Editor’s Note: March 11, 2019

Regional integration is about more than roads and bridges

“Those who want to destabilize our country do not know our capacity…once we mobilise, you can’t survive.” These were the words of Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni on Saturday, the latest salvo in an escalating border row with neighboring Rwanda.

The Katuna crossing, the busiest between the two countries, was closed by Rwanda in late February, ostensibly to carry out road repairs. The move has brought tensions between the neighbours to the fore, resulting in both sides accusing each other of destabilization efforts.

Amid the the recriminations commerce has ground to a halt, with Uganda’s foreign minister Sam Kutesa lamenting that it “threatens our integration efforts under the East African Community.”

Quite right.

The standoff  is an illustration of a less tangible aspect of regional integration – trust. 

Tensions and suspicion – which abound between many countries on the continent – are the proverbial elephant in the room, rarely featuring in discussions about integration.

Rwanda and Uganda are demonstrating how quickly this can erode trust. The timing is particularly awkward, coming amid much enthusiasm about the recently launched African Continental Free Trade Area initiative.

Let’s hope the row doesn’t do permanent damage to relations, but it’s a reminder that integration is about more than roads, bridges, and tariffs.

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