On June 3, 2019, Andrew Mwenda, the proprietor of The Independent Magazine, published in Uganda, wrote a story titled “Uganda and Rwanda’s slippery slope.”
On September 3, 2018, exactly nine months previously, Mwenda wrote a detailed article in the same paper titled, “Kayihura, Kagame, Museveni” whose objective was to update his readers on what was then a subject that had yet to enter mainstream media.
And so, Mwenda asked the question, “So what is the issue between the two countries?” in order to “give a general picture of the things that have torn our two countries apart.”
It was perhaps the first time a mainstream journalist had covered the subject in great detail, having engaged actors at different levels. Mwenda presented ample evidence clearly pointing out the aggressor in the conflict.
Mwenda, however, refused to say the name Museveni and, as the evidence proved, that couldn’t be excused from a situation he had personally created; instead he resorted to scapegoating, shifting the blame to Museveni’s subordinates.
In other words, Mwenda was well aware that if things escalated, it was because of what Museveni - not his subordinates- had done and approved.
Therefore, even if Mwenda desisted from naming the source of the problem, the point had already been made; the evidence he had adduced spoke for itself.
But even going as far as he had gone could help him portray himself as a courageous person in pursuit of the truth, someone genuinely interested in contributing to averting the escalation of the crisis.
In all, Mwenda listed nine Rwandan grievances against one for Uganda.
Significantly, he pointed out that Rwanda had protested to Ugandan authorities, “But Kampala has never made a formal or even informal protest to Kigali over its sole allegation.”
President Museveni corroborated this position in his letter to President Kagame this March, 2019, “I get lots of stories; but I will never raise them unless I have confirmed them,” Museveni explained why he has yet to raise the claim that Rwanda has spies in Uganda to his Rwandan counterpart.
Mwenda expressed concern, then, that Rwanda grievances remained unaddressed by Uganda even as the latter was reluctant to air the grievances it has against the former, “the complaints by Kigali and the poor effort by Kampala to meaningfully address them began to cloud every decision, however, innocent, Uganda made in its relations with Rwanda,” an apparently concerned Mwenda wrote last year, presumably fearing the indifference was dangerous for relations between the two countries.
“I warned many Ugandan officials even at high levels that this show of bad faith was undermining trust between the two nations,” Mwenda wrote last September.
It is then that Mwenda predicted that the failure to address Rwanda’s grievances “portends a risky escalation.” It was also the first time that Mwenda had characterised the worsening relations in these terms: “This is a slippery slope.”
At the time, Mwenda said he believed that in order to de-escalate the situation, it was important to deal with the facts he had listed as the causes of the tensions.
He also said he had been perplexed by what he had discovered. What’s perplexing is that less than a year later, Mwenda now thinks that “the facts don’t really matter!”
This is a major personal transformation that has him not only persisting in his usual stance of avoiding to explicitly naming the root cause of the conflict, one that he knows very well; he is shamelessly dancing around that fundamental issue, pushing generalities intended to place both aggressor and aggrieved on the same footing, with the deliberate aim of absolving Museveni of a situation that he alone has created by his decision to instrumentalize the FDLR and RNC terrorist organisations in his campaign to destabilise Rwanda.
Kagitumba-Mirama Hills One-Stop Border Post between Rwanda and Uganda. / File
And so, Mwenda goes on a journey of 1,000 words where facts don’t matter! Where in the past his analysis examined structural factors, his new methods rely on “incidents like the one that happened last week can easily and rapidly turn a tense situation into a military conflagration.”
In so doing, he reduces the real issues – Uganda’s stubborn refusal to address key grievances – that are driving the breakdown of relations between the two countries, to ‘last week’s incidents.’
Consequently, the reason for his writing becomes obvious, especially when he chooses to preoccupy himself with assertions – “last week’s incidents” – that have been misrepresented and blown out of all proportion in the pursuit of Uganda’s propaganda interests.
Such fact-less methods could only lead him to facile and spurious conclusions that it is such incidents - not the real grievances- that could turn the present crisis into a military conflagration.
“Uganda may now also deploy her troops at the border to scare Rwandan security from entering as it claims they did last week,” Mwenda writes in a clear blow to his cover as a neutral commentator on the conflict. He is an open partisan to the conflict.
Otherwise, how is one to explain that a 1,000 word analysis can be based on a doubtful incident. In his dubious mind - since he claims to be a mind reader – Mwenda appears certain that the incident took place on Ugandan soil, something he considers a trigger for a “military conflagration.”
Even if we were to assume that the aim of his writing was to divert attention from the real grievances in order to shift the unsuspecting reader “last week’s incidents” as the cause of the conflict.
