President Paul Kagame has told a government retreat that ongoing conflict with Uganda actually turned into an opportunity for Rwanda’s economy to undergo growth like never before.
As result of the “Ugandans themselves closing the border”, said Kagame this Sunday, social services were expanded all inaccessible border regions by government agencies and the private sector also made more money from expanding their market.
“We ended 2018 and 2019 on a very good note,” said Kagame, pointing out that Rwanda’s economy experienced the biggest growth rate ever, and that is expected to continue this year.
The current Rwanda-Uganda fallout erupted into the open on February 28 last. However, President Kagame and his key national security team had settled on the fact that relations with Uganda would no longer be the same back in mid 2017.
Major moves, that came to be known publicly only last year, were implemented in preparation for what happened on February 28, 2019. On this day, Rwanda closed Gatuna border, for what was explained at the time, as to allow construction of the border.
Since then, Angola’s and DR Congo Presidents have brought together President Kagame and his Ugandan counterpart Yoweri Museveni. High-level ministerial and security commission is also in place. Kagame and Museveni are meeting next week February 21 at the same Gatuna border for what is hoped may be final settlement.
Speaking today at opening of the annual government retreat at the RDF Combat Training Center at Gabiro, in Gatsibo district, Kagame said Ugandan leaders miscalculated that Rwanda would suffer more.
“They wrongly believed that within two months, hunger will force the Rwandans to come begging and apologising,” said Kagame. “We know Ugandan leaders very well and they also know us. They know what we are capable of, just as we do too.”
Kagame says when a travel advisory against going to Uganda was issued, people at border regions had no markets for shopping and their children were not going to school. This is because, said Kagame, the services on the Ugandan side were actually closer to these communities in Rwanda.
Coincidentally, the 2019 retreat was held a few days after the border had been closed and the conflict was in full mode. At that retreat is when Kagame explained at length how he “begged” President Museveni to stop supporting Rwanda dissidents.
Kagame also turned his guns on his officials, particularly the health minister Dr Diane Gashumba, wondering how Rwandans on border were getting services as basic as circumcision from Uganda side. Kagame also lashed out at the education minister for no schools at border regions.
In the weeks that followed, the Army deployed medical teams that treated thousands for free on the Rwanda-Uganda border regions, as well as the Rwanda-Burundi side. Health posts and school blocks are being built.
In June, Kagame visited Burera district, which borders Kisoro district of Uganda. There, Kagame moved his guns on the private sector, accusing them of being poor businesspeople as they were producing goods for towns, yet there were more clients ignored in rural areas.
The health minister at the time Dr Diane Gashumba resigned on Friday, as well as the state minister for primary and secondary education Dr Isaac Munyakazi who threw in the towel last week.
In his unscripted address today, Kagame said: “This conflict with our neighbor in the north Uganda actually made you wake up. Health centers got to borders, schools got there, private sector increased sales away from just towns. The economy grew during that period of crisis more than ever before, and will continue this year.”
According to government data, in the first quarter of 2019, the economy grew by up to 12%. On an annual basis, it is growing by more than 8%. For the coming months, Kagame said today it could expand by as much as 10%.
He added: “Uganda’s economy lost between $200m to 300m of exports to Rwanda, and that money remained here. Why would you send money out as if you don’t need it here.”