By Ignatius Kabagambe
Uganda opposition politician Maj. Gen. Mugisha Muntu threw a spanner in the wheels of the Uganda - Rwanda mutual relations engine by claiming that Rwanda supports his Forum for Democratic change (FDC). He made the casual remarks while addressing a convention of Ugandans living in North America.
There is nothing new to Ugandans or Rwandans in what Muntu said because many other people in Uganda had time and again expressed outrightly or insinuated the notion that Kigali is in bed with the Ugandan opposition. The only new element in this school of thought is that this time it has come from a high profile member of the very opposition.
Yet even this should not be seen as a revealing twist. Keen followers of how some media sections in Uganda have been covering the issue of the two countries' bilateral relations ought to have seen it coming.
Talk about the alleged support has sometimes passed as no news to some people for the mere fact it has been endlessly harped on by those using it to achieve different results. But to many others reading or listening to it is still exciting. The media as well as the opposition know this and thus the reason we should not have been surprised by Muntu's statement. He intended to stir the audience.
But does Rwanda really support FDC, or would it matter if they did? For me the second part of this question is what is important.
Given the close historical links between some members of the Rwandan government and Ugandans, including opposition politicians, it would be naïve to expect zero ties between Kigali and the Ugandan opposition.
A Rwandan government worth its name should never envisage trashing a Ugandan opposition leader unless that leader was of the same breed with Lord's Resistance Army's Joseph Kony. What Kigali should, and I am sure it does, is avoid involvement in efforts aimed at toppling an elected government.
The problem with our kind of politics is that opposition members, no matter what they stand for, are demonized as anti-people by the powers that be as a way of denying them electoral favour. We are so selfish and undemocratic by nature to the extent that when we attain power, we want to retain it even if it means sacrificing fundamental principles and common sense. Otherwise why would it be queer for Muntu and company to have individual friends in the Rwandan government?
In civilised political atmospheres, opposition groups that wish to access power because they think they can provide a better alternative to the existing policies are not branded enemies of the people. They are seen, at least with a hind sight, as well intentioned, the reason they are fought using appropriate language and methods generally acceptable.
Rwanda may be sympathetic to FDC, the way Uganda might have been sympathetic to Faustine Twagiramungu during the 2003 Rwandan Presidential Elections. But it is more respectable controlling ourselves when we learn about such developments than declaring each other as enemies, the way Uganda did in 2001, even when the said sympathy is not going to affect the final poll results.
In the wake of Muntu's statement and in line with his diplomatic duties of narrowing mutual conflicting gaps, the Ambassador of Rwanda to Uganda said that his country has no agreed working relationship with the Ugandan opposition that can be termed as support. This could be very accurate. Because Rwanda does not have to be intimidated into disowning people who, one, could be having individual friends among its government officials, and two, whose only "crime" is expressing opposing views to the Kampala establishment.
However, the Ambassador's reaction was in stack contrast with that of the Movement spokesman, Mr. Ofwono Opondo. He yelled that all along it was known Rwanda was behind FDC. He boasted that Uganda was able to defeat mega-rich colonizing Britain and therefore there was no way "broke" Rwanda could stand a chance of ruling its northern neighbour.
Now, broke in which sense that Uganda is free from? In June this year, a Ugandan government official said Rwandans had acted like infants by not allowing President Yoweri Museveni to enter their country with un-declared fire-arms. Still earlier this decade the Rwandan regime had been called politically bankrupt by someone from Uganda's highest political office.
Question: Is all some Ugandan politicians can do when faced with mild fire from Rwanda, is call it all sorts of comical names? Is that frustration really called for?
May be the next time the Movement contemplates appointing an assistant to Opondo, it should look for someone with a rich background, who will at least sound credible when referring to Rwanda as broke. As it stands now, not many people would understand a situation where Rwanda is bankrolling FDC yet it is supposed to be broke. But most strikingly, it is strange for the spokesman of a government supposedly heavy-laden with cash to be a "proud" shoplifter of a Bic pen and underpants. Does it add up?