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Tuesday, 6 November, 2001, 21:07 GMT
Rwanda and Uganda: From friends to foes
Presidents Yoweri Museveni and Paul Kagame
Museveni and Kagame are now bitter rivals
By the BBC's Ishbel Matheson on the Rwanda Uganda border.

Once close friends and allies, relations between Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni and his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame, have become strained over the past couple of years.

1986: Kagame helps Museveni take power in Uganda
1994: Museveni helps Kagame take power in Rwanda
1998: Rwanda and Uganda both intervene in DR Congo
1999-2000: Rwandan and Ugandan troops clash in Kisangani over business interests
2001: Museveni asks UK for military aid due to threat from Rwanda
Differences have emerged over the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo and over which country wealds the greatest influence.

With both sides accusing the other of provocation and a troop build up on the Ugandan side of the border, the fear is that the two countries could be on the brink of all-out war.

But any tensions between the governments in Kigali and Kampala have not yet affected the easy friendly relations of Ugandans and Rwandans close to the border.

Close relations

Early morning mist is just beginning to rise from the green hill tops and people are hurrying to and fro across the bridge between the two countries with small bundles of goods to trade, bananas, vegetables and sacks of maize meal.

"Things are okay. There is no problem at all," said one local businessman.

Ugandan troops in DR Congo
Ugandan troops went to DR Congo with their Rwandan counterparts

"I think it (war) is impossible because for me, mother is in Rwanda, my father is Ugandan," said another

But in Rwanda's capital, Kigali, the mood is not so optimistic. Normal life is continuing but the shadow of war looms.

The country which is just emerging from the nightmare of genocide now faces a new threat.

Hard to believe

Emmanuel Ndahiro, a security advisor to the Rwandan President, Paul Kagame is preparing for the worst.

"We have put in place all elements to dissuade the Ugandans from contemplating possibilities of war but we cannot ignore the realities. The Ugandans have deployed on the border, they have dug trenches," he said.

Rwanda and Ugandan forces clashed three times in Kisangani

Few would have believed that the leaderships in Kigali and Kampala could have fallen out so badly.

Paul Kagame fought alongside Yoweri Museveni during Uganda's bitter civil war.

A few years later Museveni returned the favour, supporting the Rwandan Patriotic Front as it marched on Kigali.

Balance of power

But the managing editor of Uganda's Monitor newspaper, Charles Onyango-Obbo, says that in recent years the balance of power between the two allies has changed.

"There is the perception that Rwanda is now becoming a powerful country. That President Kagame is being regarded, almost in the same light, as Museveni," he said.

There is a very strong constituent in the Ugandan army for some kind of revenge. It will save Museveni and allow him to reassert his political authority

Charles Onyango-Obbo, Editor of Uganda's Monitor

The battle of wills between Mr Kagame and Mr Museveni has already led to blood being spilt.

The Ugandan and Rwandan armies clashed three times over control of the key mineral-rich town of Kisangani in DR Congo.

On every occasion Charles Onyango-Obbo says the Rwandans came off best: "There is a very strong constituent in the Ugandan army for some kind of revenge. It will save Museveni and allow him to reassert his political authority."

Harbouring dissidents

Publicly the authorities in Kampala give a very different reason for the build up towards war.

They say that Rwanda has been harbouring dissidents bent on undermining President Museveni's government.

More troops have been sent to the south-west of the country close to the border with Rwanda raising tensions further.

Uganda's Defence Minister Amama Mbabazi accepts that relations are tense but says the point of no-return has not yet been reached:

"I don't think we had reached the situation where we could say that war between us was inevitable. But of course if the situation is not arrested it could deteriorate to that unfortunate extent," he said.


But President Museveni may not have things all his own way.

Government critic Aggrey Awori says many Ugandans would not support a war against Rwanda.

Aggrey Awori
Awori does not want 'another Congo'

"We have wasted enough resources in these useless wars. We can't afford another Congo. Enough is enough."

While it may be business as usual at the border post, the rift between the leaders of Uganda and Rwanda is growing, threatening the close links between their countries.

The meeting in London may already be too late. Psychologically both side seem to be preparing themselves for war.

See also:

26 Oct 01 | Media reports
African media attack Uganda-Rwanda "feud"
28 Oct 01 | Africa
Uganda-Rwanda military talks held
06 Jul 01 | Africa
Rwanda and Uganda make up
16 Apr 01 | Africa
UN alleges DR Congo exploitation
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