Most people who follow politics of the region know that President Yoweri Museveni has long harboured ambitions of making Rwanda Uganda’s appendage. At the very least, he seeks to dictate to this country what it should and should not do.
Over the years he has recruited like-minded people from inside Rwanda to work with him to frame their country in his image. These are his protégés. But what is so special that they see in Museveni and he sees in them and together they wish to export to Rwanda?
The first place to look is how the protégés repeat Museveni’s rhetoric. Recently, Kayumba Nyamwasa told a Zambian newspaper that he is fighting to bring “fundamental change” to Rwanda. In 1986 during his swearing in, Museveni claimed he had fought to bring about fundamental change to Uganda.
David Himbara, another of Museveni’s Rwandan protégé, recently asserted, “Kagame’s inner circle is shrinking.” Presumably, Kagame’s ‘inner circle’ is shrinking while Museveni’s is always expanding? This is the difference between Museveni’s Uganda and Kagame’s Rwanda.
Here’s what belonging to an “inner circle” means in the contexts of the two countries. Museveni’s inner circle is above the law, able to divert public resources to personal interests as it wishes. A commercial bank is forcefully taken over and subsequently disappears without a trace; junk helicopters are procured with no one held accountable.
Someone can claim the country’s natural resources as his own, “my oil” and is not ashamed to publicly state that, “I am working for my children and grandchildren.” In other words, the country is run like a family kiosk until the time comes to hand it over to the next of kin.
On the contrary, Kagame has never had an inner circle. Moreover, no one has ever claimed to be above the law during his tenure. Some may be close to him by virtue of their responsibilities and the moment these tasks end this closeness comes to an end. This is what Himbara calls a shrinking inner circle. However, it is also true that some unscrupulous individuals – Himbara being one of them – who somehow found themselves working close to Kagame attempted to masquerade as belonging to some inner circle that in reality never existed; or, they had the ambition of creating an inner circle, only to end up crossing the line and finding themselves where they truly belong – in obscurity.
These two approaches are at odds and cannot co-exist. This is why Museveni and his protégés are eager to extend and replicate their preferred inner-circle politics to Rwanda, which is the only way to make sense of Himbara’s writing. For instance, all Ministers - like James Musoni who he refers to in Rwanda are appointed to serve; a Ministry is not a private asset; neither do those appointed to it expect they won’t be assigned to other responsibilities.
Similarly, all senior military officers - the likes of Gen. Jack Nziza - are only “close” to the President by virtue of their appointments and duties. They don’t enjoy this proximity due to personal or familial ties, or because they are members of a supposed inner circle. As a result, they expect to be redeployed – and even retired – as a matter of an inescapable reality: they are serving in a truly professional army that does not belong to an individual and they don’t believe they are forever owed anything special simply because they fought.
Nothing new about Eugène-Richard Gasana
Eugène-Richard Gasana, Rwanda’s former ambassador to the United Nations in New York, also features heavily as Himbara reimagines Rwanda in Museveni’s eyes. Gasana recently met Museveni on RNC-related movements in and outside Kampala.
Like Patrick Karegeya and Kayumba Nyamwasa before him, Gasana was also recruited when he was in active Rwanda government service. Moreover, like Ignace Murwanashyaka, the convicted (by courts in Germany) leader of the FDLR genocide perpetrators, Gasana was also facilitated with a Ugandan passport that has enabled his travel around the world, advocating for the RNC. Indeed, it is in this capacity that he, along with Charlotte Mukankusi, who also travels on a Ugandan passport, met President Museveni in Kampala last month.
A reliable source that ran into Gasana in transit at Amsterdam airport during his many travels on behalf of the RNC told this reporter that he was using a Ugandan passport, which was verified with pictures of the actual passport (We welcome a challenge from Ofwono Opondo and Sarah Kagingo to produce the documents. We promise to meet the challenge).
Interestingly, Gasana was ahead of his fellow protégés in one particular aspect: his relatively quick comprehension of the politics of their patron. For instance, when it was time for a new ambassador to take over in New York and he was asked to return home for reassignment, he balked; a sense of entitlement had him thinking that he was irreplaceable in that position. And so, he began throwing tantrums before deciding to cut links with his government by ceding to Museveni’s overtures – on behalf of the RNC – that had been in place long before the break of ties with Rwanda.
Since 2016 he has been running errands on behalf of the RNC, an organisation that has declared war on Rwanda and has conducted terrorist operations that have claimed the lives of innocent people in different parts of the country. Despite this record, Gasana has fraudulently managed to acquire U.S. residency on the false claim that his life is threatened back home.
However, Gasana should familiarise himself with the case of Jean Leonard Teganya. On April 6, 2019, the federal court in Boston ruled that the 48-year old “attempted to win asylum in the United States by lying.” He faces five years in prison and deportation to Rwanda. Similarly, Gasana’s lies to U.S. immigration that he is threatened at home may have been believed; however, his determination to fight his government should make him a person of interest to the authorities and expose him to Teganya’s fate.
Meanwhile, the fact alone that he fights Rwanda was enough for Gasana to enter Museveni’s “inner circle.” It makes sense. This is Museveni’s brand of politics. He needs an inner-circle to survive. It is by design that it can’t shrink. On the other hand, saying that Kagame’s inner-circle is shrinking is as nonsensical as it can get. This idea of shrinking has absolutely zero consequence precisely because Kagame doesn’t operate like their patron.
As Himbara successfully transforms himself in the image that Museveni requires of his protégés, he gets out of touch with the reality inside Rwanda. His view of Kagame’s inner-circle is proof that his transformation is complete. Significantly, Himbara is only a microcosm of the transformation that Museveni has in mind for Rwanda, one whose completion he seems committed to.
Even as Museveni preoccupies himself with Kagame, in the former’s mind the ideal transformation of Rwanda does not leave the position of president vacant. He gets to occupy it, along with the one he presently occupies. As such, in his thinking, he could potentially enjoy the status of President of the Greater Uganda, which would include Rwanda. But his fantasy doesn’t end there. When Museveni looks at Kayumba Nyamwasa he sees Salim Saleh; in Eugène-Richard Gasana he sees Sam Kuteesa. They form another layer to his “inner-circle.”