Friends and foes of the Great Lakes region
Rwandan President Paul Kagame's recent three-day state visit to Kenya is the latest move in the increasingly complex repositioning of alliances in the Great Lakes region.
GREGORY MTHEMBU-SALTER reports
Kagame and Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi issued a statement calling for increased co-operation between their countries, particularly in pursuit of peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Relations between Rwanda and Kenya have been strained since the 1994 genocide because of Moi's friendship with former Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana, whose government planned the genocide, and because Kenya harboured many genocide suspects who fled Rwanda after the Rwandan Patriotic Front victory in 1994.
Moi was also close to another enemy of Rwanda - former Zairean president Mobutu Sese Seko.
Mobutu's death in 1998 left Moi lacking friends in the region. In a move intended to improve Kenya's reputation with Rwanda and donors, Kenyan authorities began arresting genocide suspects wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in 1998.
Relations between Rwanda and Kenya remained poor because of Kenyan suspicions that Rwandan agents assassinated Seth Sendashonga, a prominent moderate Hutu opponent of the Rwandan government living in exile in Nairobi, in 1998.
Moi has been encouraged recently by the deterioration in relations between Rwanda and Uganda, which led to three battles between their troops in Kisangani last August, and in May and June this year. Kagame has since commented publicly that the clashes were because of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's determination to be the dominant power in the region. Museveni denies this, but the accusation echoes what the Kenyan government has said about him for some time.
For Moi, befriending the Rwandan government helps isolate Museveni, thus keeping the Ugandan regional ambitions Moi fears in check. Moi brokered a meeting between Kagame and Congo President Laurent Desiré Kabila on June 3. It was Kagame's first meeting with Kabila since the second Congo war broke out in August 1998. Not much came of the meeting, but it paved the way for others that could produce more substantial results.
Moi has noticed the international kudos Zambian President Frederick Chiluba receives for his efforts to bring peace to Congo, and the way it has softened donor condemnation of Zambia's domestic problems. Moi wants to be seen to be working for peace too, in the hope of reaping similar rewards.
The Kenyan economy, and Kenyan government revenues, would benefit from peace since the war in Congo is draining the region's resources, and thus its ability to buy Kenyan goods and those imported through Kenya. Mombasa, despite competition from Dar es Salaam, is the main port for trade between the Great Lakes and the outside world, and Kenya is the region's major manufacturer.
Rwanda wants improved relations with Kenya because it lessens its dependence on Uganda. Rwanda has applied to join East Africa Co-operation (EAC), the economic union that links Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Uganda was previously the main supporter of Rwanda's application for membership but is now allegedly blocking it, and Rwanda requires a new EAC champion. Furthermore, Kagame needs to show Museveni that the Rwandan government can thrive without his patronage. For both ends, closer ties with Moi suit Kagame admirably.
-- The Mail&Guardian, July 25, 2000