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Why we fought Rwanda in Congo

In Part X of these series, we bring you the second part of a speech that President Museveni delivered to Members of Parliament on August 30, 1999, about Uganda’s invasion of the Democratic Republic of Congo.


Here, Museveni talks about why the RPA attacked UPDF in DR Congo, and the agreements that were signed to quell the conflict. The speech is particularly insightful in light of the UPDF’s ongoing presence in the Republic of South Sudan.

On August 6, 1999, prior to the arrival of the verification mission in his area, Prof Wamba dia Wamba arrived in Kisangani. The other faction, apparently backed by RPA, had laid ambushes on the road from the airport and shot at the UPDF convoys which were clearing the way for Prof Wamba. In all this, we had promised Prof Wamba security in areas where there was some friction.

When Brigadier James Kazini sought explanation from the RPA over the ambushes, the RPA denied responsibility and instead blamed the ambushes on the Congolese rebel groups. With these developments, the verification team, which was due to visit the areas under Wamba’s control, was called off for that day.

In the meantime, the UPDF Army Commander, Maj Gen Jeje Odong, had received information about the ambushes and he sent me a message about the situation in Kisangani. I talked to Brigadier Kazini and instructed him to ensure the safe arrival in town of Prof Wamba. Brigadier Kazini subsequently cleared the ambushes and later moved to secure strategic points within Kisangani city. Prof Wamba was then given UPDF protection under the command of Major Ddiba.

The verification mission, which was composed of the South African Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Zambian Minister for the Presidency, [was] finally able to visit Kisangani on 12th August and they witnessed a huge rally which was held by Prof Wamba. The show of strength and support for Prof Wamba apparently angered the Rwandese who, subsequently, started bringing troop reinforcements into Kisangani.

I received information from Brigadier Kazini, on the need to bring into Kisangani troop reinforcements, in light of what the RPA was doing. I allowed Brigadier Kazini to do so but, in the meantime, I sent Col Kale Kayihura to Rwanda to seek explanations on the activities of the RPA troops in Kisangani, and on the general arrogance of Rwanda in Congo, behaving as if they had power to veto any move they did not like, instead of looking for compromises.

At this point, I got an urgent message from the Assistant Secretary of State of United States Government, Susan Rice, expressing concern that we were sending reinforcements to Kisangani when, in fact, we had not yet done so. It seems somebody must have been misinforming the Americans.

On the basis of my conversation with Ms Rice, I instructed Brigadier Kazini to halt the deployment until he had received a call from me for further guidance. When next I spoke with Brigadier Kazini, he informed me that the situation in Kisangani had worsened and that he had detected that the RPA were planning to attack UPDF positions. He had authorised the airlift of half-a-battalion from Gbadolite to Kisangani.

He informed me that the RPA had fired at the plane as it was landing bringing in UPDF reinforcements. Kisangani has two airports – one is called Bangoka in the east and the other is called Simisimi in the west of the city. Bangoka airport is the bigger one of the two. The UPDF is situated near Bangoka airport, 19 kilometres from the town. The plane went back for more reinforcements and was again shot at when it was landing.

The Mweya and Rwakitura agreements

Two of our soldiers were killed inside the plane and seven were injured. It was not easy for me to find out the cause of the problem. Col Kale had not yet returned from Kigali and the fighting in Kisangani was continuing, with Major Ddiba’s companies being attacked. The companies were scattered in the town guarding buildings such as hotels, mosques and office blocks; so, they were not really deployed to fight. They had only been deployed to stop disruption but they were being attacked day after day.

I proposed to Rwanda’s Vice President Kagame that since there was some nervousness, mutual monitoring teams should be placed at each of the airports. He, however, rejected the proposal saying that the problem was not at the airport. He did not like the idea of a monitoring team and I wondered what it was he could have been hiding. He proposed, instead, that the commanders of the UPDF and RPA in Kisangani should be summoned to a joint meeting with him and myself.

A meeting was convened at Mweya Safari Lodge, where I was spending my holiday. Early the following day, Kagame rang me and told me that it seemed the situation in Kisangani was getting out of hand. He proposed that instead of the commanders in Kisangani coming to Uganda, other senior commanders from Uganda and Rwanda should go to Kisangani and control the situation on the ground.

