By Alain Mucyo
Uganda’s media commentary has interpreted Museveni’s “silence” on the crisis with Rwanda as some kind of “jaja’s wisdom,” painting him as an African sage who has decided to be above the fray. While they had some initial success selling this image, mounting evidence proves that Museveni’s silence is a reflection of guilt rather than wisdom, which is something the self-patronising talking heads (Bazukulu) know despite chosing to stick to their sage narrative.
Most people who had misinterpreted Museveni’s silence as an act of wisdom at the beginning of the crisis in 2017 could be forgiven, for there was little information available to the public at the time. Indeed, the release of images of a brutally battered and maimed Fidele Gatsinzi in a wheelchair after he was dumped at the border by Ugandan authorities in December 2017 was an eye-opener. It began to draw media interest, albeit initially with a measure of disbelief. As more Rwandans were rounded up in Kampala and elsewhere, tortured, and dumped at the border, it was becoming clear that a bilateral crisis was brewing.
Rwanda registered official displeasure via notes verbale about the harassment of its nationals. Kigali was particularly incensed that its high commission in Uganda was being barred from accessing its nationals; that they were being held incommunicado in ungazetted detention centres outside any judicial review or access to any legal representation.
Kampala had, in other words, decided to violate its own Constitution and laws in dealing with an increasing number of Rwandans it was holding extralegally. The frustration of Rwandan Ambassador Mugambage was evident in his remarks to the media highlighting Uganda’s wholesale violations of international protocols regarding the treatment of foreign nationals, which include the obligation of host states to allow consular representatives access to foreign detainees.
Testimonies of those dumped at the border revealed that there was an active recruitment drive to encourage, and in many cases to coerce, Rwandans in Uganda to join the RNC, and that they had been targeted for such recruitment.
This coincided with the interception of RNC recruits at the Uganda-Tanzania Kikagati border in December 2017 after immigration officials became suspicious of a group of young men traveling to Burundi on an alleged “Christian pilgrimage.” Since they were giving divergent cover stories, police was called in and upon interrogation the travelers admitted to being RNC recruits on their way to the RNC training centre in Minembwe, DRC, via Burundi.
However, the Ugandan media were first confronted directly with the then emerging crisis in March 2018 when Presidents Museveni and Kagame had a closed-door meeting at the Entebbe State House. At their post-meeting joint press conference Museveni admitted for the first time the involvement of CMI in RNC recruitment efforts, essentially confirming the stories Rwandans dumped at the border following torture in Uganda had been recounting. “A group of Banyarwanda was being recruited through Tanzania and Burundi to go to Congo. They said they were going for church work, but when they were interrogated it was found the work wasn’t exactly religious. It was something else,” Museveni told the press.
This public admission that his intelligence services were facilitating rebels intent on overthrowing the government of the head of state with whom he was sharing a platform must have been extremely embarrassing for Museveni. Perhaps he realized that such an admission was a mistake and vowed not to do it again. This is when an allegedly “sage” Museveni emerged on the scene.
As more evidence piled up of his government’s active complicity with Rwandan armed groups, Museveni remained as silent as marble. The sage of sages. In mid-December, the FDLR, RNC and Uganda’s security services held a joint coordination meeting in Kampala chaired by Philemon Mateke, Uganda’s Minister of State for Regional Affairs. On their way from that meeting the FDLR representatives, chief spokesman Ignace Nkaka (best known as LaForge Fils Bazeye) and Lt Col Jean Pierre Nsekanabo (aka Theophile Abega) were intercepted at the Bunagana border post by the DRC military who flew them to Goma, then on to Kinshasa before repatriating them to Kigali after they had confessed to Museveni’s plans to assist in the coordination of the two terror outfits, which the “special message” Mateke had summoned them to the Kampala meeting for.
By this time, the faux narrative had begun to set in that Museveni’s silence was a sign of sagacity. However, the growing evidence refuted such a notion. Shortly after, the UN midterm report of the group of experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (S/2018/1133) submitted to the UN Security Council on 31 December 2018 confirmed what the intercepted FDLR senior officials had revealed: Uganda (and Burundi) was the hub of a “recruitment network” of an armed umbrella rebel outfit known as “P5” whose overall commander is the RNC’s Kayumba Nyamwasa.
The false sage was in reality up to his neck in very unsavory activities. In May 2019, the “field commander” of FLN, one of the P5 composites that had carried out incursions that had killed and burned vehicles in Rwanda’s southern province, was also nabbed and repatriated to Kigali. In subsequent court proceedings, he revealed having been in contact with Gen Abel Kandiho, Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) boss, regarding material support to the outfit.
Shortly before, in March 2019, Museveni had received Charlotte Mukankusi and Eugene Gasana – both former senior Rwandan diplomats-turned top RNC officials – at State House. In order to for them to be able to travel to Uganda on RNC duty to meet him, both had been issued Ugandan passports.
