom of movement or a relationship, and so forth. But if my neighbour tells me, ‘if I find you in my home compound, I will do something to you, what results is you are now creating a border, a line between your home and mine. Just by the statement, you already created a border between these families.”
This kind of relationship, Kagame said, “is what happened between Rwanda and Uganda,” where a bad neighbour created a border “between two families,” through persistent harassment:
“We have had hundreds of Rwandans arrested in Uganda,” Kagame elaborated.
“We have raised this matter with Ugandan authorities. We have families coming and appealing to us asking why don’t you ask Uganda to release our people? And that matter has been raised with Uganda repeatedly, several times, by different layers of our administration. I myself travelled there. The families of these people in prison are asking me what I am doing to have their people released and brought back home: These are people who travelled there for business, students studying there,” Kagame told his keenly attentive audience about his efforts with the authorities in Uganda. “But nothing happened!” an exasperated Kagame conceded.
Kagame did the only thing he could do. “Because of that,” he said referring to Uganda’s indifference to the suffering of Rwandans, “we had to tell Rwandans that the only thing I can do now is tell you not to go to Uganda – those who have not been arrested yet. Just stop going there because if you go there, I have no control. The only thing I can do is advise you not to go there. But we did not stop Ugandans from coming here. They have been coming,” he noted, referring to the fact that two of the three borders (Cyanika and Kagitumba) with Uganda have remained fully operational despite Uganda’s obsession with the Gatuna border.
Integration is not about slogans
If regional integration was about slogans alone, the East African Community would already be a fully-fledged political entity. Unfortunately, it’s actions – not sloganeering – that is needed: it’s good neighbourliness.
“Amidst all this, there is so much talk about integration. Yes, we can have as many lectures for as long as you want about integration but integration of regions and communities does not happen because you are making a slogan about it. No, it happens because you are actually doing the right thing that actually needs to be done in order for that to be realized: treat your neighbour as you want them to treat you. You can’t just hunt down people from the neighbouring country and then you go back and say, “No, no, no; these border issues are ‘rubbish’ and ‘nonsense.’ NO, what is more nonsense is what you do to your neighbour that actually creates that barrier. “
It becomes even more bizarre when a member of the neighbourhood travels to the arsonist’s home and declares that he should be remembered as someone who set light to the neighbourhood rather than someone who set it alight.
Indeed, it becomes comical that at some point the same person tries to suggest that there should be negotiations to appeal to the humanity of arsonists rather than offering support to stop the fire.
“It doesn’t matter whether somebody else comes from another neighbouring country to praise you that you are the best person who has ever lived,” Kagame registered his displeasure towards those who seek to appease arsonists with good neighbourliness awards. “I have no problem with anybody being the best person that has ever lived. But we must see it,” he said, underscoring the fact that before any awards are given, the redemption of the arsonist must at the very least involve his participation in stopping the very fire they started. In other words, sloganeering has started many fires but it has never stopped any fire – the records show.
Actions – not slogans – about integration involve struggling with what to do with borders that were found in place, how to render them inconsequential – as if they were not there in the first place – and how to nurture good neighbourliness as a solution to this challenge.
“You can’t say people are closing borders, because borders were there,” Kagame noted, while observing that “They shouldn’t be there. I completely agree with that statement. We shouldn’t have even had borders,” he spoke in relation to this particular slogan before dismissing it as empty rhetoric for as long as it isn’t accompanied by action. “To remove them, you must encourage good neighbourly relations,” Kagame said, leaving no doubt regarding his disdain for empty talk.
If bad neighbourliness created a border between families, good neighbourliness is what will open it. If bad neighbourliness prevents Rwandans from travelling to Uganda, good neighbourliness will receive them as welcome brothers, sisters, and friends. If bad neighbourliness supports Rwanda’s dissidents, good neighbourliness will ask them to find somewhere else to go.
“Now, if you stop that first [harassing Rwandans]; and second, if you really stop associating with those groups you have been giving support to in order to destabilize our country, automatically the borders would open,” the president said in reference to the RNC that benefits from recruiting Rwandans in Uganda while targeting those who refuse to join them, with the support of Uganda’s authorities.
“Remarkably frank speech by @PaulKagame re – his perspective on Rw-UG relations. I always wondered why our leader(s) are never frank & detailed when asked what their beef w/Rw is. M7 e.g repeatedly refused to comment when pressed by @kasujja. Cld mean we r guilty as charged or … ” Bernard Sabiti, a Ugandan researcher wrote on Twitter after watching President Kagame’s speech.
Indeed, good neighbourliness also speaks candidly to its people because it has nothing to hide. Transparency is always both good politics and good neighbourliness.