Features

Looking Back at Amb. Kabonero’s Iconic, Lasting Legacy in Rwanda

Kabonero spearheaded efforts to build Uganda's new embassy in Kigali

Ambassadors are to international relations what technical coaches are to football.

Despite their enormous contribution to building and consolidating bilateral and commercial ties with their hosts, sildenafil http://cbpa.com/wp-content/plugins/cforms/lib_options_presets.php their accomplishments are rarely noticed or recognised.

All you see in mainstream newspapers and prominent news websites are transfers of diplomats to different capitals across the world.

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Across Uganda’s South Western border lies a land of a thousand hills, look Rwanda.

It’s here that Ambassador Richard Tumusiime Kabonero, this 53, has served for the last ten years.

When President Museveni announced a reshuffle of diplomats last week, all eyes were on Kabonero.

He took on the mantle at a time of heightened tension between Uganda and Rwanda. Suspicion among nationals of the two countries was alarming.

The two neighbours’ armies had fought in DRC, breaking bonds and hearts.

Normalising ties between the two countries was an uphill task for any diplomat.

“Kabonero was an icon of diplomacy,” recalls Denis Karera, Chairman East African Business Council and prominent businessman in Kigali.

“He came at a time of tension and worked so hard; worked so intelligently and diplomatically to cool the situation,” recalls Karera.

“Kabonero got things work again.”

Museveni opening Uganda's chancery in Rwanda

Museveni opening Uganda’s chancery in Rwanda

Trade

Booming relations and restored confidence between the two governments facilitated a rapid growth of cross border trade.

When Kabonero took charge of the Uganda High Commission in Rwanda, the bilateral trade volume stood at $50m per year. By 2016, the trade was valued at $200m per year.

Hajji Isa Bogere, a leader of Ugandans in Rwanda Association told ChimpReports in an interview on Tuesday that “Kabonero’s transfer broke our hearts.”

Pressed further, Bogere said, under Kabonero’s reign, “We ran our businesses without hurdles. Whenever our people were in trouble, he would rescue them. We are not sure if his replacement will fit in his shoes.”

Kabonero, who started work in 1988 as a Customs officer in the revenue authority, would later be appointed Assistant Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kampala.

In 1990, he was sent to Nairobi, Kenya as the 3rd Secretary at the Uganda Mission.

President Museveni would later deploy Kabonero in United States as First Secretary, Economic, Congressional and Press Affairs, Embassy of Uganda, Washington D.C.

It’s through these appointments that Kabonero honed his diplomatic acumen.

He is down-to-earth, patient and accommodative.

“He is a free guy and has all qualifications of a diplomat. At his residence, you just go there and eat. The Ambassador himself comes and picks you from the airport! He is a simple guy,” recalls Darius Mugisha, a Ugandan journalist and businessman.

“This time we look forward to visiting Tanzania quite often,” he said in reference to Kabonero’s new post in Dar es Salaam.

Kabonero’s diplomatic journey has not been a bed of roses.

Kabonero, Kagame and First Lad Jeanette at a function in Rwanda

Kabonero, Kagame and First Lady Jeanette at a function in Rwanda

Several Ugandans have fallen in trouble over fraud and breach of trust in business partnerships.

This means the Embassy needs to do more to sensitise Ugandans about the tough rules in Rwanda.

Ugandan celebrity, John Kazoora was at one time arrested from Kigali over a dispute with a business partner.

Kazoora’s friends tried to secure his freedom in vain until a colleague alerted Kabonero.

“I had issues there but Kabonero was clearly upset. He called everyone for me to get justice. He would go to police stations looking for arrested Ugandans and help them,” said Kazoora.

“He is a great guy. He will be missed,” he added.

Kazoora further said Kabonero, who is one of the only two career diplomats of Uganda’s 26 heads of Missions (the other being Amb Mull Katende), worked tirelessly to secure opportunities for Ugandans in Rwanda.

Daniel Omara, a Ugandan comedian, agrees with Kazoora’s assessment. “Kabonero is an interesting person. I was just getting to know him but we have done a couple of gigs in Kigali courtesy of him.”

