Last week, Uganda officially deployed in the DRC with a mission to neutralize the ADF terrorists who, it claimed, were responsible for recent attacks in Kampala. Following the deployment, Andrew Mwenda, the proprietor of The Independent and advisor to President Museveni, wrote on Facebook an article titled, “Questions on UPDF deployment in DRC.”
Mwenda asked four questions, one of them he called, the “Rwanda factor.” Before delving into this factor, Mwenda reacted to what was presented to the media as the launch of the attack using “overwhelming firepower.” He writes, “it seems to me that UPDF was not just fighting ADF but actually doing military drills to test the effectiveness of its troops and the destructive capacity of its equipment,” adding that this was meant to send a message to “the most likely adversary”: Rwanda. He then asks, “what will be Kigali’s attitude” when the “nature of the mission” changes?
Shared and diverging interests
Kigali and Kampala have a shared interest in neutralizing the ADF threat. Both have been victims of ADF terror attacks. Just two months ago, Kigali foiled a terror attack, and the leader of those apprehended with improvised explosives, Niyonshuti Ndoli Ismael confessed to having received training from Salaudin aka Abu Jihad aka Desert Star aka The Punisher aka Lion Loft, who is based in ADF camps in the DRC.
This shared interest can only be undermined when Kampala decides to “change the nature of the mission,” Mwenda writes. In other words, the mission could shift from the declared reason for intervening in Congo to using ADF as camouflage for pursuing Kampala’s real ambitions.
“Kigali believes Kampala wants regime change in Kigali,” Mwenda further writes. “It also believes Kampala is training and arming Kigali’s enemies inside DRC.”
As Mwenda has written in the past, Kigali doesn’t just “believe.” It knows, with sufficient evidence, some of which was presented by Mwenda himself.
Among the terror organizations that are operating in the DRC that pose a security threat to Kigali are FDLR, FLN, RUD-Urunana, and RNC.
Uganda has been implicated in each of these organizations. As early as 2001, Winnie Byanyima was pleading with Museveni not to support the FDLR, a US-listed terror organization formed by those who had just committed genocide in Rwanda in 1994. However, Museveni didn’t stop; in 2005, it was revealed that Dr Ignace Murwanashyaka, the FDLR head at the time, was traveling on a Uganda government issued passport.
Patrick Karegeya and Kayumba Nyamwasa fled Rwanda, in 2007 and 2010 respectively, with Kampala’s connivance and were actively facilitated to exile before declaring war on Rwanda and setting their recruitment and mobilization base in Kampala. Museveni is on record (at 12:40’) admitting the presence of these recruitment cells in his country under the facilitation of his Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence.
In 2017, RNC mobilization intensified, with recruits leaving Uganda for DRC training in preparation to attack Rwanda, leading to a crisis. Museveni, shortly after, wrote a letter to Kagame admitting to having met with RNC officials at State House “accidentally.” It was also revealed they had been traveling on Uganda government issued passports.
In December 2018, a UN Report on the DRC confirmed the presence in DRC of a “network” named P5 operating with Kampala’s logistic support. In the same month, FDLR operatives, Ignace Nkaka (aka LaForge Fils Bazeye) and Lt. Col Jean Pierre Nsekanabo, were captured while crossing at Bunagana border between Uganda-DRC and handed over to Kigali by DRC officials. During court procedures, they revealed that they had travelled to Kampala as part of a coordination meeting that aimed to enhance cooperation between FDLR and RNC. The meeting, they testified, was held under the guidance of then Minister Mateke who told them that he had a “special message from Museveni.”
In October 2019, RUD-Urunana terror outfit, part of the P5 alliance, attacked Kinigi in the northern province of Rwanda. They killed 15 people and injured 14 others. Under RDF pursuit, they crossed into Uganda. Among the items found on the operation commander was a cellphone that showed that he had been in touch with Minister Mateke all along. As if to prevent further exposure of the extent of support granted to these negative forces, Kampala has since refused to hand over the other commander. With regard to the RNC, Major Mudathir Habib told court that, prior to heading to the DRC, he had been recruited and facilitated in Uganda. He and his 31 co-accused are currently undergoing trial following their capture on the battlefield in DRC.
Furthermore, during the trial of FLN terrorists, Rusesabagina’s deputy and spokesperson of the outfit, Callixte Nsabimana (aka Sankara), revealed that two countries had given them support in their efforts to destabilize Rwanda. He added that he had personally been in touch with Gen Abel Kandiho, the head of Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI), and that Uganda supported FLN’s attacks in Nyungwe, southern Rwanda.
All this to say that Kigali doesn’t just “believe.” Even Mwenda’s own evidence supports this fact. But Kigali’s response has always been measured despite the provocations. Rwanda’s restraint against these provocations shouldn’t be interpreted as some sort of inability to identify and defend its interests. On the contrary, Rwanda has interests and is prepared to defend them against anyone who threatens them. As the past shows, when red lines are crossed, the enemy should be assured that Rwanda will pay in kind.
Uganda’s failure to define the mission
As in the past, Kampala’s failure to define the “spheres of influence” is what will determine the true aims of the mission and whether these aims will “shift.” For instance, ADF’s area of operation is known to be in the Beni and Bunia while those groups that threaten Rwanda operate from Rutshuru and Masisi areas, much closer to Rwanda. These territories form two different operation areas.
Rwanda can only be invited into this conflict when the support that has in the past been given to these groups – from and by Kampala – is replicated in the DRC by linking the two operation areas mentioned above.
Therefore, any analysis that already invites Rwanda in this conflict aims to preempt responsibility for the likely failures to stick to the mission and execute it: that whatever may go wrong in the DRC, it will be Rwanda to blame. This shouldn’t mislead anyone; Mwenda can – and should – do better.
Finally, Mwenda talks about avoiding “what happened in 1999 and 2000” in Kisangani. Well, Kisangani happened because Rwanda’s restraint was taken for a weakness to the point of Uganda provocatively deploying beyond “areas of interest” to encircle the Rwandan army.
It is hoped lessons were learned.