KIGALI (Reuters) - The presidents of Rwanda and Uganda signed a pact on Wednesday aimed at ending a long-running rivalry that led to conflict in the past and closed their busiest border crossing for the past six months.
In the deal signed in the Angolan capital, the two sides 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, according to a copy of the agreement seen by Reuters.
Rwanda has repeatedly accused Uganda of supporting anti-Kigali rebel movements, a charge Uganda denies. Both say their citizens are mistreated in the other’s country.
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 traveling to Uganda, which has accused Rwanda of effectively imposing a trade embargo.
“We have agreed on a raft of issues that will be implemented between our two countries, largely meant to improve our security, trade, and political relations. Uganda is fully committed to enforcing this agreement,” Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni tweeted after the signing.
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 neighboring 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 destabilize 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 neighbors.
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.
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 neighbor, Republic of Congo.
Reporting by Clement Uwiringiyimana; Additional reporting by Elias Biryabarema in Kampala and David Lewis and Hereward Holland in Nairobi; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by David Lewis and Frances Kerry