William Pike, the former Editor-in-Chief of New Vision, a state-owned Ugandan newspaper, has published a memoir that gives insights into President Yoweri Museveni’s deep-rooted loath for Rwanda’s leadership.
These insights may well explain the continued kidnapping, arbitrary arrests, torture, and irregular deportations of innocent Rwandans by Uganda, and Kampala’s continued support for elements hostile to the Rwandan government.
The book, Combatants: A memoir of the Bush War and press in Uganda, is centred on Museveni’s 30-year rule of the East African country.
Pike, who headed New Vision for two decades, knew Museveni before he came to power in 1986 and before he became the chief editor of the newspaper.
The long-serving editor worked closely with Uganda’s president and other senior government and military officials and met Museveni on several occasions.
In the book, the British born-Pike refers on several occasions, to one-on-one discussions he held with President Museveni and how he had direct access by telephone to the President, any time of the day.
According to Pike, it all started when officers of Rwandan origin, who had helped Museveni to successfully overthrow Milton Obote and bring him to power, plotted to return to their country – Rwanda.
“It is surprising that he (Fred Rwigyema) could do this without telling us but as you know these Banyarwanda have a big problem of wanting to go back to their country,” Pike quotes Museveni as telling him during an interview conducted during the former’s time at New Vision.
Pike then asked him whether the RPA invasion without his knowledge was a failure of National Resistance Army (NRA)’s intelligence or the result of the NRA turning a blind eye to the plans of the Banyarwanda soldiers in their ranks.
“This took us by surprise. We had been getting intelligence reports which we shared with the Rwanda authorities (Juvenal Habyarimana’s government) but they were not confirmed,” Museveni said. “We got some information that people were deserting but what surprised us was the scale and rapidity of the desertions.”
“There was A plus B but he (Rwigema) only told me of A. Yet I could have helped him,” Museveni told Pike. Rwigema, one of the highest-ranking Rwandan exiles that were part of the army that brought Museveni to power in 1986, was killed in the early days of Rwanda’s liberation struggle that was launched on October 1, 1990.
Rwigema would later be replaced by now-President Paul Kagame who returned from military training in the U.S to join the struggle to liberate Rwanda.
The insights in Pike’s book show that Museveni was probably against Rwandan refugees returning home, and poke holes into claims that he was instrumental in the successful liberation struggle that brought to an end the genocidal regime in Kigali in July 1994.
“Museveni said he could only support consensus, an agreement between Habyarimana and the refugees. He would not directly support either the RPF or the Rwandese government. The Rwanda government was an oppressive dictatorship and the RPF deserters had betrayed his trust,” Pike writes in his 294-page book.
He adds: “It was not surprising that Museveni’s confidence was shaken. He had just become Chairman of the Organisation of African Unity (now African Union) and the invasion of Rwanda reflected very badly on him.
“It served to confirm Kenya and Zaire’s allegations that Uganda had territorial ambitions in East Africa. The invasion was a public relations disaster.”
According to Pike, Museveni was bitter at the damage the invasion had done to his reputation as a statesman. It shook his confidence and left him feeling betrayed.
Pike’s revelations could probably explain – at least in part – why Museveni’s government has adopted a hostile attitude against Rwanda’s leadership, according to an observer. And, the observer added, continued failed efforts by Museveni to run Rwanda as his vassal state over the last 25 years appear to have only made matters worse.