There is something momentous happening in the Great lakes region, the tectonic plates are shifting and this will have a ripple effect for most of Africa. The proof will be in the pudding, no one is massively excited but there is a change of mentality in the leadership. The transition in DR Congo is still having a huge effect in realigning the region, the Alliance between the Two Dynasties of Kabila and Tshishikedi caught many off guard and it has many scrabbling to shift course. It seems that Rwanda was privy to the Alliance, even essential to it surviving as an alliance, removing Rwanda as a pretext for war in Eastern DRC. This would now deprive numerous rebel movements of a cause, a détente was not enough, there had to be a cooperative agreement with Rwanda. The other Axis to this Alliance was Angola, the Western counterweight to balance this union, Angola also has had peaceful transition of power, it has also worked to dismantle the business Empire of the Dos Santos clan. Where does this leave Museveni? He was the “Guarantor” of peace in the region, he protected Rwanda from DRC, he protected DRC from Rwanda, he protected South Sudan from North, protected CNDD, he protected what? The Great Lakes was like Europe in 1914, so many shifting alliance that never held long, waiting for a trigger to set it all off. Museveni benefitted from the war of nations in his regions, with Uganda as a safe haven for the money. This was not regional peace, this is why the Rwanda-Uganda crisis is really a reorienting of Rwanda’s economy, away from Uganda-Burundi in a North-South Axis, towards a East-West Axis as a conduit for DRC-Tanzania trade to open up the Shangri-La of Eastern DRC riches.
Cutting the Umbilical Cord
Rwanda did not have much of a pre-war economy in 1990, even less so in 1994, what little we had was destroyed. Into this vacuum came Ugandan traders, Congolese as well, but the Ugandan carpetbaggers were the most successful. Almost everything was imported from Uganda, this has reduced but we are still adjusting. Take spare parts as an example, Rwandan traders in Gatsata, Nyabugogo, Gakingiro were highly dependent on Uganda, they kept just one piece of each part for display purposes only, when a customer came they’d tell you to come back the next day, they order cheap from Kampala and send on Jaguar Bus after you slap on a huge profit. This made Rwandan traders so lazy, there was always undersupply and high prices for parts because they don’t buy in Dubai like the Ugandans. You can multiply this across several sectors, text books in education, to medicines, to bread, to even mandazi. Ugandan exports to Rwanda have reduced from $500m to a trickle, this opens up opportunities for Rwandans to invest to these sectors but capital is hard to come by. The north-south Axis of Uganda to Burundi is what defined Rwanda until now, the door to Uganda is closed, as is the road to Burundi, but the door to DRC is open. Rwanda and Uganda were effectively co-defendants tied by their past accusations in DRC, always scared one would snitch on the other. Uganda and Rwanda were tried, Rwanda was found innocent and having grounds to invade DRC at the time. This triple-alliance should bring an end to need for the war economy, peace makes more money, no doubt pacification will take time but we are on the road to peace in the region.
This new diplomatic master-stoke is a vindication of Rwanda’s handling of the Uganda crisis, to not just avoid war but guarantee peace in the long term. The slow simmering conflict had taken months to come to a boil. Uganda, it has since been proved, was colluding with Rebels hostile to the Government of Rwanda. It has been operating training camps in DRC to build an army that would eventually topple the Kigali government, while also kidnapping and torturing Rwandan citizens in Uganda. It was just another story to me until it happened to someone I knew, he was kidnapped at a wedding in Bugolobi and held for months. I remember I made a fuss about it on Twitter, I castigated our officials for doing nothing to help their citizens. I stressed that they would have to issue a travel advisory, to state clearly whether or not it was safe to travel to Uganda. I was called a troublemaker, people were more concerned with protocol than lives. While my friend was locked up incommunicado at Mbuya Barracks, the guards came and told him he was all over Twitter and was causing a fuss, he said he knew he had hope because many had died anonymously. He was released 2 months later as the border crisis came to a head. At the time, the worst elements among us wanted war “Kisangani Part III – This time it’s personal” but this begged the question – what about after that war?” war was out of the question but many wanted it, it would destroy everything we built. Worst of all, it was what Museveni wanted, a war with Rwanda would rally the nation behind him and give him a pretext to suspend Democratic pretenses altogether.
The solution was not war with Uganda, it was to find alternative trade routes and partners, war with Uganda would not solve that. Once you solve that problem then war is unnecessary. It is like eating in a restaurant where they poison you then you want to fight the chef to make him stop poisoning you, eat somewhere else. This is why cooler heads prevailed, because machismo and posturing will not solve our economic problems. This new orientation comes at a time when Tanzania-Rwanda relations are at an all-time high, the two governments work very efficiently together and this is Rwanda’s future, the two most important relationships will be TZ and DRC. No other relations will matter as much as those, Rwanda will be a conduit for goods from DRC heading to Dar-es-Salam, we will process and smelt some of the minerals here. This will make the triangular trade profitable once the railway and other projects are completed. Rwanda will no longer have to go to Congo, Congo will come to Rwanda, it just needs electricity and a railway. Then we can see the opening up of the so-called “Heart of Darkness” the colonial model used to in slavery is still used today. Minerals for guns, which breeds more war, which brings more minerals, which brings more guns, which brings more war…… Museveni was the Tipu Tipp of this paradigm. Where does this leave him? The people you were protecting from each other are friend now.
I never thought the Congolese would accept this but they have, Pres. Kagame even received a standing ovation in a full stadium in Kinshasa. Rwandair is flying regularly like nothing ever happened, Rwandans are going to visit their old houses in Lumumbashi, Kinshasa, Mbuji-Mayi. Rewind back to October 2017, I was at Gatwick waiting for a plane when a Black Frenchman asked me to mind his daughter while he went to correct their tickets at the counter. We really bonded and he thanked me, asked for my contacts, when I told him I was Rwandan, he changed. He said he was from Congolese parents and we killed his people. I was carrying his daughter and he snatched her me and said he was disgusted I even touched her. I thought at that moment that peace would never be possible, if a Congolese-Frenchman from Toulouse feels like that, what of “real” Congolese. It turns out my fears were misplaced, human beings are just human beings, they want peaceful coexistence and a chance to better themselves.