Meanwhile, the fighting was escalating but I had given strict orders for our army not to attack and only to defend themselves when they were attacked. Simultaneous with the senior commanders going to Kisangani, I agreed with Maj Gen Kagame that we should have a meeting at Mweya the following day.

Kagame first said he was coming by air; then he said he was coming by road and he finally arrived at about 10pm. Incidentally, I have been hearing some grumblings relating to my meeting with Vice President Kagame, instead of President Bizimungu.

It must be understood that the matters to be discussed concerned the armies of Uganda and Rwanda and for historical reasons Major General Kagame has got more links with RPA. In other fora, however, I always meet with President Bizimungu. In the Mweya meeting, Vice President Paul Kagame did not appear to treat the crisis in Kisangani with the urgency that it deserved. We spent the first night just working out the agenda for our meeting which was approved as follows:

1. Our alliance – mutual support;
2. Investigating the shooting incidents;
a) The other Saturday – before the verification
b) Shooting while our people were disembarking
c) Shooting at the doctor and I.O (Intelligence officer)
d) Shooting at Aircraft No. 11
e) Shelling in town
3. Sectorisation of Kisangani
4. RCD signature and Congolese armed resistance in general.
5. Mutual support in diplomacy - no backbiting;
6.Taking cognizance of the diplomatic background: Americans, the West, and SADC;
7. The future work in Congo.

When Kagame went to his room, I wondered whether these people [the Rwandese]were not playing me some tricks. I had told them for four days that their army was blockading our army but they were not taking it seriously. A few days earlier I had sent the following message to Col Kale who was in Kigali at that time.

Fm: Mweya
To: Kigali
Infor: Army Commander
151230c Aug.99

Fm: President for MA/HE Ref. Yrs DTG 150850c and 151020c received. The info I have is the opposite. RPA, since last Saturday has initiated four arms fire attacks on UPDF. The one of last Saturday was, of course, ascribed to the Congolese. According to COS, all the attacks are from the RPA first. Last night’s incident for instance, was caused by an attack by RPA on our troops who had just disembarked from the aircraft.

Therefore, tell Vice-President of Rwanda, all sides must stop shooting. In particular, tell him that the RPA position under somebody called Ruvusha must stop shooting at UPDF vehicles going to and from the international airport. Surely, Maj Gen Kagame knows how we came to go into Congo. How can his troops blockade us?

Why should UPDF declare war on RPA?
Last night I agreed with him about a joint inquiry. I am still waiting for his call about operationalising it. I need a clear answer from him so that I decide what to do. There was another proposal that I gave them twice and they did not accept it.

However, the attacks against Ddiba and Otafiire were continuing. I, therefore, decided that it was high time our Rwandese brothers were either allies or enemies. At 1:00am, I rang Kazini and told him to prepare everything and that I would call him at 7am later that morning to give him the final word. Due to our professional training, and also because of my tribal culture, I can never attack anybody without warning – that is cowardice of the worst kind. I have never attacked anybody without warning him, in broad daylight, so that he has enough time to prepare and can, therefore, give no excuse when I defeat him. I drafted a message for Kagame – he was in the next room but I wanted to put it on record.
We had been talking verbally and nothing had happened.

17th August 1999

Mweya Lodge

In  order  not to unnecessarily offend the combat dignity of the UPDF, not to cause unnecessary losses due to failure of evacuating and treating casualties as well as maintaining the cease-fire we so badly need to end these historical mistakes and rescue our now tarnished reputations, I propose two immediate measures.

a) a cease-fire to take place by 0900 hrs (Uganda time) and
b) uninterrupted movement of troops and supplies by 1000 hrs (Uganda time).
The two steps must be quite close because it is clear to me that, at least in terms of attempts to encircle the other, RPA has been the active one as is evidenced by the two ambushes cleared by Kazini’s company on the way to the town from UPDF headquarters yesterday (16/8/99) and last night.
Kazini has just told me that the company is now fighting at the market in town. Clearly, these blockades would destabilize any cease-fire. Let us act decisively.
Incidentally, when you left, I talked to Kazini again. He told me that the company that was taking supplies to Ddiba had just cleared the second ambush and was on the move towards the town. I told him that he should either halt it or inform Kabareebe that a supply coy was on the way. Although he was reluctant, eventually I persuaded him to ring his counterpart. He has just told me now that when he rang Kabareebe, the other one accused him of attacking his positions and banged the telephone in his ear.