The question then was, for how long would he remain a silent “sage” while evidence of his involvement with armed Rwandan dissident groups was piling up? Wouldn’t persistent silence confirm guilt rather than wisdom? With the pressure mounting against the supposed sage, Museveni penned a letter to Kagame admitting, again, to receiving the RNC officials, but claiming, very risibly, to have done so “accidentally.” The letter was in fact leaked to the media (his partners in crime) even before it reached its recipient in Kigali. Unlike in the past when he had blamed his intelligence agencies, this time Museveni himself was confirming his own involvement in support of the RNC.
With the claim that his was the “silence of a wise man” increasingly becoming threadbare, Museveni sought to push his misleading narrative without speaking. He deployed Giles Mahame’s ChimpReports, Sarah Kagingo’s SoftPower, and a host of other blogs as a propaganda counter to the damning mountain of evidence of his active complicity in efforts to unleash violence on his neighbor and to destabilise a fellow member of the East African Community.
Dragged to Angola
These difficult circumstances – the guilt – dragged Museveni to Angola, albeit reluctantly. Anyone who knows Museveni understands he would never submit himself to an African mediator. Despite his Pan African pretensions, he would be more at ease with a European or an American mediator but never his fellow Africans for whom he seems to hold in contempt or he sees as inferior to him – which is the undercurrent of the present crisis.
Indeed, sources close to the negotiations leading to the Luanda MoU say Museveni was angry and outwardly contemptuous towards a DRC mediator, let alone someone he saw as inexperienced and too junior on the international stage, Felix Tshisekedi who, at the time was barely weeks into his term of office as president. For this and similar reasons, Museveni signed the MoU without any real intention of implementing it. He was merely buying time, treating it as a necessary sedative against the reputational harm resulting from the piling evidence, including his own unforced errors of self-implication. All this was happening amidst a pretentious claim to sagacity.
Neither would President Kagame have been so naïve as to believe that he was involved in a genuine agreement that his counterpart would honour. So why would he take part in the discussions anyways? Was he crazy?
Crazy as a fox. Kagame’s aim was to expose the real Museveni to influential actors beyond those (in the East African Community) who already know who he is and what he is up to in relation to Rwanda – actors in the SADC.
Anticipating that Angola would not go well for him, Museveni ordered a banned Rwanda media in Uganda’s cyberspace. The aim was to deny Ugandans access to alternative information as he planned to manipulate them regarding the Angola negotiations in particular and what was then a pending agreement – that was imposed on him by circumstances of guilt – regarding the crisis.
In unison, even before the ink had dried on the MoU, the Ugandan media was reporting that an agreement “had been reached regarding the border.” It didn’t matter that the border was only one of seven points of the memorandum, the majority of which are Rwanda’s grievances that Uganda must address. In the crisis, Uganda’s major media houses – The Daily Monitor and The New Vision, NBSTv, NTVU, etc.– began to openly mislead their readers and audiences regarding the MoU content. Just like that, with the Ugandan media doing his work, Museveni had once again manipulated everyone into maintaining his silence even in the face of the weight of guilt – essentially buying his silence. While he could buy his silence, he couldn’t buy it’s interpretation as wisdom. In fact, buying the silence was proof against the very claim of wisdom.
Since the Entebbe debacle, Museveni has stonewalled every journalist that has refused to buy into the sage narrative. In a recent interview, Alan Kasujja of the BBC asked a direct question only to get smacked with a complete deflection regarding Uganda’s ability to defend itself. Museveni has also apparently ordered his officials off the subject, telling them that only he will “speak” about it, only to turn around and maintain a stony guilty silence.
Meanwhile, in total disregard of the MoU, he continues to do exactly what it forbids. Less than two months into the MoU, the RNC’s head for capacity development, Benjamin Rutabana, was in Uganda. Diane Rutabana, his wife states that her husband has been in Uganda since 5 September 2019 and that prior to his departure from Brussels he had been involved constant late-night calls with CMI chief Gen Abel Kandiho. She also told the BBC that Frank Ntwali, Kayumba Nyamwasa’s brother in law, was similarly in Uganda at the same time. This is in contempt of the MOU (article 1 a and b).
A month later on 4 October 2019, RUD-Urunana rebels (part of the “P5” umbrella group of armed dissidents) attacked Kinigi, Musanze District, killing 14 civilians. Some of those captured from the subsequent hot-pursuit by the RDF said they had been recruited in Uganda. In fact, three of the repulsed terrorist attackers crossed into Uganda, where they remain under the protection of that country’s security forces. Rwanda has formally written to Uganda regarding their repatriation, but the demand remains without response. Also in violation of article 1 (a and b) of the MoU.
It is no longer in doubt that Museveni is supporting forces intent on destabilising and causing violence in Rwanda and that he was doing so before the conclusion of the Luanda MoU and that he continues to do so now.
As long as his media persists in deliberately feeding Ugandans with disinformation by repeatedly singing the border chorus and framing guilt as sagacity, Museveni is comforted in betting he can endure piling evidence of his terror-supporting guilt while also remaining “silent.”