Rwandans on Monday morning woke up excited after the country’s land borders officially reopened following a decision by a cabinet meeting chaired by President Paul Kagame to remove restrictions imposed in March 2020.
There was even more excitement in Nyabugogo Bus Terminal as travellers, for the first time in 5 years, boarded buses enroute to Kampala, following the closure of the Gatuna One Stop Border Post since February 2019.
Sounds of joy and ululations could be heard in the bus park as Volcano Buses for the first time made its way towards Gatsata-Karuruma, escorted by joyous moto riders who were honking in celebration of the reopening of the borders.
“This is good news. Our lives depended on movement between the two countries. This means that I can travel anytime not just for business, but also to check on relatives at any time,” said Abdul Latif Nkuriza, a Gatsata-based trader.
A spokesperson of the Directorate of Immigration and Emigration (DGIE) told KT Press that it is official that all borders are now open, but on some, there are some issues to be resolved with neighbouring countries for smooth travel to fully resume.
At the Cyanika border, cross-border movement did not start right away, particularly for people traveling using their Identity cards. The same affected people in Rubavu looking to cross to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
“All the borders are now fully open but there are some conditions which are dependent on the other side that might come into play for people to cross. For example, currently people are not able to cross with their IDs only,” an Immigration official told KT Press
“Some border points like Cyanika are yet to fully open because they are putting in place preventive measures against Covid-19. There are efforts going on to streamline cross-border movement as it was before, including people being able to cross with their IDs,” he added.
In some cases, it was reported that people were turned back due to lack of Covid-19 test results but mainly on the Ugandan side. Rwanda said testing will be done randomly on selected people but not all travellers.
The Government Spokesperson Yolande Makolo denied reports that Rwanda was charging people for Covid-19 testing, stating that the government will be providing random testing for free.
“Rwanda announced random Covid tests for those crossing our land borders. The cost of these tests is covered by GoR. Travelers crossing the border are not charged for the random test,” Makolo responded to Uganda’s Daily Monitor.
Makolo clarified that Rwanda does not charge for Covid-19 testing but it can facilitate people who want to do tests depending on country of destination requirements, citing Uganda as one of the countries which require a PCR test for those crossing over.
No Covid-19 testing on Rwanda-DRC border
In Rubavu, our reporter Sylidio Sebuhara reported that people reported at the two border points linking Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo as early as 5:30am in the morning looking to cross to Goma.
Residents of Rubavu who wished to cross were not required to possess Covid-19 test results but could not cross without a passport or temporary travel document.
It was a moment of celebration as the two border points linking the towns of Rubavu and Goma reopened to travellers.
The Governor of Western Province, Francois Habitegeko said while Rwanda is ready to allow people to travel using their IDs, as was the case before, officials in DRC said that they still needed more time to prepare.
“We have already prepared the requirements for people to travel with IDs on our part. We are waiting for the neighbours to prepare, tomorrow they have agreed to start crossing using the ID and card,” Governor Habitegeko said.
Residents of Rubavu were elated as the borders reopened, dancing and jubilating as the government decision took effect.
“We are excited, though only people with passports and Laisser Passe are the ones crossing but we hope our leaders will discuss and resolve this issue. We hope to start using our IDs to move,” said a resident of Rubavu who only identified herself as Kamaliza.
Rubavu frontier boasted of the highest cross-border traffic, generating an average of 50, 000 crossings, mainly of people engaging in cross-border formal and informal trade.
Border with Burundi open
Rwanda also confirmed it opened its land border with Burundi but immigration officials said travel will depend on action taken by Burundi, since it is Burundi that initially closed its border with Rwanda.
Burundi’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Albert Shingiro said that Bujumbura is still working out a few issues before they reopen the border with Rwanda but said that talks between the two countries aimed at restoring ties are progressing well.