By Timothy Sibasi
It appears to be a lesson from the Uganda government’s strategic shift in its regional policy towards neutralizing Rwanda’s influence in Eastern DRC, but the plan could only be successful if president Tshisekedi Felix accepted an invite to Kampala for a talk to secure its large, rich, but a troubled Eastern DRC at the hands of financed subversive activities by the Kigali based regime.
It’s no doubt that the Kampala-based government has enjoyed testy relations with the Kinshasa government for two decades, including an armed invasion in 1997 that contributed to one of the world’s deadliest conflicts since World War II. Unthought-of by the Kigali-based regime, they closed the border to stifle business between her and Uganda alleging that the Kampala regime was financing rebel activities to overthrow the Kigali government; todate the border is still closed.
Business wise Uganda has lost Rwanda as its major economic ally in the region! However, to president Museveni all is not lost and the need for Kampala to start betting infrastructure investments and shared economic benefits that could build better relations and long-term stability with DRC is timely to substitute Rwanda with eastern DRC.
Museveni and Tshisekedi meet in Kampala on October 7, 2019
The coachman of regional politics, President Museveni invited his counterpart Tshisekedi of DRC for a bilateral meeting at State House Entebbe. But President Museveni opted for President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Joao Lourenco of Angola not to attend in person but could only participate via teleconferencing and the subject matter was “Regional Security and Collaboration”
At the back-set, Kagame and Lourenco are not introduced to the real gist of the matter, whose intention is to do away with Rwanda’s influence in Eastern DRC. Museveni and Tshisekedi earlier had discussed prospects of having the Uganda-DRC Business Forum.
Museveni pushes his Cabinet and Parliament at the Center of the “equation” to legitimatize the process of fizzling out Rwanda’s influence in Eastern DRC with a road investment infrastructure plan in the DRC.
President Museveni’s cabinet is pushed to approve a joint investment with the Kinshasa government to construct 3 major road networks in Eastern DRC. Under the investment plan approved by cabinet after the November 2019, Uganda-DRC Business Forum held in Kampala. In this arrangement, Uganda is to contribute over UGX200 billion towards the investment.
Before Cabinet could forward to Parliament for the final approval, the whole scheme is packaged in a way that it was to continue Uganda’s strategy of growing its influence in the Great Lakes region riding on infrastructure diplomacy.
Uganda Parliament brought into the picture for final approval on October 21, 2020
Uganda’s finance minister, Matia Kasaija on October 21, 2020 moves on the floor of Parliament to present a supplementary budget request before Parliament for the construction of the roads in Eastern DRC.
From the request, Uganda is expected to contribute $65.9 million (UGX200 billion) out of the bill of $334.3 million but officials say it is a small investment for a project with economic, political and strategic importance. The investment is jointly funded by Uganda and DRC.
Targeted Roads in DRC to end Rwanda’s “Influence” in Eastern DRC
The roads to be jointly funded by Uganda and DRC that seek to end Rwanda’s influence in the large and mineral rich region in eastern DRC run from some of Uganda’s border towns into DRC. They include Kasindi to Beni (80km) and another to integrate the Beni-Butembo axis (54km). The third stretch for 89 kilometres prune to financed subversive activities by the Kigali based regime runs from the border town of Bunagana, through Rutshuru to the strategic city of Goma, the capital of the North Kivu province in DRC.
Uganda’s justification to the International community for its investment in the road network in Eastern DRC
Before the Rwanda, Uganda border closure, Uganda had not realized that DRC was its strong business ally than Rwanda, however, a reflection on what it had imported in the Congo in 2018 opened up its eyes that losing Rwanda could not exponentially affect it micro and macroeconomic stability like it would if it lost DRC.
In 2018, Uganda exported goods to DRC worth $532 million, including an estimated $312 million in informal exports.
Uganda’s top exports to DRC include cement, sugar, rice, beer, wheat flour, biscuits and beauty make-up products while importing include iron, pearls, mineral fuels, wood, charcoal, spices, vegetable fats and oils, rubber among others from its Western neighbors.
Uganda’s proposal to invest in the DRC road network is premised on submissions by Ugandan traders doing business in Eastern DRC, who claim that the poor road network inside the DRC hampers trade hence increasing the cost of doing business. While insecurity in the region has also been a hindrance to smooth cross border trade between the two countries, the joint road investment if goes as planned can speed up trade and increase transparency in the cross-border flows of goods and services.
Could Uganda’s Investment in the Eastern DRC road networks be a swap deal over previous frosty relations between Joseph Kabila and Museveni regime?
Politically the UN Security Council reported that Gen. James Kazini the commander of the Ugandan army, looted timber and conspired with a Ugandan militia leader, Wamba dia Waba, to seize 200 tons of coffee beans in the Equateur region.
President Museveni’s brother, Salim Saleh, and his wife, Jovia Akandwanaho, took charge of the exploitation of diamonds while setting up a private air transport company to ship illicit natural resources back into Uganda.
In total, Uganda is estimated to have plundered at $10 billion in Congo’s mineral wealth. However, in December 2005, the International Court of Justice ordered Uganda to pay reparations for its 1998-2003 invasions which violated Congo’s sovereignty and led to the killing and torture of civilians and destruction of villages.
The ruling did not have any impact on U.S. policy; President George W. Bush gave a speech afterwards lauding Museveni for being “very helpful in solving regional conflicts on the continent of Africa…” a statement that would have made George Orwell proud.
However, at the moment Uganda is banking on infrastructure to strengthen relations which ought to have gone bad under President Joseph Kabila but remained due to instability in Eastern DRC.
What is left of the Kigali government to protect its interests in DRC against Uganda’s protracted plans to “end” its influence in Eastern DRC?
What the cabinet of Uganda approved was just a concept and to date the details still remains unclear. Uganda is only making a contribution while DRC will shoulder the biggest price burden.
However, at the central of it all the Kinshasa based government hasn’t approved the projects and signing a memorandum of understanding.
The other option that the Rwandan government could tap into is the dissenting views and criticisms from legislators and members of the public who to date still question why Uganda would invest billions of Shillings in another country, yet its own infrastructure is waning.
Buikwe South MP David Mutebi argued that it was unrealistic for Uganda to work on roads abroad yet the roads in the country is in a terrible state.
In line with the same argument, Erute South MP Jonathan Odur requested that the matter be deferred until the government provides copies of the agreement, saying there is a possibility that the agreements could be flawed.