Arusha. Businesses in the East African region are increasingly getting worried over the stand-off between the governments of Rwanda and Uganda.
The common border between the two states has remained closed to traffic for nearly three weeks now, thus hampering cross-border trade and the movement of people.
Equally concerned are the other member countries of the six-nation East African Community (EAC), with the EAC Secretariat saying it is using diplomatic channels to reconcile the two partner states.
Uganda has accused Rwanda of virtually turning the political dispute into an economic embargo by blocking Ugandan cargo trucks from taking trade goods into the latter country.
Uganda Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa on Wednesday claimed that his country had challenged the border closure –but to no avail.
Ugandan authorities have lately claimed that Rwandan officials manning border crossing posts have been selective, allowing only vehicles in transit carrying goods to and from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Available statistics show that Uganda last year exported $250 million-worth of goods to Rwanda. This was nearly twelve times higher than the $20 million-worth of its imports from Rwanda.
Senior officials at the EAC headquarters in Arusha could not be reached for comment on the increasingly worrisome situation.
Until Thursday, the EAC secretary general, Liberat Mfumukeko, and his three deputies were said to be “out of town” – as was the head of the Customs and Trade Directorate of the Community.
But, speaking in Kampala early this week, Ambassador Mfumukeko said the EAC was engaging the wrangling parties in dialogue in efforts to resolve the crisis.
However, the tough-talking Community chief claimed that he was not aware of any trade embargo on Ugandan exports to Rwanda, and that the EAC had not received formal protest from any of the two wrangling states.
In Arusha – headquarters of the EAC and allied institutions –members of the business community have once again voiced their concern about the ugly developments.
“A key factor to stimulate (regional) economic integration is through trade. If you close the common border, what do you expect of regional integration?” asked Simon Mapolu, a business consultant.
He told The Citizen that closure of the common border was the last thing for countries in conflict to do – adding that 70 to 80 per cent of cross-border trade is done via road traffic.
In the event, Mr Mapolu called for early intervention by the regional leaders to resolve the crisis, stressing that such disputes between member countries betrays the noble ideals of the 1999 Treaty which established the EAC.
Private sector players in Arusha also expressed grave concerns over the unfolding events between Rwanda and Uganda, saying it is bound to adversely impact business.
Officials of the EAC and its affiliated institutions based in Arusha are closely following the developments in what is considered an unprecedented dispute within the Community.
Recently, the executive director of the East African Business Council (EABC), Peter Mathuki, expressed hope that the dispute is resolved amicably – and “in the shortest time possible.”
EABC is the regional apex body of private sector associations and business corporates with an observer status vis-a-vis the EAC.
The Uganda/Rwanda conflict took a regional outlook early this week when Kenya Deputy President William Ruto slammed Rwanda’s move as “protectionist and retrogressive.”