Exactly a year today, Barnabas Taremwa, a businessman and NRM cadre penned what he termed a “revolutionary letter” to President Museveni and his Rwandan counterpart, Paul Kagame on what he described as a “silent war” between our two sisterly countries. Mr Taremwa was shocked that on the eve of the new year 2019, “President Kagame could make statements implying that Burundi and Uganda don’t wish Rwanda well”.
Mr Taremwa, a rancher, presented a background of how Ugandans had suffered before the National Resistance Movement/Army (NRM/A) liberated our country and the role Rwandans, including Mr Kagame who he said was among the 27 armed men that President Museveni led to the bush in 1981, had had in liberating Uganda. He then wondered: “what parameter did Mr Kagame use to claim that the 40 million Ugandans don’t wish Rwanda well!”
In that letter, Taremwa tried to create an impression of moral equivalence between the two Presidents, saying, “Whoever you talk to, quietly says it’s Mr Museveni and Mr Kagame who know what’s going on!” This has been the narrative in our media, and our journalists have deliberately or not tried to confuse Ugandans about what is going on between our countries. Rwanda however, appears to have been very clear and categorical in exposing our leadership’s role in the current strained relations.
President Kagame breaking silence
During President Kagame’s 2019 New Year’s message, when he hinted at what was likely to characterize the relationship between our countries, there were whispers in Ugandan security corridors that Rwanda was incensed by the presence of dissidents and elements bent on destabilizing it, specifically the Kayumba Nyamwasa-led Rwanda National Congress (RNC). According to internal CMI and ISO sources, the heads of these agencies had received “orders from above” to help Nyamwasa fight for regime-change in Kigali. A United Nations Group of Experts (UNGoE) had authored a report that similarly heavily implicated Uganda and Burundi in this scheme.
In his usual and characteristic messaging, Mr Kagame appeared to have prepared Rwandans on how the relations with their neighbors were likely to evolve, saying, “The past year was a good one for Rwanda. Rwanda’s relationship with its African brothers is stronger today, Africa is more united and Rwanda has contributed to this process, but some neighbors have tried to revive the danger posed by the FDLR, the RNC, and other negative forces, this jeopardizes the otherwise good progress in East African integration, as well as regional security.” He added, “I expect this from one neighbor but another had surprised me.”
According to a source within our government who requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of this information, when the pundits descended on televisions to give their take on Mr Kagame’s New Year message and its wider regional security implications, Mr Museveni felt very much forced to allay these fears as a pan-Africanist who is pro-integration. This he did by calling Mr Barnabas Taremwa and instructing him to write (based on dictation by Museveni) not only challenging these claims but also whitewashing Museveni of any wrong-doing. Taremwa was chosen as a veteran NRM cadre and “freedom fighter”, who many people across our borders would consider as a neutral.
The “revolutionary letter” signed by Barnabas Taremwa, but really authored by President Museveni, appears to have done nothing in calming President Kagame’s fears. Mr Kagame instead went public in front of cameras and brought to light what had been going on between him and President Museveni. While addressing his country’s 16th annual National Leadership Retreat on 9 March 2019, Kagame said, “We have Rwandans who go to Uganda […] on the other side of the border, they use criteria for those whom they want to allow in, others are arrested, put in prison, military prisons, others, nobody knows where they are, every other week, there are those that are dumped at the borders, including those owning small businesses.” He also talked about how he had been engaging his counterpart to resolve any outstanding issues: “I once told Museveni, I am begging you, deal with this matter. I don’t see what Uganda benefits from this; nor do we as Rwanda benefit from it,” Kagame recounted. The President added he had begged Museveni to tell him “if there was anything wrong Rwanda had done against Uganda so that it could be addressed, but he had found none.”
The Rwanda President went further, explaining there were three possible types of relationships between countries including: “Choosing to be friends, or allies, which is what we want. If the other side chooses this option, they will not find us wanting.” The second type of relationship is, “You ignore me, I ignore you. If that is your choice, then it is fair though it would not be my preferred choice.” The third category, Kagame stated, is: “You know, I don’t like you and I will always cause you problems, and we shall always have issues. Much as it is not coming from me, It’s also okay for me. But, you have to make sure you have capacity to sustain it. On our side, we should build capacity to absorb that.”
All this may have rattled Mr Museveni who, on 9 March 2019, pleaded guilty by accident.
President Museveni’s accidental guilty plea
After President Kagame’s emotional but equally defiant speech to his top government officials, President Museveni on March 10 took his pen and officially put his guilty plea on paper, even as he tried to plead innocent. He wrote: “Greetings from the people of Uganda and from myself. I’m writing to let you know that by accident, I, at last, had a meeting with a Rwandan who admitted to being a member of the group you told me about – Rwanda National Congress (RNC). This is a lady known as Mukankusi, whom I’m sure you know, but I had never met before. One of my National Resistance Movement (NRM) cadres kept telling that there was a Rwandan lady who had some important information to give me and that she wanted to come with somebody known as Gasana, who also had important information.”
