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Why I sent UPDF to DR Congo – Museveni

In Part IX of these series, we bring you a speech that President Museveni delivered on August 30, 1999 to Members of Parliament.

In the speech, Museveni explains the role that the UPDF played in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The speech, to be run in two parts, is particularly insightful in light of the ongoing UPDF presence in South Sudan: -

Honourable Members of Parliament will recall that in a document that I issued in August 1998 at the Heads of State Summit at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, I outlined the background to the situation in the Great Lakes region. I focused on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the involvement of Uganda and Rwanda. Copies of that statement were distributed to all of you.

You have also seen my statement on the recent incidents in Kisangani in which the Ugandan and Rwandan troops were involved in some clashes. The statement was published in The New Vision newspaper of 24th August, 1999.

Uganda’s involvement in the DRC could be traced to the decision that was taken by the Army High Command, which held a meeting on 11th September, 1998, and approved Uganda’s involvement in the DRC. Later on, the Army Council also approved this position. Within the army, the following were the reasons why we thought we should be in the DRC at that time:

I. To maintain forces in the DRC in order to secure Uganda’s security interests by denying the Sudanese government an opportunity to destabilise Uganda through eastern Congo;
II. To deny habitation to Uganda’s dissidents, such as the ADF in the Congo.
III. To ensure that the political and administrative instability arising from rebel and government clashes in eastern Congo did not distabilise Uganda.
IV. To demobilise elements of the Interahamwe, the former Rwandan army, and prevent them from terrorising Uganda and Rwanda.
V. To protect Uganda’s territorial integrity from invasion by Kabila forces.
Soon after the meeting of the Army High Command, I addressed Parliament on the developments in the DRC on September 16, 1998. And on September 20, I held a lengthy meeting with the Parliamentary committee on defence and Internal Affairs on the same issue.

Economic ties

Some people argue that Uganda should be indifferent to the troubles of our region. They think that it is a policy because they argue that involving ourselves in the affairs of our neighbours will cause us problems. It is important, however, to appreciate that Uganda’s sustained economic growth cannot be ensured in the absence of stability within its major trading partners, of which the DRC, with a population of over 40 million people, constitutes a big part.

If you are to analyse the pattern of our exports, you will find that, apart from coffee, tea, cotton and tobacco, most of our exports go to our neighbours. Therefore, those who argue that we should be indifferent to what is happening in our neighbourhood are not helping Uganda and, of course, are not helping our other African brothers.

Needless to point out that Uganda would not have easily come out of the nightmare of Amin’s reign had it not been for the solidarity from our brothers in Tanzania.
Initially, the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) went to Beni, Bunya, Watsa and Isiro in the eastern part of the DRC, not far from the Uganda border. The Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) were based in Bukavu, Goma and in the area towards Katanga, the south-west of the DRC.

The RPA had, on account of being over-stretched, requested that the UPDF move to Kisangani, to protect the airport there which they had captured earlier. It’s important to protect those airports to prevent Sudan from flying their soldiers and Ugandan dissidents to Congo in order to establish bases from which to launch attacks on Uganda and Rwanda.

After moving to Kisangani, the UPDF advanced through Banalia - this is a river some 100 miles north of Kisangani – up to Buta. They fought and defeated the Chadians 75 miles beyond Buta at a place called Dulia. Subsequent attacks on the UPDF by Angolan and Kabila forces, after the Franco- African summit which was held in Paris in November 1998, were repulsed at Bbumba.

Thereafter, the UPDF advanced and captured a town called Lisala. The Chadians again attacked us at Akula but were again defeated. Thereafter, a Sudanese brigade of 2,000 soldiers launched a separate attack to re-capture Lisala, but they were also defeated. These fights took place in February 1999. At that point, Chad began overtures for peace and a special envoy from the Chadian government was sent to meet me later that month.

Following those interactions and the eruption of internal conflicts in Chad, the Chadians withdrew their forces from the DRC, but the UPDF did not take advantage of that withdrawal to advance and take over the areas that had been abandoned by the Chadians.

The UPDF’s intention in the DRC was not to control territory for the sake of controlling territory, but to ensure the security of our borders and force a political settlement over the Congo question. Nevertheless, President Kabila later organised what he called a ‘Hutu brigade’, which was assisted by elements of the Angolan army, to attack UPI positions to the north-west of Lisala.

This forced the UPDF to advance around May 1999 and capture Businga. This is a road junction going to Gbadolite and the Central African Republic (CAR). This was in order to prevent more attacks from Kabila and his supporters. This forward movement in May and early June expelled about 8,000 soldiers of Kabila army, the Hutu brigade and the Angolans. They fled to the CAR and Congo Brazzaville.

Therefore, we liberated Gbadolite, Businga and other towns in the area. Right now our forces are on the border with the CAR and Congo Brazzaville. At that point, it became apparent that the war was wearing on Kabila’s allies and that they were becoming more receptive to the peace initiatives that were being spearheaded by Zambia’s President Frederick Chiluba.

