By Alex Muhumuza
Recent crushing military defeats in Congo of rebel groups mostly allied to Kampala not only herald a new era in the region; they also have brought the curtain down on Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s ambitions of regional hegemony. Things have been backfiring for him, spectacularly.
In his mind Museveni has always fancied himself a Napoleon; a latter day “Bismarck of Africa”. Many have examined his words and activities and diagnosed delusions of grandeur. Clues to this are everywhere – in his many military interventions even in places where the presence of his troops is totally unwanted; in his writings or pronouncements; or in the barely concealed wish to be first president of an East African federation.
But if the Ugandan ruler indeed fancies himself a great man of history, the means through which he has chosen to pursue that goal are completely contrary to what true great men do. Rather they fall in the category of those he’s always professed to despise – Idi Amin for one.
In his book, Sowing the Mustard Seed, Museveni writes: “I always found (Milton) Obote to be a man of endless intrigues; an unprincipled schemer that always said ‘the end justifies the means’. Except that in Obote’s case, the ends always were more despicable than the means.”
That quote can be easily turned around to describe Museveni himself, and what he’s been up to in the past couple of decades in pursuit of his hegemonic goals.
But now, following the military annihilation of his proxies in DRC – on whom he’s long pinned hopes to destabilize Rwanda, as a vital component of his wider plans – Museveni’s goals lie in tatters. RNC, the group led by his favorite would-be puppet Kayumba Nyamwasa is wracked by internal wrangles. Nyamwasa is said to have ordered the arrest of Ben Rutabana, one of his group’s top officials as a result of violent internal quarrels, which Rutabana’s wife has made public, both in letters leaked on the Internet, and in interviews on international radio stations. Rutabana’s family has publicly accused Nyamwasa of abducting him. Now members of Rutabana’s family reportedly have been “dismissed from RNC”.
Analysts say the disarray in the terrorist group in fact is linked to defeats in DRC, dating back to mid this year when up to 200 were killed in Minembwe, and its military leaders like Habib Mudathir were captured and repatriated to Rwanda to face the tribunals. The subsequent deep loss of morale in Museveni’s proxies has been all-encompassing, though the upheavals within RNC also have a lot to do with Nyamwasa’s reported gross mismanagement of RNC affairs like embezzlement of its finances; nepotism and favoritism in personnel decisions, and general autocratic behavior.
Whatever the reasons, observers say, RNC even as a remote threat to Rwanda is finished.
The first nail in the coffin was the arrival in DRC of a leadership whose chief interest is the well-being of its civilians. The new dispensation in Kinshasa has been akin to a shifting of tectonic plates that’s changing regional geopolitics, possibly forever.
President Museveni’s hegemonic ambitions have always hinged on destabilizing all other polities in the surroundings. Concomitantly, an unstable region has afforded the Ugandan leader, members of his inner circle, and select UPDF brass opportunities to plunder and to line their pockets, the suffering of benighted populations be damned.
None other an institution than the International Court of Justice recognized this when in 2005 it ruled that Uganda’s 1998-2003 intervention in the Congo led to the killing and torture of civilians and the destruction of villages amidst widespread looting. The court then awarded DRC US$ 10 billion in damages, though up to today Uganda is yet to pay up.
That ruling did not deter Museveni from continued meddling in the neighboring country. That’s because, other than the opportunities for endless plunder, the giant neighbor was key to his hegemonic ambitions. Whole regions of the country were vulnerable to Kampala-sponsored proxy rebel groups – Kayumba Nyamwasa’s RNC first amongst them – central to Museveni’s fantasies of regime change in Kigali.
RNC and others, such as the different strains of FDLR have with impunity turned eastern DRC into their bases, with long-term plans to take armed conflict back to Rwanda, all the while terrorizing local Congolese populations.
But then a reality Museveni and proxies were least expecting intruded.
A new leadership in Kinshasa that has no tolerance of bandits of any kind running rough shod over their civilian populations, looting and raping, has taken over. It is a leadership that’s made it clear to all illegal armed groups: the time for your criminal activities is over!
If the rebel outfits thought this was a joke, they got their first dose of reality with the routing of the Mudathir (and Charles Sibo another of their leaders who wasn’t as lucky as Mudathir to get out alive) group.
Currently the plans of Museveni – who has long had an axe to grind with the Rwandan leadership, first because he patronizingly imagined he should be calling the shots in Kigali (upon which he was told no sovereign nation takes orders from another), and secondly because he saw Kigali as the main barrier to his regional ambitions – look irretrievably shattered.
Success for the Ugandan ruler’s methods can only ever be achieved when applied in states headed by individuals that don’t put the overall interests of their countries above narrow personal interests. DRC as a country is one that’s been waiting a long time for someone opposed to opportunistic exploitation of her territories and peoples by unscrupulous outsiders. It seems to at last have found one.
President Felix Tshisekedi has pronounced he’s ready to cooperate with neighbors, militarily if necessary, to eradicate the multitudes of rebel groups in his country.
One such initiative is the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between states in the region to carry out joint operations in his country to crush all other rebel groups, following the earlier successes in routing RNC.
The parties that attended the meeting, which took place in Goma on 25 to 26 this October, signed the MoU. All except Uganda. The meeting brought together the chiefs of defense staff of DRC, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, as well as representatives of US AFRICOM and MONUSCO.
Uganda refused to sign, and instead chose to plant stories in its various propaganda outlets trying to blame Rwanda for the fact of its refusal. The ploy was easy to see through however.
RNC, FDLR, FDLR-RUD, FLN and every obscure alphabet soup outfit composed of Rwandan cutthroats is allied with Kampala, so there was no way it could sign an MoU that targeted their eradication. This was yet more confirmation, if any more is needed at this point, of Kampala’s complicity in the presence of those peace-disrupting groups.
Museveni’s foot dragging on the Goma MoU however has done little to stop initiatives moving forward. Several leaders of FDLR, RUD and FLN either have been killed or captured in the subsequent period. Hundreds of their foot soldiers reportedly have put up their arms and surrendered to FARDC positions.
Going forward, observers say, RNC as a group will remain but only in name. It will still operate from Uganda. It will continue to be very dangerous especially for those Rwandans living in Uganda. Its agents, those safely living in Kampala and elsewhere such as Mbarara will continue to work with intelligence operatives to abduct, harass and torture innocent Rwandans.
A major reason for this scenario is that, other than Museveni, many powerful interests in Uganda are invested in the existence of RNC. They will not stop pretending that RNC still has a purpose, telling Museveni what he wants to hear – that it still is a potent tool for regime change in Kigali. The intelligence organs, number one being the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence, consume huge classified budgets – that they never account for – RNC being the justification.
Many in Museveni’s inner circle who nurse grudges against Rwanda that go back to Kisangani, almost twenty years ago, won’t let go of their revenge fantasies. These and similar vested interests will still cling to RNC. And keep being another drain on Ugandan coffers.