Dar es Salaam/Kampala. President Jakaya Kikwete and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame come face to face today in Uganda in their first encounter since the raging diplomatic wrangle between their countries began. They will converge in Kampala for an international conference on the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni will host the 7th Extraordinary Summit on security in Eastern DRC at Munyonyo Commonwealth Resort. But Mr Kikwete and Mr Kagame are likely to steal the headlines at the conference with their encounter coming at a time when the stand-off is at its peak.
The tension between the two countries started in May and was triggered by President Kikwete’s appeal to Rwanda to engage FDRL rebels in talks. Mr Kikwete’s suggestion at a meeting of the Great Lakes countries, which met on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, did not go down well with Mr Kagame and other top Rwandese officials. They link the FDRL with the 1994 genocide in which over 800,000 people were killed.
Significantly, too, the two leaders are meeting on the heels of a fresh row after Rwanda slapped a new transport charge on Tanzanian trucks. The rise of the road toll fee from $152 to $500 is seen as retaliation for the mass expulsion of thousands of Rwandese citizens from Kagera Region in an exercise to flush out illegal immigrants.
Mr Salva Rweyemamu, the director of communication at State House, confirmed yesterday that President Kikwete would travel to Uganda this morning. Uganda’s government-owned New Vision reported last evening that Mr Kagame was due in Kampala last night. Mr Rweyemamu said he would not speculate on Mr Kagame’s presence or his meeting with Mr Kikwete.
Last week, Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda said in Parliament that Mr Kikwete had asked President Museveni to play the role of mediator on the sour relations with Rwanda. Mr Pinda spoke after the Leader of the Official Opposition in Parliament, Mr Freeman Mbowe, demanded to know what steps the government was taking to normalise relations with Rwanda.
Mr Mbowe, who is also the Hai MP, claimed that Rwanda had convinced other EAC member states to sideline Tanzania. He pointed to recent tripartite meetings between Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda on infrastructure, immigration and political federation.
Mr Pinda, who said Rwanda had over-reacted, told Parliament that President Kikwete had reached out to Mr Museveni to ensure that matters did not deteriorate further. He added, however, that Tanzania does not believe it is being sidelined on EAC matters.
Efforts to establish whether President Museveni would reconcile the two leaders proved futile as members of the delegations kept their cards close to their chest. But University of Dar es Salaam political science lecturer Bashiru Ally said there was a likelihood that Mr Kikwete and Mr Kagame would use the opportunity to iron out their differences.
“It is important that they meet for the good of their nations and the EAC region at large,” Mr Ally said. “The two countries’ interests are intertwined, so let us hope they will come out of Uganda with good news.”
The DRC Summit was preceded by parallel meetings of regional ministers of defence and a regional inter-ministerial committee comprising ministers of foreign affairs from member states.
Members of the International Conference on Great Lakes Region include Tanzania, Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Sudan and Zambia.
Source: The Citizen
Photos: Paul Kagame Flickr