Museveni’s about-turn from Nyerere’s dream of a united region

By Patience Muvunyi

On 15 December last year, senior FDLR (Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda) officials, including its chief spokesperson and deputy chief of intelligence, Ignace Nkaka (aka LaForge Bazeye Fils), were arrested by DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) authorities at Uganda-DRC border post of Bunagana and taken to Kinshasa for questioning. According to sources, the spokesperson confirmed an open secret: That they had been to Kampala for consultations with the country’s leadership at which the RNC (Rwanda National Congress) was also represented. Why is Museveni consorting with known terrorist and genocidal organisations so recklessly?

This was of course not the first of such meetings at Museveni’s invitation. Senior FDLR and RNC officials have been meeting with their security services counterparts in Kampala as recently as September 2018 when Benjamin Rutabana, head of the RNC’s capacity development made a high-profile visit that included meetings with ISO (Internal Security Organisation) and ESO (External Security Organisation) chiefs. He was also given armed escorts for a tour of RNC recruitment zones across Uganda in Mubende, Isingiro, Nakivale, Masindi, Sembabule, and others.

According to reliable sources, Ugandan officials fully conscious of the danger the captured FDLR official would ‘sing’ during questioning and implicate Museveni, concocted a plan to try to misdirect attention, minimise the diplomatic damage and take the pressure off the Ugandan President.

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In similar circumstances, Museveni’s propaganda go-to guy David Himbara would have been their favoured conduit for such an Operation Salvage Museveni. The Ugandan President has in a past phone conversation commended Himbara for his ‘good work’ of abusing Rwanda’s leadership through his writings. This time, however, Noble Marara was drafted to initiate the diversionary effort by pushing the absurd claim that Rwanda intended to assassinate Philemon Mateke, Uganda’s octogenarian state minister for regional affairs. The motive for the alleged assassination? That Mateke acts as the FDLR-Museveni “bridge”, which they were sure the apprehended spokesperson would reveal, placing Mateke in Kigali’s crosshairs as effectively an FDLR facilitator.

However, something was off-kilter. Either Kampala calculated it was better for itself to admit the Museveni-FDLR/RNC relations in the belief this would save Mateke whose life they imagined would be endangered by the revelation of his active role in the Uganda-FDLR and RNC links, or it is Marara who ended up saying more than his script called for.

Museveni and Marara should, however, have known a few facts. One, there is nothing new in the revelation that the FDLR and the RNC have, time and again, reported to Kampala for debriefing and instructions, as noted above regarding Ben Rutabana’s recent visit there.

Nor is knowledge of Mateke’s liaison role with the FDLR, the RNC and other Rwandan terror groups new. He has been a known supporter of genocidal forces for more than two and a half decades; at any rate such involved was well before the RPF took power in 1994. Mateke from the beginning was among those who sought to discredit the RPF struggle and continued to do so even after it had ended the genocide his friends and relatives in Rwanda had launched against Rwanda’s Tutsi. Following the defeat of the genocidal forces, he chose to continue to side with them, becoming an active mobiliser for them in both the DRC, where they had fled, and in Uganda, his adoptive country (Mateke was born and raised in northern Rwanda, emigrating to the Bufumbira region of Uganda which is formerly part of the Rwandan Kingdom, for secondary school.)

Neither Marara nor the Ugandan officials pushing this story can seem to be able to explain why, if the RPF never sought to kill him while he remained energetic and could do real harm decades ago, it is now wants to eliminate a now frail octogenerian Mateke, especially when the real driver of the Uganda-FDLR/RNC relationship is Museveni himself.

Museveni’s regional ambitions

In the early 1990s, Museveni had fashioned himself as some kind of a regional king-maker, the alpha and omega decision-maker in the subregion’s political developments. This is a role he had imagined taking over from the then retiring Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere of Tanzania. Museveni also imagined himself the first President of a united East African Federation which would succeed the East African Community (EAC). In his pursuit of these ambitions, he started to see any regional rising star as dimming his own star and therefore as enemies who must be neutralised. But it wasn’t only individuals he targeted; once it became clear he would not become the President of a putative East Africa Federation, he began to sabotage the EAC itself.

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Mateke’s early enthusiastic support for the Rwandan genocidal forces is what attracted Museveni to him. If he was going to lose influence in the region, he would at least bring it down with him. Having long given up on the ambition of succeeding Mwalimu Nyerere as the subregion’s unchallenged elder statesman, Museveni has decided to emulate former President Juvenal Habyarimana, who decided that instead of accepting to cede power in Rwanda, he would rather bring the entire edifice down with him.

Habyarimana then, like Museveni now, did all he could to spread the genocide ideology in the region (through association MAGRIVI, for instance), particularly in the eastern Zairean (DRC) areas of Rutshuru, Masisi, Jomba, and Beni; the same areas that Mateke is now traversing polarising people on Museveni’s behalf.

Where Nyerere preached pan-African unity, Museveni is picking up Habyarimana’s mantle to preach ethnic polarisation as long as it helps him to gain the cheap popularity he needs to continue to imagine himself as some kind of a ‘power-broker’ whose ‘regional influence’ must be reckoned with.

Mateke’s docket is to use his links with his genocidal friends and relatives to stir up ethnic anger towards Kigali by showing that even Museveni hates the leadership there and is “one of us.” In effect, it’s to prepare the ground to burn down the region, as long as it comforts Museveni’s self-perception as the subregion’s primary mover and shaker.

At about 80 years of age, Mateke’s sad ending should not be interrupted by an assassination. As for Museveni, Nyerere must be rolling in his grave at the relations with genocidal and terrorist groups his self-described disciple has developed. He should also be made criminally liable for ever mentioning himself in the same breath as the great Mwalimu.