Last Friday President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, appointed and transferred ambassadors to represent different countries.
Among those redeployed is Ambassador Richard Tumusiime Kabonero, 53, has served for the last ten years in neighbouring Rwanda. He was transferred to Dar es sa laam, Tanzania still in the nooks of East Africa.
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.”
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 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.
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.
Part of the story adapted from Chimpreports