With the bellicose language coming from certain circles of the government establishment in Kampala, and a section of the Ugandan media, including Andrew Mwenda’s assertion that the Uganda army considers the 1999-2000 fighting in Kisangani between Rwandan and Ugandan troops “unfinished business” (The Independent June 10, 2019), it’s probably appropriate to look back at what transpired in the aftermath of the conflict.
At the time of the clashes, there was a war raging in then Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) that had attracted Rwanda which was fighting the Interahamwe and ex-government forces who were supported by successive regimes in that country, where they had fled to after committing the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994.
Laurent Desire Kabila and Mubutu Sese Seko before him had activily funded and facilitated their attack on Rwanda in the 1990s and 2000s.
Then there was a mix of more than half a dozen other regional armies, including Uganda, some of whose objectives were suspect.
It was a war theatre that was closely monitored by the international community, with a number of their representatives on the ground, including Western intelligence personnel.
Indeed these organisations and governments issued statements that left no doubt as to what led to the Rwanda-Uganda clashes.
A document by the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs published on May 8, 2000 clearly pinned the Ugandan government and its troops in the DR Congo as the party responsible for the provocation and subsequent fighting between the two armies, in Kisangani.
Various officials from around the world, including members of the UN Security Council, came out strongly to condemn the regime in Kampala, for initiating the fight by attacking Rwandan troops positions: “The US strongly condemns this morning’s attacks by Ugandan forces against Rwandan army troops….they are in violation of DR Congo's sovereignty and a clear violation of the Lusaka Agreement…. We note the actions could have significant impact on US-Ugandan bilateral relations”, warned Richard Boucher, US State Department Spokesperson.
Across the pond, the Belgian government denounced Uganda’s aggression, with then Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Louis Michel, emphasising that the “fighting was apparently at the initiative of Uganda forces”.
In the meantime, Lieutenant Colonel Akram Hossain, who headed the UN monitoring team in Kisangani, confirmed that the clashes started when “the Ugandan Army began shelling Rwandan troops and rebel RCD positions at 4 am Friday morning on May 8, 2000”.
A report into the circumstances surrounding the fighting was released by a Committee co-chaired by then Chief of Staff of the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) - later to become Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) – and the then Commander of the Ugandan Army.
The report detailed a series of provocations against Rwandan troops initiated by then Brig. James Kazini, who commanded the Ugandan soldiers in Kisangani.
It showed that Kazini was spoiling for a fight such that the clashes became inevitable. When the report came out, President Museveni, unsuccessfully, sought to discredit it, claiming that Rwanda had more military lawyers on the committee than Uganda, which was false.
Meanwhile, the media coverage in Kampala, as reflected in the views expressed by the existing outlets at the time was varied, with the Monitor on August 16, 1999 running a lead story declaring that the Ugandan army losses in Kisangani were in hundreds with “Kazini, Otafire and Mayombo under heavy bombardment”.
Predictably, New Vision articulated the government position, with Museveni’s presidential advisor for media and public relations, John Nagenda, a man born on the shores of Lake Muhazi in Gahini, Rwanda (indeed the same birth place for Uganda’s foreign minister, Sam Kutesa), quick to unleash Hassan Ngeze’s language.
In an opinion piece carried by the Uganda government mouthpiece titled “Rwanda owes Uganda Apology” (New Vision, September 4, 1999), Nagenda not only sought to incite the Uganda population against the Rwandan people, but was clearly evoking the demonisation spread by Kangura and RTLM in the days leading to the genocide.
“Hard though it might seem, try and find it in your heart to feel sorry for Rwanda and its people ---they are now viewed as treacherous and unreliable people with whom dealings become tricky as holding a writhing snake”, Nagenda told Ugandans, ensuring the use of the imagery of the “snake,” the epithet favoured by Interahamwe to dehumanise the Tutsi.
In spite of the joint inquiry report indicting the UPDF and the global chorus of condemnation, the Uganda army was baying for blood.
According to a report released by the International Crisis Group (ICG) on May 4, 2000, “Uganda and Rwanda: Friends or Enemies,” secret meeting were held in Kampala to chart out a strategy –Major General Salim Saleh, Museveni’s brother and former army Chief of Staff – declared that he was ready to be recalled to the army”.
On August 30, 1999, President Museveni addressed the Ugandan Parliament and did not hold back, as he attacked Rwandan government leaders, going as far as describing them as “puppies”.
“Our RPA brothers have never had time to develop sufficiently to know how to do some of the things,” he told parliament.
After his speech inciting hostility against Rwanda among his own population, Museveni learnt that then Vice President and Minister of Defence of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, was due to address the Rwandan people through their representatives in parliament.
In yet another blatant display of arrogance and his treatment of Rwanda as his subordinate state, similar to what was detailed in these pages President Museveni hastily dispatched his Military Assistant then Col. Kale Kayihura, as a special envoy with an urgent message for Rwanda’s then Vice President.
Museveni instructed Col. Kayihura to ask then the Vice President Paul Kagame to not address the Parliament of Rwanda. Now that was not only interference in a neighbouring country’s affairs, it was delusion of grandeur beyond the pale.
On September 2, 1999, then Vice President Paul Kagame addressed Parliament in Kigali, where he presented facts without attacking Uganda or its leaders.
On September 16, 1999, after the conclusion of the joint inquiry into the Kisangani fighting, the Vice President, once again, addressed parliament where he confirmed that the findings of the inquiry had “cleared the RPA of any blame” with no “recorded evidence of backstabbing, treachery, as some Ugandan authorities had alleged”.
As the Ugandan government leaders and their cheerleaders in the Ugandan media seek to take advantage of the passage of time to distort history in order to advance their aggressive designs on Rwanda, they should remember that there is ample documented evidence of these events; the public will never be gulled by any of their propaganda.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.