This is our second article in the series expounding on the historical and current dynamics that are relevant to the frosty relationship between Rwanda and Uganda.
Intimately, we are recollecting moments that help us to expose President Yoweri Museveni’s hostility against Rwanda. In this piece, we focus on what transpired in the early 90s. We pick key and strong instances that shade light on how Museveni’s behavior has been consistent despite the fact that the two countries have shared social-political milieu with varying degrees of interludes.
Shortly after the liberation struggle to stop the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, regional countries had become home to thousands of Rwandan refugees, particularly elements of the Habyarimana regime that had participated in the genocide.
The largest majority had established themselves in the jungles of DR Congo (Zaire). The Kinshasa government had also gradually lost its grip on management of the state, creating a conducive environment for the Interahamwe to mobilise, organise and return to Rwanda and complete their mission of exterminating the Tutsis.
Meanwhile, Congolese Political and armed groups, too, were battling for control.
In view of security concerns, Rwanda deployed in DRC to flush out genocidaires who had established themselves in military and refugee camps along the DRC common border with Rwanda, ready to strike and accomplish their mission to exterminate the Tutisi.
This was in late 1996 when they fought alongside Laurent Desire Kabira’s side of Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo to overthrow Mobutu.
The establishment in Kigali wouldn’t sit idly and wait for trouble to spread back home. They had identified the right group to give support.
Meanwhile, the RPA was receiving accolades from the world over for winning battles yet Museveni regarded them as “boys” he trained.
It is said that when Rwandan fighters were advancing towards Kinshasa, Museveni asked Kigali that his brother, Gen Salim Saleh to command the final assault and capture Kinshasa, the capital city of DRC.
This sent a bad taste to the Rwandans. Museveni’s audacity was unbearable. His arrogant and disrespectful demand was decline. He proceeded, nevertheless, up to Kisangani during what is known as Congo II.
During Congo II, Museveni struggled to justify deployment of his troops in DRC, but he proceeded and up Kisangani which had been liberated by Rwandan troops (RPA).
Ironically, Museveni insisted that RPA withdraws from Kisangani and allow Ugandan troops to occupy it, which Rwanda refused. Apparently, Museveni’s plan was to establish a break-away faction from RCD led by Wamba Dia Wamba.
In August 1999, on a Saturday morning, fighting broke out between Ugandan and Rwandan forces.
Ugandan army forces backed the Kisangani-based faction of the Rassemblement Congolais pour la Democratie (RCD-Kisangani) and the Rwandan forces backed mainstream RCD-Goma.
The fighting broke out – with clashes for control of the city centre and one of two airports – after RCD-Goma had disrupted a “tour of explanation” around Kisangani to brief the public on the Lusaka agreement, according to RCD-Kisangani Spokesman, Sessanga Ipongo.
In this gun battle, Uganda was defeated. For Museveni, the defeat was painful. He kept looking for a chance to vet his anger on Rwandans. He engaged his commanders in Kisangani to secretly create room for another clash against the Rwandans. The two sides clashed three times, including in May and June 2000. Ugandan troops were walloped again almost to a total inhalation.
Notably, on June 5, 2000, heavy gun fire was heard blaring into the skies between the two sides.
Uganda provoked Rwandans by shelling their positions in Kisangani in mid-morning on June 5 and lied that its forces had simply responded to an attack on one of its army vehicles. The shelling was followed by a ground attack.
In response to Ugandan provocation and arrogance, the well-organised and commanded Rwandan troops counterattacked UPDF in a fierce seven-hour battle that ended a week of terrifying, indiscriminate shelling. Uganda suffered heavy losses that Museveni has never forgotten until today.
A few remaining Ugandan fighters almost ran into Congo River before Rwandan commanders voluntarily ceased fire.
Museveni is said to have pleaded for mercy with Rwandan authorities as the fighting ensued. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwj_hLrGmcH0AhUtQ_EDHf76BUEQFnoECAkQAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fopendocs.ids.ac.uk%2Fopendocs%2Fbitstream%2Fhandle%2F123456789%2F4913%2FMakara-MAK-Res.pdf%3Fsequence%3D1&usg=AOvVaw1hDA-DZF_0PkvU567EXKM8 .
According to witnesses at that time, bullet-riddled bodies of over 2000 Ugandan soldiers lay strewn along the gravel road that leads to the bridge where Rwandan troops halted the Ugandan push into the Congo River port city. The stench of death was everywhere, and there was no water, electricity, food or medicine.
Meanwhile, Museveni was humiliated when he learnt that dozens of his fighters were being held by Rwandan fighters as prisoners of war. He openly denied it. When Rwandan repatriated the prisoners of war, Museveni welcomed them as heroes.
It was reported then that the prisoners were being held at a military camp in the central prefecture of Gitarama. “Ugandan authorities should stop to posture by denying that we don’t have their prisoners. It is normal to take prisoners in any war,” Rwandan government Spokesman then, Joseph Bideri said. “The army leadership in Uganda is negotiating their release with the military authorities here,” he was quoted as saying. Read: (https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/report/15983/rwanda-ugandan-prisoners-war-paraded)
Back in DRC, unarmed UN observers were in place to monitor the cease-fire called by Ugandan forces. The UN raised its flag and declared that any further fighting would be considered an act of aggression against the international community.
At that time, Rwandan soldiers had captured tons of ammunition, guns and an anti-aircraft battery left behind by the Ugandans.
“I am not proud of this,” a Rwandan commander said then. “But we were fired at. We won because our soldiers know what they are fighting for. We are now leaving Kisangani regardless of Ugandan intentions.” The fighting ended.
This was another loss for Museveni which added more salt to injury. Museveni has never forgiven Rwanda for this. Ominous as he is, Museveni has never buried the hatchet. His hatred and bitterness against Rwanda are alive and kicking.
Our next article will be published on Monday.