It was an emotional moment as Ugandan Ambassador Richard Kabonero recalled the challenging but equally rewarding moments during his 10-year stay in the land of a Thousand Hills.
“After 10 wonderful years of living and working among you, visit this my tour of duty as Uganda’s High Commissioner to this beautiful country has come to an end,” said Kabonero as he opened his speech.
The audience was hugely attentive, listening to a man whose extraordinary diplomatic skills turned around Uganda’s relations with Rwanda.
Kabonero was posted to Rwanda in 2006 at a time Uganda’s relations with her Neighbour were at an all-time low.
Relying on his close friendship with several high ranking Rwandan government officials, Kabonero would later embark on a mission to mend ties and build solid structures to consolidate gains of his diplomatic work.
He brought together officials from both countries to discuss issues that affected them at the time.
Working from behind the scenes, Kabonero built confidence among both countries’ leaders that the future was more important than the past.
Due to a significant improvement in the cordial relations between Uganda and Rwanda, cross border trade would later hit $200m mark.
Ugandans felt secure doing business in Rwanda.
Rwandans also obtained the confidence to invest in the Ugandan economy.
Military relations were equally renewed as both countries enjoyed years of security cooperation especially in confronting regional terrorism.
As Kabonero spoke at his farewell ceremony at Kigali Serena Hotel, the audience knew he had left behind a shinning legacy.
“I arrived in this beautiful country uncertain of what lay ahead, but I leave with the conviction that our two countries with their sense of shared history, are on a journey of prosperity and peace,” recalled the envoy.
“The challenges that face our two countries may always exist. The most critical input should be that we tirelessly search for solutions to meet these challenges.”
Thanking President Museveni, for the opportunity to represent the people of Uganda in Rwanda, Kabonero described his reign as a “truly remarkable and enriching journey.”
Kabonero said as with the rest of the world, he “watched with awe” as Rwanda transformed a tragic past into a future full of hope, and the country, into a “land of opportunity and progress.”
He said he had witnessed the “selfless commitment” of Rwanda leaders to “uplifting all citizens, while creating opportunities for all.”
He hailed Rwanda for their “unwavering commitment to serving the vulnerable and less fortunate.”
Hajji Isa Bogere, chairman of the Association of Ugandans in Rwanda, said he has known and worked closely with Kabonero since he arrived in Rwanda 10 years ago.
“He came here when the Uganda High Commission was using type-writers. Now they have state-of-the-art facilities at the office complex,” said Bogere.
He further said the Embassy was always shifting premises which is now history.
Kabonero, according to Bogere was “accommodative to all Ugandans from all walks of life.”
“He was always connecting Ugandans to available business opportunities,” added Bogere.
In his speech on Saturday night, Kabonero recalled waking up everyday “determined to advance our shared interests in enhancing cooperation between our countries, to emancipate Ugandan and Rwandan citizens alike and for our region to claim its place on our continent as the best place to invest.”
Kabonero said he held discussions with Rwandan leaders to address critical bilateral challenges “and together, we have celebrated our breakthroughs.”
The Deputy High Commissioner to Rwanda, Anne Katusiime, praised Kabonero for completing his tour of duty with enormous achievements.
She said the Mission now has a magnificent building, adding, “the wellbeing of staff is a testament to his good leadership.”
She said the relationship between the two sister countries is visible for all to see.
Katusiime said Kabonero leaves behind a “happy working environment, strategies and good memories.”
She described the Ambassador as “transparent, accommodative, visionary and patriotic.”
Katusiime confidently stated that the Uganda Mission is now “a model for all missions abroad. It’s an envy to many.”
She said Kabonero “wishes everyone well” and inspires people to rise and shine.
He was a “wonderful boss with a good heart. A teacher, mentor and disciplinarian.”
Egyptian Ambassador to Rwanda, Dr Namir remembered Kabonero, who has been the Dean of Ambassadors, as “helpful.”
She said Kabonero “was always open to assist us in our work. When we have issues with protocol, we go to Richard.”
She added: “Kabonero is a friend; more than a colleague. It’s with a heavy heart that we say goodbye.”
Businessman Denis Karera gave an outstanding speech on Kabonero’s journey right from their childhood days to his reign as a diplomat.
He described Kabonero as “accommodative, friendly, social and revolutionary.”
Karera, who co-owns the Kigali Heights, praised Kabonero for turning around Uganda’s relations with Rwanda at the most critical time in recent years.
Lucy Mbabazi also hailed Kabonero for extending his values and work ethics to his children.
In his conclusive remarks, Kabonero thanked President Kagame and Rwandan envoy to Uganda Maj Gen Frank Mugambage and the media for the friendship and cooperation.
“As I leave Rwanda, the countless number of new and binding friendships that I leave with, overwhelms me,” said Kabonero.
Senior government officials and Ugandans in Rwanda attended the function spiced with music performances.
MC of the night, Marcus Kwikiriza gave the audience the much-needed puns as it enjoyed rounds of drinks.
Kabonero will soon travel to Tanzania where he was posted as Uganda’s Ambassador.