The letter came the day after Rwanda had exposed to the media Mr Museveni’s meeting with Charlotte Mukankusi to whom he had issued a Ugandan passport. Ms Mukankusi is the chief of RNC diplomacy.
According to sources in State House, when President Museveni was caught red-handed, he had no option but to claim to President Kagame that all had happened by accident. But was he fooling the Rwandan leader, Rwandans or Ugandans? It remains to be seen who Museveni was fooling or if his NRM person who supposedly caused that “accidental” meeting was ever reprimanded.
It is important to mention that Museveni’s guilty plea letter had no better result than the one he had written through Taremwa to allay the concerns of the Rwandan government regarding his support to armed groups bent on destabilizing that country. Rwanda has maintained this position both in its official communications and in the media, while Mr Museveni on many occasions has stated he will never discuss Uganda-Rwanda issues in the media, and that these will be resolved through talks with his Rwandan counterpart.
The Luanda Memorandum of Understanding
The conflict between these two countries brought in their former enemies – Angola and DRC, whose leaders are now engaged in mediating between the former allies. Angola and DRC on one side fought against Rwanda and Uganda during 1998-2002 war in DRC. The talks between the former allies came after the deterioration of relations plummeted to unprecedented levels, and Rwanda closed its border with us, advising her citizens not to travel here. This happened in 28 February 2019.
According to Rwandan officials, the development came as a result of Kampala showing unwavering determination to destabilize their country. By the end of 2018, Rwandan media had published many stories pinning Uganda in planning and coordinating of anti-Rwanda rebel activities, giving examples of the arrest of senior FDLR officials on their way back from a meeting in Kampala with an RNC delegation, under orders of President Museveni. The arrested were Laforge Fils Bazeyi, chief FDLR spokesperson and Lt Col Theophile Abega, its chief of military intelligence. President Museveni’s meeting with the RNC chief diplomat Charlotte Mukankusi, whom he gave a Ugandan passport, the arrest of the FLN spokesman Nsabimana Callixte, alias Sankara, who revealed his collaboration with Ugandan intelligence, specifically its Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI), and the capture of 25 RNC rebels in Minembwe, DRC all showed the extent of Uganda’s involvement with Rwandan armed groups based in eastern DRC. The 25 RNC rebels, FDLR officials and Nsabimana are now being tried in Rwandan courts. They are said to have made shocking revelations on how Kampala is plotting against Kigali.
Although the Luanda MoU of 23 August 2019 initially provided hope for resolving the standoff between the two countries, things appear not to be going in the right direction. The first adhoc committee meeting in Kigali on 16 September 2019, appears to have given the subsequent talks a lifeline but the follow-up meeting in Munyonyo, Kampala, on 13 December 2019, left facilitators pondering what to do next, given Rwanda’s new chilling allegations.
According to sources who were in the meeting, the head of the Rwandan delegation, Ambassador Olivier Nduhungirehe, the junior minister for foreign affairs and East African cooperation accused Uganda of continued planning, support and coordination of groups bent on destabilizing Rwanda. In addition to continued illegal detention of Rwandans, he gave an example of Minister Philemon Mateke, Uganda’s deputy minister for regional cooperation, who coordinated a RUD-Urunana attack in northern Rwanda’s Kinigi district on the night of 3-4 October 2019, killing 14 civilians and injuring scores. The negotiations reached no resolutions.
Mateke’s panicky guilt
Dr Philemon Mateke is one of the high profile Ugandan officials that Rwanda accuses of coordinating anti-Rwanda rebel activities on behalf of President Museveni. Interestingly, neither Mateke, nor his boss Museveni have come out clearly to convincingly rebut these allegations. According to many experts, the fact that LaForge Fils Bazeyi, Lt Col Abega, and five members of RUD-Urunana are currently in Kigali’s safe custody made it impossible for Mateke and his boss to muster any robust defense against these accusations against themselves.
In December last year when the news broke that Mateke had chaired a meeting of FDLR and RNC officials on behalf of Museveni and asked them to coalesce against Kigali, Mr Mateke and Mr Museveni were tight-lipped. However, during the Munyonyo talks when Rwanda gave further evidence against him, Mateke became panicky and made a personal statement defending his character devoid of any substance to counter the Rwanda allegations. He said: “I hereby denounce in the strongest terms possible, attempts by some officials in a neighboring country to wage a despicable campaign to malign my character by accusing me of supporting elements allegedly working to destabilize the internal security of that country.”
According to criminal law experts, one pleads guilty by silence or angry denial which in both cases of Rwandan accusations against Mateke were easy to see. In the first case involving the FDLR and RNC officials’ meeting, Mateke pleaded guilty by silence because had he been innocent, he would have loudly denied these serious charges. In the second case involving RUD-Urunana, Mateke pleaded guilty by angry and emotional denial (devoid of counter facts) which can be seen in his personal statement.
If Taremwa would take up the challenge to write another letter on the Uganda-Rwanda relationship, how would it look like, given President Kagame’s accusations against President Museveni, the latter’s accidental guilty confession, the Luanda MoU provisions and Mateke’s angry guilty statement?
Author : Maxon Lukyamuzi – UgandanRwandan