For much of the tensions between Uganda and Rwanda, there was a general belief held by the people of both countries that a war was not possible.
I was one of those who believed that the situation could be contained before it got to the point of war. However, the recent escalation shows that all bets are off.
I got to this unfortunate conclusion as I, like many others, watched in disbelief the body of a Rwandan in a casket being played around like a political football by Ugandan authorities in a move – inviting diplomats to a “handover ceremony” that was intended to bring humiliation to Rwanda.
For much of the post-Genocide period a conflict between Uganda and Rwanda has been ongoing, with the most hostile situation being the direct confrontation in Kisangani in the late 1990s whose fallout led to supporting of mutual enemies in what was a proxy war in the early 2000s.
This was resolved during mediation that concluded that the two parties had to relocate the proxy forces to third countries.
Since that time there was a lull in the conflict. In fact, whatever was going on was always ignored and contained in closed doors.
An example is Uganda’s direct recruitment and facilitation of Patrick Karegeya and Kayumba Nyamwasa who were both received by that country’s top security officials the moment the fugitives crossed the border – then Colonel Leopold Kyanda and Salim Saleh respectively.
Around 2016 it emerged that Kayumba’s Rwanda National Congress (RNC) was actively recruiting in Uganda with the direct facilitation of Uganda’s security, particularly the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI).
Again, much of this stayed in the background. However, in November 2017 a bus was intercepted at Kikagati border and it was discovered the 46 young men on board had been facilitated with fake travel documents to travel to the RNC training centre in Minembwe, South Kivu, DRC.
They were RNC rebel recruits and the documents had been given to them by CMI officials who also coached them what to lie to immigration officials at Kikagati.
However, it was their conflicting stories that alerted the immigration officials that something fishy was going on.
They were taken to court and immediately released for fear that they might reveal damning information during cross examination.
Months later, on March 28, 2018, during a news conference at Entebbe, President Museveni admitted that his security forces had facilitated these young men, “A group of Banyarwanda was being recruited through Tanzania and Burundi to go to Congo. They said they were going for church work, but when they were interrogated it was found the work wasn’t exactly religious. It was something else,” Museveni told journalists.
Museveni’s own admission was enough for him to back-off its support for the RNC, right? Wrong. The opposite seems to have happened. Museveni dug in.
On December 14-15 his Minister of State for Regional Affairs, Philemon Mateke, held a meeting in Kampala whose aim was to enhance the coordination capacity of the RNC and the FDLR, a militia with bases in Congo whose determination is to complete the genocidal project of 1994.
Laforge Fils Bazeye and Theophile Abega, the FDLR’s representatives to that meeting were captured in Bunagana on their way from Kampala. The Congolese officials kept them for a short while before handing them over to Rwanda to face justice.
Once in custody they predictably revealed details of their meeting in Kampala, including the requirement by Museveni that they work closely by targeting and destroying Rwanda’s government and security infrastructure.
On December 31, 2018 the United Nations all but confirmed the Kikagati affair along with similar engagement when the Group of Experts Report on the Congo pointed to Uganda (and Burundi) as being part of the “network of recruitment” for rebels of the “P5” coalition whose overall commander is Kayumba Nyamwasa, according to the report.
One of the other members of the “P5” is Paul Rusesabagina’s MRCD whose armed wing, the FLN, until his recent capture and repatriation to Rwanda, was commanded by Callixte Nsabimana, aka “Major Sankara.”
Like the FDLR officials in custody, Callixte would also have a lot to say about the support his army was receiving from top officials in Uganda’s security forces.
Whenever Uganda was caught red-handed, it doubled down instead of backing off. After the release of the UN Report in December the authorities in Uganda responded by a media offensive where RNC officials – Kayumba Nyamwasa, Tribert Rujugiro and his publicist David Himbara – were given publicity as if they were openly unveiling their partnership to the people of Uganda.
Kayumba was misrepresented as some kind of principled statesman and Rujugiro as a benevolent actor whose investments in Uganda – with Salim Saleh as business partner – are helping the poor of Arua (long neglected by their government) rather than being the investment arm of the RNC that it actually is.
Even more intense media coverage of the RNC followed the revelation that top RNC officials, Charlotte Mukankusi and Eugene Richard Gasana, had held a meeting with Museveni at State House and that they had been issued Ugandan passports to facilitate their movements as they mobilize for support.
As if to limit damage control for its sake, Museveni wrote to Kagame, a letter that was leaked to the media, in which he admitted to meeting these officials “accidentally.”
At no single time has Uganda showed a willingness to tackle Rwanda’s grievances with it, mainly the harassment of its citizens in Uganda and the support to the RNC.
Most importantly, a pile of evidence is now in the public domain, including the details of RNC support noted above (the witnesses in custody corroborate them) and its nationals who have been deported with testimonies of torture and stories about their compatriots they have left behind in CMI’s dungeons.
Uganda seems determined to embarrass Rwanda instead of dealing with these grievances. For instance, when Rwanda closed the Gatuna border for construction of the One Stop Border Post, Uganda’s authorities decided not to inform their businessmen and women about the closure, allowing them to continue transporting goods to the border and preparing a media onslaught to promote a lie that Rwanda had closed its borders. In fact, only that border remains closed until the construction is complete.
The decision to escort the dead body of the Rwandan to Gatuna, with cameras and diplomats on hand, is in line with this strategy that refuses to engage with the grievances and the facts involved.
The “ceremony” to parade Rwanda’s dead citizen even when hundreds languish in Uganda’s jails crosses the line of common decency. While harassing and torturing Rwandans may be tolerated, playing politics with the dead bodies of its nationals my trigger something that was thought unthinkable: War seems inevitable, more than ever before, because this appears to be the only strategy Uganda has left.