Last Saturday, September 28, the Uganda government-owned New Vision newspaper published a suggestive story titled: “Besigye, Kagame meet in USA”.
Highlighted on the front-page, the article claims that President Paul Kagame and Dr. Kizza Besigye held “private two-hour meeting…in New York City…on Tuesday [September 24]” and that this is the “third meeting the two had held within the last two years”.
Dr. Besigye has been President Yoweri Museveni’s main political challenger since 2001─when he first contested against him for the presidency and has run against him four times since. He was also Museveni’s personal doctor and comrade-in-arms during the five-year guerrilla war that brought him to power in January 1986.
The article, which has no author except a “Vision Reporter” doesn’t provide details of what was discussed but quotes the Uganda Government Spokesperson Ofwono Opondo as saying that Besigye and President Kagame have the right to meet when and wherever they want.
Unlike the Ugandan officials however, Rwandan officials swiftly denounced the story as “fake news”.
The minister of State for Foreign Affairs in charge of the East African Community, Olivier Nduhungirehe Tweeted: “Fake news @newvisionwire! This is the kind of lies and negative propaganda that the Ad Hoc Commission of the #Luanda Memorandum of Understanding between #Rwanda and #Uganda committed to stop”.
Arthur Asiimwe, the Director-General of the government’s Rwanda Broadcasting Agency informed his twitter followers: “For the record: This so called meeting is only a making of @newvisionwire. President Kagame did not meet @kizzabesigye1 in New York or anywhere…not even ‘accidentally’ like Museveni met with those RNC chaps”.
By Monday September 30, The New Times newspaper had published three stories and editorials also denouncing the story as “fake”, and noting that “Someone is willfully sabotaging the peace talks” and dragging “…Rwanda into Ugandan politics”. It called the moves “dangerous”.
Rwanda’s Justice Minister and Attorney-general, Johnston Busingye is also quoted in the media as saying he talked to his counterpart in Uganda so as “to remove doubt that he and his government might not be aware that it (story) is fake”.
What does this tell us about the ongoing peacemaking and fence-mending between the two countries?
First, that leaders in Rwanda speedily denounced the story and New Vision means the government takes the matter serious.
Secondly, it’s remarkable that while open hostility between Rwanda and Uganda begun about twenty years ago when the armies of the two countries first fought in the DR Congo’s City of Kisangani (1999-2000), the mainstream media (government-owned or leaning) in both countries were never an object of open attack as “fake” nor publicly accused of being tools of propaganda. This time however, they are.
In fact, on August 22, a day after Presidents Museveni and Kagame signed the MoU in the Angolan Capital Luanda, the Uganda Communications Commission blocked some Rwanda media outlets, including The New Times and Igihe accusing them of spreading “propaganda” and the following day, Rwanda reciprocated. Todate, this blockade hasn’t been lifted.
And, of course, in the MoU and in the communique issued on September 16 by the Ad Hoc technical teams of both states after meeting in Kigali, the two sides “committed to cease all forms of hostile propaganda”.
Third and perhaps most important, while it isn’t easy to verify the veracity of each side’s assertions in this matter, analytically, this “fake news” and official responses to it can be used to understand the direction the conflict is taking and measure the progress made since the signing of the peace deal on August 21, in Luanda, Angola.
Whether real or fake, this reported meeting represents a setback in the two countries’ attempt at normalizing relations.
If, in the words of Rwandan officials the meeting didn’t take place and is made up by some individuals in the Ugandan security and political hierarchy, this wouldn’t only constitute sabotaging the peace process but rooting for continued conflict.
For in claiming that Kagame met with Museveni’s likely opponent in the upcoming 2021 presidential election, the insinuation is that perhaps, Rwanda is funding the opposition to clobber Kaguta’s son.
If, on the other hand, the allegation is true despite being fervently denied, it would mean that perhaps, Kigali has concluded that it might not pay to put all its cards in one basket. That would mean, it doesn’t have faith in its protagonist to implement the peace deal in good faith.
Either way, this doesn’t smell well.
Thus, while mainstream media (mainly government owned or leaning) is losing trust due to partisanship (whether real or assumed), it seems, if you want to understand the direction and progress in the Rwanda-Uganda reconciliation effort, you still need to read “fake news” in the same media outlets and official responses to it!
So, as we “mourn” the “demise” of trust in the two country’s mainstream media, the cake goes to US President Donald Trump who popularized the term “fake news”!