Since the conflict between Uganda and Rwanda escalated to its current level, after a two-decade relative lull, analysts have for the past two years and a half tried to make sense of the crisis.
Initially, there was a lot of speculation until the sides tabled their grievances, first in the media and then formally through the Angola Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).
Since then, we now know officially that Rwanda accuses Uganda of harassing, detaining, and torturing its citizens in Uganda; it also says that Uganda holds its goods in transit to Kenya; and that it supports groups bent on destabilising it, principally Kayumba Nyamwasa’s RNC and the remnants of those who committed genocide in 1994, the FDLR.
Uganda alleges that Rwandans go there to spy and demands that the Gatuna border should be opened.
These grievances have given analysts a lot of information to reflect on. Consequently, they have tried to understand the crisis from a rational perspective.
For instance, the allegation on spying is often responded to with suggestions that it, in and of itself, confirms that Uganda is supporting the RNC; it must have something to hide, or else why would Uganda be so paranoid as to see a spy in every Rwandan who crosses the border, some have wondered. And so on.
But what most analysts have had a hard time understanding is why Museveni would want to destabilise Rwanda in the first place, and what he wants the end-point for such destabilisation to be.
Some have argued that Museveni feels entitled to oversight over Rwanda because he apparently believes he helped its leadership to get power in 1994.
But this argument also fails the rational test. Museveni rode on the backs of Rwandans to power in 1986.
By placing him in power, these Rwandans were, in fact, helping themselves, for there is nothing he would have been able to do without them having placed him in that position in the first place.
In other words, it is irrational to try to assert entitlement on the basis of your supposed benevolence to a person for whom you yourself are indebted.
For this reason, as Museveni incessantly talks about “those boys” he helped, nothing reciprocal of the same sort comes from Rwanda’s side.
This is the rational thing to do given the historical circumstances leading to the liberation of the two countries. The leaderships in the two countries share a history of mutual assistance.
So if Museveni’s actions cannot be understood rationally, how can they be explained?
Museveni needs to be understood psychologically. Here’s the informed opinion of his former personal physician Dr Kifefe Kizza-Besigye:
“If you want to understand our relationship with Rwanda you need to understand two things; President Museveni thought that since President Kagame was here under his command, an officer in his army, he continued to believe that now that he has gone to Rwanda, Rwanda will be subordinate to him, that he will be dictating to them what to do; he was hoping to control Rwanda.
Because Kagame trained under him in the army, he should stay indebted to him.
"But this is the mentality he uses even here when dealing with Ugandans. Museveni thinks the country Uganda is his family; everyone is his child, grandchild, bazukkulu.
For me, I want my rights as a citizen. You can’t take me as your child. It is a narcissism that treats grown people like his children and bazukkulu so that he can tell them what to do; my children, bazukkulu do this; do that!
That’s how he wanted to relate to me. So, that is also how he wanted to view Kagame. He thought Kagame will do what he tells him to do.
“Kagame was initially deferential to Museveni but then it became too much and he said ‘we have our own country.’ We will steer it the way we see fit.
So, the problem, in Museveni's view, is that Kagame became defiant [yamujjemera!]. This was pronounced in the Congo war that deposed Mobutu.
Kagame refused to listen to Museveni. In fact, Rwanda was the only country that fought and deposed Mobutu. Because Kagame had defied him, Museveni hoped that Rwanda would fail. But they didn’t.
This placed Museveni in a situation of envy.
The second cause of the friction between Uganda and Rwanda is that while Rwanda might have its own problems, when you see the development there and compare it with what’s happening Uganda, and consider the fact that the leadership in Rwanda came on the scene much later than Uganda’s; that they started at a much greater depth, the baseline of genocide and that they have lifted themselves way out of that to the progress we see.
This naturally makes our people compare with what’s happening in Rwanda; they see the roads, the hospitals, etc., and they ask a rhetorical question that is directed towards Museveni ‘but what is wrong with you?’ [naye ggwe wabaaki?] So this piles pressure on him and adds on the jealousy."