Peace initiatives in Lusaka

Here at home, I set up a committee chaired by the National Political Commissar, Hon James Wapakhabulo, to prepare a document for peace negotiations to be held in Lusaka. The document that was prepared by that committee was essentially the one that was finally adopted at the Lusaka conference. The key elements of the Lusaka document that formed the basis of the Lusaka treaty are:

  • The acceptance that the belligerents themselves would become the peace enforcers. This was a very big issue because, at the beginning, Zimbabwe and Angola were saying that there were two types of foreigners in the DRC: the invited and the uninvited i.e. those who had been invited by Kabila and those who had not. They were saying that the uninvited foreigners must go back and leave there the invited ones. After many months of arguing and fighting, it was agreed in Lusaka – without debate – that the belligerents i.e Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Kabila’s army and the rebels should now become the peacekeepers. This idea originally came from President Thabo Mbeki – it was like Saul becoming Paul. This obviated the need to bring in UN peacekeepers whom, you will recall, were in Rwanda when the genocide took place in that country in 1994. The UN was in Rwanda under Chapter 6 of the United Nations Charter. This is the provision to keep the peace when people are no longer quarrelling and to allow you in - if they quarrel, you go away that is why there was a problem in Rwanda. In Kosovo, the peacekeepers went there under Chapter 7, which means that the peacekeepers are ready to shoot anyone who is stopping them from keeping the peace. So, we asked the UN, “Why do you only use Chapter 6 when it comes to Africa and you use Chapter 7 in Europe?” We are no no longer called belligerents but ‘parties to the agreement’ and we are all, including Kabila, duty bound to hunt all the Interahamwe and the ADF.
  • Another provision concerns the disarming of non-state combatants, such as the ADF and Interahamwe and, importantly for Congo; it also requires Kabila to have a national dialogue in DRC under a neutral chairmanship. The Congolese will now have a forum under which they can discuss the future of their country.
  • Another provision is that no country involved in the DRC should ever afterwards allow destabilisation by opponents of the other from its territory.
  • As far as Congo were concerned, right from the beginning, our Rwandese brothers, without consulting us, spearheaded the formation of a political committee, headed initially by Professor Zahidi Ngoma. Later on, we were told by the Rwandese that Ngoma had been replaced by Professor Wamba dia Wamba. All these meetings were taking place in Kigali and Goma and we gave our unconditional support. However, as our army continued to stay in Congo, we noted that the rebels were not mobilising the people, they were not administering the liberated zones; they were not providing social services; and they were not repairing the infrastructure, such as roads, and yet they were collecting taxes.

We talked to the rebels about launching Goma programmes. We asked them to grade just one road - the Kisangani-Bafasende-Bunya [road] which comes up close to Lake Albert. This road would have enabled our army to travel by road instead of flying but it has never been worked upon.

Splits in the Congolese Liberation Movement

A few months after the rebellion in Congo started, Jean-Pierre Bemba, a rich businessman, son of one Bemba who was a close associate of Mobutu, also came on the scene. He expressed an interest in participating in the struggle to liberate his country.

I advised him not to form a separate organisation, but to join the Rally for Congolese Democracy (RCD), the committee that had been formed by the Rwandese in Goma. Bemba refused this advice on the grounds that the RCD was dominated by Rwanda, who seemed to be anti-Congolese. I still encouraged him to go to Kigali and see the Rwandese. He went to Kigali and talked to the leaders there but came back adamant that he would not join the RCD.

Such problems are always common in liberation movements. When we were being supported by Tanzania, initially in 1971, Mwalimu Nyerere wanted us to work under Obote because he was well-known in Africa and we were not. I could not agree to work under Obote because I knew what that would mean internally in Uganda.

I knew that if people had heard that I was working under Obote, they would have opposed me. At one time I even told Mzee Nyerere that if he could not support us separately, I would go away and continue with studies and do something else. It was in September 1971 when Mwalimu Nyerere agreed to give us separate support.

He continued giving the main support to Obote but he gave us some little support which we used very effectively – that is the reason we are here and Obote is not. Therefore, these are not new problems to us. They are problems that I had either faced myself in the past or seen other people face. During our own time in government, there was the African National Congress of Nelson Mandela, and now Thabo Mbeki, and there was the smaller Pan- African Congress.

They asked for support and I said that since they were all against apartheid, I would support both groups. The ANC brought their fighters to Kaweweta in Ngoma, in Luweero, and the PAC took theirs to Kabamba. I was able to tell, later that the PAC did not have much of an internal network because they brought only 49 fighters while the ANC brought 4,000, but we trained all of them.

The Banyankore say: oyorora zoona tomanya erahiigye – meaning that you feed all puppies because when they are young you cannot tell which one will become the best hunter. When Bemba refused to join the group in Goma, and since the group in Goma was not doing anything, I agreed to his request to move to some of the areas controlled by the UPDF in the DRC where he could, at least, operate as a political commissar to our army.

This would help create a link between our army and the population since he had not yet decided whether to join the RCD or leave the struggle altogether.