These included Independence Day celebrations and comedy nights where Omara performed so well that he is slowly becoming a hot cake in Kigali.

“He is very supportive and friendly,” recalls Omara.

Business/Tourism  

To deepen the ties between businessmen in the two countries, Kabonero and his Ugandan counterpart, Frank Mugambage initiated Business Forums in the two capitals.

“They promoted business seriously. Business Forums promoted confidence and brought businessmen together; to know each other,” recalls Karera a co-founder of the Kigali Heights.

Pressed for details, Karera said from the business forums, he was able to pick Masterwood, a company based in Luzira to supply his real estate business with wood and furniture in Rwanda.

Businessman, Karera

Businessman, Karera

Another Ugandan company known as Stone Kfrat was also identified by Karera during the Business Forums to supply his construction works with large quantities of stone materials.

“Now that’s I, one individual; from a broader perspective, many people benefited from these Business Forums.”

Kabonero speaks out

Kabonero was reluctant to speak about his legacy, saying he should be judged by the public and his associates.

He, however, pointed out that his reign saw an increase in the number of Rwandan students to Ugandan schools to 1,500 in 2016 from 200 in 2006.

“We also reestablished the Association of Ugandans in Rwanda,” said Kabonero.

The High Commission helped in establishment of regular border meetings between districts neighbouring Rwanda thus promoting cross-border trade.

Taxation and record keeping was eased by the establishment of One-Stop-Border posts at Katuna and Mirama Hills.

Born in Ntungamo district, Kabonero is a brother of Kampala businessman Bob Kabonero of Kampala Casino and Susan Muhwezi, the presidential advisor on AGOA and wife of former Minister and spy chief, Maj Gen Jim Muhwezi.

Many believe that Kabonero’s diplomatic skills and friendship with Rwandan government officials allowed him restore ties between Rwanda and Uganda.

Kabonero has previously expressed pride about the construction of the first Embassy of Uganda abroad in 30 years.

John Kazoora, an entertainment business personality, says the glamorous chancery which boasts a gym for staff and modern equipment is a big success story.

“Is this the thing you built?” President Museveni asked Kabonero when he opened the Chancery in Nyarutarama, Kigali.

“You should now build the residence of the Ambassador,” he added.

Government was paying about Shs 30m per month in rent for the Embassy building.

During Kabonero’s time, the High Commission encouraged citizens of both counties to visit each other’s capitals, hence promoting tourism.

This would later turn Kampala into the favourite destination for Rwandans and Kigali for Ugandans.

Officials say Rwandan and resident foreigners in Rwanda spend more nights in Uganda than any other nationalities.

Kabonero held many memorable Ugandan nights promoting our parks, culture and food, according to Leonard Asiimwe, a regular visitor in Rwanda and businessman.

The Embassy also used its social media platforms to promote Uganda’s tourism attraction areas; winning praises from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kampala.

The High Commission’s Facebook and Twitter pages are the most visited sites of any government social media.

Kabonero, who has been replaced with Oliver Wonekha (New York Mission), derives pride from the fact that his reign saw a boost in security cooperation between the two countries hence prevention of cross border crime.

Kabonero has boosted Uganda's security cooperation with Rwanda

Kabonero (C) has boosted Uganda’s security cooperation with Rwanda

A diplomat who chose to speak on condition of anonymity said the Uganda High Commission is considered the “best mission to work by many diplomats.”

Only time will tell how Kabonero manages the Tanzania docket as his government is keen on commercial diplomacy to increase bilateral trade.

Kabonero goes to Tanzania at a time when relations with Uganda are at their best with the two countries cooperating on the construction of the oil pipeline from Hoima to Tanga Port.

Expediting the construction works and obtaining good deals for Uganda will be one of his biggest tasks.

He will also have to revamp the run-down chancery and residence that have spent five years without an Ambassador.

Kabonero was at the centre of the Northern Corridor Summits that saw massive infrastructure projects rolled out in the region including the Standard Gauge Railway.

“He can work well with Tanzanian President Magufuli,” said the humorous Omara upon being informed of Kabonero’s next destination.

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