A US Intern’s Very Misleading Take on Strained Rwanda-Uganda Relations

Trucks at Gatuna border

A young American intern who recently returned to his country after a short stint in Rwanda as a volunteer for US social program, the Peace Corps is now a self-styled expert on Rwanda.

Neil Edwards who is currently interning at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), a US-based think tank “specializing in U.S. foreign policy and international affairs” has written a blogpost titled “Kagame’s spat with Museveni is costing Rwandans”, which is surprising for two reasons.

After the few months he spent in Rwanda, Edwards now knows everything about the strained relations between Kigali and Kampala. Secondly, he proceeds to write a piece so aligned with Museveni-regime propaganda that one is left scratching the head.

As he paints this picture of a Rwanda where “people are suffering because of the stand-off” had he tried to do any basic research, or his publisher made some slight effort to fact-check his assertions, they wouldn’t fall so easily for the Ugandan propaganda – assuming they were after the truth.

The fact Edwards chose to address the standoff from the perspective of the “border closure” is suspect in itself. Also his claim that Rwandans are suffering from high prices seems to have been pulled out of thin air. Bread, beef, potato, bean and other food prices haven’t changed much since the beginning of March when Kigali issued the advisory to her citizens against travel to Uganda.

But to get to the crux of the matter, Rwanda’s stand has always been that trade cannot be one way, and neither can it be business as usual if the lives or safety of Rwandans are at stake, as is the case with the hundreds upon hundred of those that have been illegally arrested, and subjected to a myriad abuses of their human rights including torture in the dungeons and “safe houses” of Uganda’s security agencies.

Edwards then glosses over the issue of Uganda’s support to Rwandan terrorists including RNC, calling them “allegations from Rwanda.”

He ignores the fact the United Nations itself, through a mandated group of experts issued a report in December last year that showed Uganda’s involvement at the centre of rebel, or terrorist groups whose goal is to destabilize Rwanda, and which have perpetrated grenade attacks in Rwanda.

He chooses to push forward only with the issue of trade, and a slew of misinformation uncannily aligned with Kampala. He fails to inform his readers that the people actually hurting as a result of the strained relations are Ugandans.

According to figures from the Ugandan Private Sector Federation (PSF-U), Ugandan traders are losing US$ 14 million every month. Gideon Badagawa, the PSF-U Executive Director says that before the standoff, on average, Uganda exported over US$ 200 million (Ushs744 billion) of goods annually to Rwanda.

This means that on average Uganda exported roughly US$ 16 million (Ushs 59.5 billion) monthly. All that has reduced to a paltry US$ 2 million.

“We are losing business; people are losing their jobs and this is going to be worse if this issue is not addressed,” Badagawa said. Byron Kinene, the chairperson of the Uganda Truck Drivers’ association echoes the same views in castigating his government for the standoff.

“It has driven us out of business,” Kinene says. He adds: “over 100 trucks would enter Rwanda daily, but now we are speaking of about 20 trucks that use the other entrances. This has led to no work and some of these trucks were bought with loans which is a big loss to us.”

Olivia Tumwebaze is another trader on the Ugandan side who deals in potatoes struggling with the border closure. The market for potatoes on the Ugandan side of the border has become so saturated that they now sell for around half of what they used to, Al Jazeera reported last month.

“I spend sleepless nights thinking of the loans, and I get dizzy spells,” Tumwebaze told Al Jazeera saying that she is now struggling to pay back a loan of $3800.

On the other hand the impact has been “minimal” to “negligible” on the Rwandan side. Factors like alternative routes to the sea, and a bustling local industry has cushioned the country against the shocks of the spat with Uganda.

Figures from the Rwanda Central Bank show that between January and September 2019, the trade deficit with EAC countries fell significantly by 45.3 percent thanks to a significant increase in export which spiked by a record 166.8 percent. Trade between other neighbours like Tanzania has also significantly increased.

The only way to interpret the American intern’s assertions, which so blatantly fly into the face of the facts, is that either he has been suckered into swallowing Ugandan misinformation, or he is for some reason deliberately enabling it.

Edwards has already been called out by many, including Elizabeth Jeannette, a fellow American who like him served in Rwanda as a Peace Corp.

“We Americans must acknowledge our history of arrogance, our predisposition toward a ‘savior complex’, our claims as experts on cultures and regions and politics that are not ours to own,” said Jeannette in a Twitter thread she posted this Wednesday.




Leave a Comment