Three ships

When Bemba went to the UPDF areas, he was indeed quite successful in creating links with the population, as well as winning their support for the struggle. As a result, the UPDF was able to obtain three ships which it used to move heavy equipment along the River Congo. When we first arrived in Kisangani there were no ships because the people had hidden them.

There was only a small ship of 26 tonnes and you couldn’t do anything with 26 tonnes because a tank weighs 40 tonnes. The three ships Bemba obtained were each able to carry 500 tonnes. It was, therefore, cleear that the population had not initially been mobilised. When he started working, we told him simply to work for the anti-Kabila line, without decampaigning the other groups.

We wanted him to explain to the population why we were fighting Kabila and he did it. However, when he realised that he had a lot of support in the population, he formed his own organisation Congolese Liberation Movement (MLC). We however, insisted that he should eventually join the RCD or create some linkage with the RCD and they kept corresponding for a while.

However, the real problem with Bemba came when the South Africans on one occasion circulated a peace proposal document and mentioned the MLC as a separate organisation. The moment Bemba saw his group’s name as a separate organisation in Lusaka, he would not listen to my proposal of him joining the RCD – he became even more adamant.

I do not think that for the present, this is such a big problem; but it could become one in the future because these groups could fight one another. For the moment, however, when the main interest is to weaken Kabila, the more the participation there is in the struggle, the better. Meanwhile, Prof Wamba dia Wamba had also come to see me complaining that in Goma he had been unable to mobilise the population.

The forces in Goma were not interested in mobilising the population and that he was like a prisoner, he complained. He said that there were some Mubutuists in the RCD and they did not want the population to be mobilised. They had told him that capturing power in Kinshasa was more important than mobilising the people.

Wamba also told me that it seemed that the Rwandese, too, were not in for mobilisation. I, therefore, advised Prof Wamba dia Wamba to move to Kisangani instead, where the UPDF were, to assist in the mobilisation of the population. He agreed and I gave him some little money. When he moved to Kisangani, Prof Wamba was indeed able to mobilise the population through addressing public rallies and giving sensitisation talks to the universities.

He started doing some military training himself and it became clear that the Congolese people could actually be turned into fighters. There had been talk that the Congolese could not fight - similar to the kind of talk that used to be here about some tribes being ‘warlike’ while others could not fight. I have never accepted that line because anybody can fight if they are angry enough.

I was, therefore, very much encouraged by these developments. However, the move by Wamba from Goma to Kisangani was considered by some of his colleagues in the RCD as a ‘desertion’ and they insisted that he should return to Goma - he had deserted the liberated zone of Goma and defected to the bad zone of Kisangani.

Joint mediation

Having realised that a rift had occurred in the RCD membership, there were joint mediation efforts involving Rwanda and ourselves with a view to resolving the crisis. We agreed to constitute a joint delegation to Goma to supervise a reconciliation meeting between Prof Wamba and the other members of the RCD. When the reconciliation team went to Goma, they did not do much work because the Hunga-Karaha faction did not give the mediation team a chance.

Instead of working towards a reconciliation of the two groups, Rwanda worked towards having Professor Wamba removed from the leadership of the RCD. They did not prevail upon their Goma allies to behave with restraint and did not condemn the coup. That would not have been a problem provided the anti-Wamba group had done it legally under their own bush constitution.

In their bush constitution, they had an assembly of 147 people by that time, but the people who met to remove Wamba were about 20 or so founder members.
We said that it was not proper for a smaller group to veto the bigger group. Apparently, Otafiire, also not agreeing with this move, worked with Mbusa Nyamwisi, a Mukonjo from Congo, who is the speaker of their bush parliament The bush parliament upheld Wamba’s leadership of the RCD.

When the reconciliation failed, Wamba returned to his base in Kisangani and another reconciliation meeting was held in Kabale in Uganda. This meeting did not produce results either. As a consequence of the developments above, by the time the Lusaka talks were held in July 1999, there were three separate rebel factions  headed by Bemba, Emile Ilunga (who had been elected by the Goma group to replace Wamba) and Prof Wamba.

Although all the rebel faction leaders did not disagree with the contents of the Lusaka treaty, there was no agreement as to who among them should sign the treaty for the RCD. The document had provided for only one signature for the rebels. A proposal that all of them sign as a troika was not accepted by Ilunga; but later Bemba and Wamba accepted to sign as part of a troika.

Although Wamba has been willing to sign, he had not yet done so, because the issue of the RCD leadership has not been resolved. All the six heads of state of the countries involved in the DRC signed the Lusaka treaty.

The Lusaka meeting subsequently agreed to constitute a verification mission to be sent to the DRC, to establish the strength on the ground of both the RCD Goma and the RCD Kisangani factions, and the legality of the removal of Prof Wamba, with a view to deciding which leader should sign the Lusaka treaty.

The Committee was composed of the Zambian minister for the Presidency and the Foreign minister of South Africa. On 5th August, the Zambian minister led a delegation to the area under the control of the RCD faction in Goma without any disruption from anybody.

To be continued…

In the next part, Museveni explains why the RPA attacked UPDF as well as the agreements signed in Mweya and Rwakitura.

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