On the Congo war, the late President Nyerere had asked Museveni what problem he had against the RPF. His response was that “they don’t listen to me.”
Nyerere was left aghast, wondering how Museveni expected the government of a sovereign state to take orders from him. In Museveni’s mind, since everyone is his child and grandchild, a defiant child must be punished, taught a lesson.
It is safe to say that Nyerere knew and Besigye knows Museveni as much as anyone can claim to.
His former doctor continues:
“So, regarding Uganda supporting groups that seek to destabilize Rwanda’s security, this talk has been around for long, some people [RNC recruits] were arrested saying they are scouts going to Burundi; they were passing through Tanzania [to DRC].
My view is that those two reasons I gave above [defiance and envy] led Museveni to the conclusion that if the leadership in Rwanda was not going to listen to him he at least could destabilise and slow them down [babakakkanye!]."
Museveni’s strategy to “slow down” Rwanda has been two-pronged. The first involves sponsoring groups to destabilise Rwanda in the expectation that resources that could be used for development are diverted, as the country becomes more preoccupied with neutralising the enemy.
Senior FDLR officers, captured in the DRC on the border with Uganda as they were returning from a meeting in Kampala on December 14-15 at the invitation of Uganda’s Minister of State for Regional Cooperation, Philemon Mateke, confessed that the purpose of the meeting was to urge them to strengthen ties with Kayumba Nyamwasa’s RNC, which was represented at that meeting by Frank Ntwali, his brother in law.
Significantly, Museveni had urged them to target Rwanda’s infrastructure.
This is in line with his own strategic goal to “slow down” Rwanda’s economic development, including through sabotaging its infrastructure, both existing and planned.
Indeed, much has been written about Uganda’s refusal to grant Fifth Freedom Rights to RwandAir to pick up passengers from Entebbe to Europe, even though it grants the same rights to European airlines.
Then, there is Kampala’s refusal to construct electric transmission lines for Rwanda to connect to cheaper electricity from Kenya and Ethiopia through Uganda, despite Rwanda’s offer to pay for the construction.
There is similarly the fibre optic line and indeed Kampala’s decision to abandon the railway project connecting Mombasa to Kigali through Uganda as agreed in the framework of accords at Summits of the Northern Corridor states that obviously Uganda signed hoping to benefit from deals with other countries while reneging on aspects of the agreements related to Rwanda.
In other words, the train and fibre optic could come from Mombasa to Kampala as long as they didn’t reach Kigali.
None of these can be analysed rationally. A European ambassador who tried to reason his way around Kampala’s decision to deny Rwanda Fifth Freedom Rights while granting them to European airlines, still to this day has no answer.
This reinforces Besigye’s view that Museveni’s behavior towards Rwanda should not be understood from a rational perspective.
It is only when you consider Museveni’s narcissism – his craving to demean everyone he comes in contact with in order to gain ascendancy over them, his need to treat grown-ups as his children who must obey him and do what he orders them to do short of which they are considered defiant, insubordinate, and deserving to be punished – that you can begin to understand his actions.
It is this acute narcissism that is at the centre of a crisis between two sovereign states. Expecting a sovereign state to subordinate itself to the whims of a foreigner is irrational.
Ironically, Museveni’s major disagreement with his mentor, former president Obote, is that the latter had insisted that Museveni remains eternally indebted to him for sending him for treatment at a psychiatric hospital in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1967, helping him to get admitted to the University of Dar es Salaam, and personally giving him his first job in his in State Research Bureau, meaning that Obote had a personal hand in grooming the very man that would eventually turn against him with a vengeance.
In other words, a rational Museveni should be in a position to understand that if this desire was untenable coming from his countryman, Obote, it would certainly be impossible to expect it from another country’s head of state.
But if we are to understand Museveni's behaviour from a psychological perspective as a symptom of narcissism, as his former doctor strongly suggests, then what is the root cause of that narcissism? Identity crisis and hunger for acceptance are some of the explanations.