Too often during the current strained relations between Uganda and Rwanda, Kampala’s media has abjectly failed its country’s citizens in as far as helping them understand the real causes of the issue.
And one of the ways the Ugandan media has failed its people is in not pointing out that the impasse at the border is Uganda’s problem alone. Back to that in a moment.
But first: as an example of the Kampala media’s neglect of its duties – to properly reporting or analyze the factors that have led to the standoff – NBS Uganda’s “Media Round Table” discussion of last week, Thursday 14 November, was next level.
The journalists, Dalton Kaweesa, Mujuni Raymond, Dismas Nkunda, Halima Athumani, Kagwa Njala and a lady called Phyllis Wanjiru were content to reduce the whole issue to “egos”, followed by the complaint that Rwanda “has closed the border”.
The latter gripe seems to be the main pre-occupation not only of the Ugandan leadership, but also of the commentariat, the business operators, and everyone in between.
“Oh, if only the two presidents could put their egos aside and talk, the problem would be solved!” everyone kept saying, as if that was the day’s main theme.
As the discussion proceeded everyone also seemed to be implying that the President of Rwanda is the junior partner in this relationship”. This is another obsession of Ugandan media talking heads. To drive the point home, Nkunda said, “These gentlemen fought together in the bush; Museveni was the commander of Kagame!”
The subtext was easy to discern: the onus is on the Rwandan leader to do more. Perhaps to plead more!
Views like this come from an old mindset in Uganda.
It is evident a lot of Ugandans still harbor the patronizing attitude that Rwanda somehow is part of Uganda, and in this the media is no different. But Rwanda is a country in its own right; a sovereign one that is no one’s “junior partner” or “junior brother”. Rwanda is much more than the portion of its population that ever lived in exile in Uganda.
To respect Rwanda would mean to treat it as a state with its particular interests; which decides how to pursue those interests; and which acts on its own decision and volition.
It is precisely the refusal by the Museveni leadership to accord her neighbor that respect that has contributed to prevailing toxic relations. It is his petulant choice to actively work to destabilize Rwanda, directly or through proxies, that has led to Uganda’s current serious problem, namely that there is little Rwandan trade with Uganda.
Where before Uganda exported close to $180 million worth of goods annually to Rwanda, very soon it will be zero dollars, going by the trends. Where before Uganda enjoyed a big trade advantage over her southern neighbor (Rwandan exports to the north amounted to only $26 million).
Museveni in pursuing an anti-Rwanda agenda has ruined the only partnership in which his country enjoyed a favorable balance of trade.
Uganda is the net loser in the impasse. Its economy, from industrialists like Mukwano to the smallest farmer in the border regions with Rwanda, is suffering a tough recession – if one may read in the Ugandan press what no less an authority than Gideon Badagawa, Executive Director of Private Sector Federation-Uganda, has been saying.
It has been the culmination of Rwanda’s decision to issue a travel advisory against its citizens crossing to Uganda, beginning March this year.
Ugandan security agencies have been subjecting Rwandan civilians to physical and psychological torture, usually with three main aims going by how former detainees that came out alive have described it.
They torture Rwandans to glean any information about Rwandan authorities from them. Or to coerce the able-bodied into joining anti-Rwanda rebel groups, mainly Kayumba Nyamwasa’s RNC. Or to provoke Rwanda into retaliating with similar mistreatment of innocent Ugandans, perhaps with the aim to escalate hostilities.
The travel advisory has meant there are no more people freshly from Rwanda for Ugandan security organs to persecute and subject to all kinds of torture, or to jail in unknown locations while their relatives fret with worry. That supply line has been cut off. Reports are that much as Kampala’s intelligence and other security agencies still illegally arrest, or lock up Rwandans with no due process, it is happening to those already living in Uganda.
Rwanda made her decision after a period of more than two years trying to engage Uganda to put a stop to the persecution of her citizens. Rwanda made her decision.
During their talk show, the journalist very briefly talked of Rwanda’s complaints about the mistreatment and persecution of her citizens, but chose to treat the issue like it was some minor problem “not worthy closing the border for!”
It is a sign of the kind of moral crisis to see that apparently intelligent people can go on TV to argue that their country’s security bodies abducting or torturing people somehow is “no big deal”.
Talking of Rwanda’s repeated protests of the mistreatment of her citizens – hundreds who languish in different places of detention – Mujuni had this to say: “that is the nature of Uganda’s security organs; they do not do that only to Rwandans! Even Ugandans are picked and taken away and it can be eight months before the arrested person is seen.”
To parse that statement – from the arrogant assumption that Rwanda should be quiet about gross mistreatment of her people “because that’s what CMI or ISO do!”, to the fact that someone actually can articulate views like that on TV – is to see how the country’s journalists’ moral fabric has been shredded.
Journalists are supposed to be society’s truth tellers. In the Uganda of President Museveni it seems that function has become extinct.
As if to prove that point, NBS’s “Round Table” discussants completely ignored the elephant in the room: Museveni and his government’s (repeatedly proven) cavorting of groups sworn to destabilize Rwanda, and that have perpetrated terrorist attacks in Rwanda.
In statecraft, that’s direct aggression. The aggressed party can’t be expected to sit back and do nothing to protect itself.
However Mujuni’s “analysis” of the issue was to claim: “Rwanda is a panicky state! If it wasn’t panicky it would see that it has more to lose.”
This was misleading on several counts. What is “panicky” about advising people not to go to a place where harm could befall them? What the Ugandan calls “panicky” is what a Rwandan would call “prudent”.
Also, belying the claim that “Rwanda loses more”, it is only the Ugandans that keep moaning and complaining about the border which, simultaneously with the travel advisory, Kigali restricted to heavy commercial trucks from Uganda.
Perhaps if the journalists ventured out and saw the ghost towns and villages of south western Uganda, and saw how their leadership’s choices have so negatively impacted whole communities; or if they saw the empty stalls of Kikuubo and Owino; or the factories reportedly operating at 40 percent capacity, they would try to inform Ugandans better.
From the look of things however one would not bet on that.