Uganda blocks online access to Rwandan newspaper, casting shadow over pact to end tensions

89

Uganda said on Friday it had blocked online access to Rwanda’s main state-owned newspaper on national security grounds, two days after the countries signed a pact to end tensions that closed their busiest border crossing for six months.

Uganda’s communications regulator asked all internet service providers to block access to New Times website in the country, the regulator’s executive director told Reuters.

“We have blocked it,” said Godfrey Mutabazi, adding that the newspaper had been identified by a government agency in charge of internal security as “a hostile platform that is likely to cause insecurity in this country.”

New Times has a sizeable audience in Uganda, an Anglophone country with a large Rwandan community.

There was no immediate comment from the Rwandan government on the Ugandan regulator’s decision.

On Wednesday, the presidents of Rwanda and Uganda signed a deal in the Angolan capital. They agreed to respect each other’s sovereignty, refrain from actions that destabilize the other’s territory and resume “as soon as possible” cross-border activities.

The neighbours have a long-running rivalry that led to conflict in the past, but tensions boiled over in February, when Rwanda closed their main border crossing.

It was briefly re-opened to cargo trucks in June but then closed again. Rwandans are banned from travelling to Uganda, which has accused Rwanda of effectively imposing a trade embargo.

Uganda’s move illustrated that Wednesday’s pact would not yield a quick end to the long-running rivalry between the two countries, said Nicholas Sengoba, a columnist at Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper.

“That signing was for the eye… as long as the suspicions, the accusations, the personal animosities are not yet resolved the rest is just playing the gallery,” said Sengoba.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Rwandan President Paul Kagame have a long personal history. Kagame was a refugee in Uganda where he fought alongside Museveni before returning home and taking power after Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

Rwanda and Uganda jointly backed rebels that seized power in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, then known as Zaire, in the late 1990s, before falling out and fighting each other in Congo’s 1998-2003 war.

Relations between the two countries, often linked to security and business interests in Congo, have remained tense.

Their presidents, both of whom rule with a tight grip, lashed out at each other verbally earlier this year, with Kagame saying in a televised speech: “You can attempt to destabilise our country…but…no one can bring me to my knees.”

“There is no border, there are just relationships — it’s a family affair,” said Angelo Izama, an independent Ugandan analyst, of the fraught dynamics between the neighbours.

A major concern is that troubles between the two countries could once again spark bloodshed in Congo, a country of 80 million people, or that they would clash directly.

EGOS SET ASIDE?

Diplomats and observers hoped Wednesday’s pact, with its specific commitments from the leaders, would calm the tensions.

“It is a very good starting point,” said University of Rwanda lecturer Christopher Kayumba after the signing. “Whether the egos will be put aside and this document be implemented is another issue.”

The two sides agreed to form a commission to implement the pact headed by the intelligence chiefs and foreign affairs ministers of each country, according to the agreement.

The border dispute has hit both countries’ economies and separated families and businesspeople who regularly cross the border.

Rwanda relies for much of its imports on a trade route through Uganda to Kenya’s Indian Ocean port of Mombasa. Its tea, a key cash crop, is exported from Mombasa.

Uganda’s exports to Rwanda were worth $182 million in 2017, according to the World Bank.

Kagame said: “I deeply thank the leaders of Angola and (Congo) for their attitude and brotherly commitment to helping us find solutions between Uganda and Rwanda,” his office tweeted.



The signing in Luanda was witnessed by the presidents of Angola, Congo and its neighbour, Republic of Congo.