The parading of the dead body of a Rwandan national and the mobilising of diplomats for the “handover ceremony” can itself constitute an incident for triggering military conflagration. So, the selective amnesia is in itself telling.
Similarly, the idea that “Uganda may now also deploy her troops at the border” repeats an evidence-free falsehood.
It implies that Rwanda has already deployed its troops at the border in ways that incite a response from Uganda, which may put “its military to be on alert.” In other words, Mwenda aims to paint Rwanda as the aggressor itching for “military conflagration!”
Indeed, the assertion that “both sides have deployed their armies across the common border in irritating contact with each other” is false and does not reflect the situation on the ground.
There is no such tense situation as Mwenda suggests, and Rwanda has not, at any rate, reinforced its military predisposition on its border with Uganda. Neither has Rwanda ordered its defence forces to be on the alert; nor does it feel a necessity to “preserve a reputation of being tough”.
If Uganda decides, as Mwenda thinks it will, to order “its military to be on alert” then it will be for reasons other than “last week’s events” much of which involved further provocations against Rwanda.
Therefore, the contention that a war between Uganda and Rwanda may most likely become inevitable reflects specious thinking and shallow analysis that presents war as something of a game to trifle with.
The accidental analyst
Almost a year after his own evidence, Mwenda now also thinks the causes of the conflict between Uganda and Rwanda are happening “accidentally.”
Here are his words, “Yet, whatever Uganda plans, believing such action to be innocent, Rwanda would be stupid to take it lightly and vice versa.” Someone should get Mwenda a copy of his own writing from almost a year ago: there is nothing innocent about Uganda’s plans!
Uganda’s plans are now in the open. They have been confirmed by the terrorist organisations that they are working with, ranging from the FDLR and FLN officials who have been apprehended and have confirmed several planning meetings with senior government officials in Kampala.
Indeed, the United Nations Groups of Experts Report of December 2018 also confirmed that there is nothing “innocent” about Uganda’s plans. These are the facts!
Similarly, there is no “vice versa.” There is nothing Uganda is doing - on purpose or accidentally - that Rwanda is also doing in retaliation. Rwanda is not supporting any dissidents to topple Museveni. Neither is it harassing, arresting, torturing, and deporting Ugandans living in Rwanda.
Nor are “leaders in both capitals” making “decision based on information from their officers on the ground that is most likely doctored to create an excuse for their own mistakes.”
Only President Museveni is acting on lies fed to him by unscrupulous security officers only to later claim to have been “misled” as he has recently done by ‘withdrawing the spying allegations’ against Mr Vanhellenputte, who - along with three other top MTN officials - was in February this year accused of spying for Rwanda and deported: “I am the one who ordered for the deportation of MTN CEO but I was misled.”
Further, the conflict is not “where Kampala and Kigali are caught-up in mutually reinforcing fears and temptations. Each side fears the other is seeking regime change and is tempted to aid the other’s enemies.”
This is patently dishonest and goes against Mwenda’s own findings that have now led him to conjure up equivalences where they don’t exist. For instance, unlike what Uganda is doing with FDLR and RNC, what enemies is Kigali supporting to cause regime change in Kampala?
Last year, Mwenda was certain that the solution to the escalating conflict was to address the grievances in order to avoid escalation that could lead to a slippery slope. Almost a year later, he now thinks “the solution to this impasse is extremely difficult to craft.”
Interestingly, he believes that part of the difficulty lies in “lost trust between the two sides,” something that he, almost a year ago, predicted would be a likely outcome of the persistent refusal of Kampala to address Kigali’s grievances.
But his own prediction doesn’t stop him from his dancing craft, which is perfected in the claim that the present “assessments ignore the structural causes of tension and individuals are driven, like in ancient Greek tragedies, to act as if driven by fate.”
Ironically, this is the same man who has trashed his own analysis of the structural causes of the tension that he previously enumerated and has, in so doing, proven to be no different from the individuals he despises for who “being driven to act as if driven by fate.”
In them, Mwenda unfortunately fails to see the image of himself and to consider that he may share much more in common with, than what separates, them: The thought that what motivates his and their actions are the same and that it explains why he ignores the very reason why all this is happening and chooses to play the moral equivalence game.
But Mwenda is not alone in this change of attitude from those who were reputed for independent and courageous positions and have now turned to moral equivalences where there are none.
In 2001, Winnie Byanyima boldly called Museveni to order for providing support to the FDLR.
Like Mwenda, she now thinks Museveni’s support for the same FDLR she lambasted him for - and the RNC - are worth dancing around by conjuring moral equivalences.
The loss of courage by Andrew Mwenda and Winnie Byanyima to name things as they actually are is the real tragedy here, not the specious prediction of an alleged inevitability of war! This is nowhere on the cards.