We need to diffuse this situation at once.

Yoweri K Museveni

When Kagame was receiving the message, I spoke with Kazini at 0700 hours (Uganda time) and I gave him two orders. First, H-Hour (the hour of attack) should be 1000 hours Uganda time. I said that cease-fire must take place by 0900 hours and if it did not, he should attack by 1000 hours. I wanted Kagame to respond clearly to this message.

The second order (was that if the attacks on Otafiire and Ddiba’s positions continued, he should not wait for 1000 hours. Since the attacks were continuing, Kazini did not [wait] for 1000 hours. As soon as morning mist cleared, he started attacking the Rwandese positions between himself and Bangoka airport. I was supposed to meet Kagame at 0900 hours but because of the telephone calls I was making, I delayed and we met at 1000 hours.

For the first time, I saw that Kagame was treating the situation with the requisite urgency. He said that we should forget about the agenda of the previous night, hence, we drafted another document and agreed upon it there and then, as follows:

1)Cease-fire on all positions at exactly 1200hrs (Uganda time). Any officer who violates this, will be court-martialled.
2)At 1300 hrs (Uganda time), two designated liaison officers from each side to meet at an agreed place. All ambushes-on the way to the meeting place to be lifted immediately.
3)At 1500 hrs (Uganda time) free, uninterrupted movement of logistics i.e. food, ammunition, fuel, drugs as well as evacuation of casualties. This does not include combat troops. Liaison officers and their seniors to ensure full implementation of this.
4)At 1800 hrs (Uganda time) Brigadier Kazini to report to president Museveni and Colonel Kabareebe to Vice President Kagame regarding full compliance;
5)Tomorrow, 18 August, Major General Jeje Odongo and Brigadier Kayumba, travelling in the same plane, to take control of the situation in Kisangani;
6)No more verbal battles in the media by officials of either side.

DISCUSSED and AGREED at 1015hrs Uganda time between President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and Vice President Kagame.

Dated 17 August 1999.

However, the Rwandese continued their attacks against Ddiba and Otafiire for three-and-a-half hours beyond that time the cease-fire was supposed to be in place. Therefore, the only offensive action by UPDF, which lasted only two hours, was the attack by the 3rd Battalion against the Rwandese that had attacked our forces for three days while we maintained restraint.

After the violation of the cease-fire in the town, calm was established. In spite of what had happened in Kisangani, I decided that Uganda should continue to support the legitimate interests of Rwanda but that it would not allow Rwanda to dominate the DRC. On 22nd August, Vice President Kagame came to my home at Rwakitura. After thorough discussions, we signed another agreement which provided for the following measures:

(i) the partitioning of the city of Kisangani and the joint control of the two airports between the UPDF and the RPA;
(ii) the withdrawal of all troops from the centre of Kisangani city, but that each side would maintain one battalion in town;
(iii) the election of a mayor of Kisangani, by the people of Kisangani themselves. The mayor will be in charge of the police and will be responsible for the maintenance of law and order in Kisangani.
What is interesting is that from the beginning, when our forces went to Kisangani, we had made all these suggestions to our Rwandese brothers but they had not agreed to them. In the whole of Congo, it was only in Kisangani that our forces were together. In the Rwandese sectors, we attached our small, but crucial, units to their forces – such as the tanks and anti-aircraft systems we had in Goma. Whenever we wanted to contact those forces, we would do so through the Rwandese.

However, when I told them to attach their forces to our army in Kisangani, they were reluctant. All these points which we have now agreed upon should have been agreed upon a year ago when we went into Congo. With such an arrangement, it would not have been easy to cause confusion.

There are, therefore, some unexplained reasons why the Rwandese were behaving in the manner that they were. In fact, earlier on when I saw the reluctance on how to handle Kisangani, in December 1998, I had met President Bizimungu in Kabale.

I said to him: “Mr President, you seem to have some problems on how to manage Kisangani, so, I propose that I withdraw all our forces in Congo and you handle the situation yourselves, if you are able to do so.” He said: “No, you cannot withdraw because that will cause many other problems.”

To be continued….

In Part III, Museveni explains the ideological differences between Uganda and Rwanda on DR Congo’s political situation

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