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Museveni: How I supported RPF in Rwanda’s 1994 liberation war

Part XXVII of these series is a speech that President Museveni made on July 4, 2009 to the people of Rwanda during celebrations to mark the 15 anniversary of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) takeover of power in the East African Community member-state.

The RPF emerged largely out of a breakaway of former-Rwandan-refugees-turned-soldiers in Uganda. In his speech, President Museveni speaks about the many times that his government supported the liberation struggle in Rwanda. At the celebrations, Museveni received the “Uruti” medal for his support to Rwanda’s liberation struggle: -

On behalf of the people of Uganda I greet you. I congratulate you on this occasion of the 15th anniversary of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) takeover of power in Rwanda after the fight that started in 1990 and the bloody events that followed. All these events were subsequent to the first genocide of 1959.

I am glad that Uganda was able to offer refuge to the refugees, numbering 250,000 by 1990, from Rwanda, as she had offered refuge to brothers and sisters from Congo, Sudan and, more recently, from Kenya. We ourselves, the Ugandans, benefited from the refuge offered to us by Tanzania, Kenya, UK, and Sweden, when we had to run away from our homeland on account of governance problems.

Although refugee life has got its challenges, what was crucial was that these big population groups survived. Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique, in addition, gave us means to liberate ourselves from the killers. We are eternally grateful to the late Mwalimu Nyerere, the late Samora Machel and Mzee Kaunda for this support.

At Ntare School, we were soon joined by boys from the Rwandese refugee community: Munyangabe, Kainamura, Mazimpaka, Gasana and others. Soon after independence, in 1962, Uganda itself started facing governance problems culminating into Amin’s coup of 1971. Some of us took up arms against the murderous regimes of Uganda, right from 1971. Repeated efforts were made by us, supported by the Tanzanians, to fight Amin, culminating in the anti-Amin war of 1979.

Towards the end of 1976, we had recruited a fresh batch of fighters from within Uganda that included one Rwandan refugee youth, Fred Rwigyema. I took this batch of youths to Mozambique for military training. As we were fighting Amin in 1979, thousands of Ugandan youths joined the struggle, some other Rwandan youths among them.

The Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) government that was put in power by the Ugandan exiles and the Tanzanians after the 1979 war was not cohesive at all. Some of the victims of that shaky group were the Rwandan youths whom we had recruited into Fronasa (Front for National Salvation Army).

They could not be allowed in the new army, Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA). I had to keep the late Fred Rwigyema on my small bodyguard group although he had been denied an army number at Kabamba by the UNLA leaders of that time.

Given the unresolved acute political problems of Uganda, a new and more vicious political-military struggle started on February 6, 1981, when we attacked Kabamba. Among the fighters who joined us to attack Kabamba were two Rwandan youths, Fred Rwigyema and Paul Kagame. This was the small group that acted as the spark for the thousands of former Fronasa fighters that were scattered all over Uganda in the UNLA. During the five years’ war (1981-1986), other Rwandan youths joined that struggle.

We won a total victory in 1986. This time, on account of the progressive forces being in control of the situation, the fighters from among the Banyarwanda refugee community that had been with us in the struggle could not be purged from the new Ugandan national army, NRA.

Although there were some chauvinist sentiments lingering around, this time my pan-Africanist ideas gained the upper hand because I was in ultimate control. The refugee Banyarwanda fighters were this time fully integrated in the NRA, Fred Rwigyema becoming a Major-General when we introduced ranks in January 1988. Fred Rwigyema kept telling me about their homeland Rwanda — from which they were excluded by the sectarian regime that was in charge.

I emphasised to him the importance of doing political work to unite opinions among the Rwandese. That is why I assisted him, sometimes, to go to some places which I cannot remember very well to meet Kanyarengwe who was, I think, in exile in Tanzania that time. When Pasteur Bizimungu and another person, Kajekuhakwa, fled to Uganda, Rwigyema came to tell me the information they had brought.

I decided that for the future of the Rwandan struggle, these officers could benefit from further training to add to the NRA guerilla training and experience. I nominated Fred Rwigyema to go for the Senior Command and Staff course in the USA. He came and told me that his continued presence in Uganda was important; otherwise, the Banyarwanda fighters that had been integrated in NRA could escape and launch an unplanned struggle. Instead, Paul Kagame took up the slot.

Just before I left for the United Nations meeting in New York, Rwigyema came to see me at the old State House in Entebbe. I was so busy with other meetings that I told Rwigyema that I would meet him when I came back from the UN meeting. Although I cannot remember the atmosphere very well because of time, he appeared to be troubled by something.

While in New York, I got a phone call from Mugisha Muntu, who was Army commander then, that the Banyarwanda members of NRA had escaped and entered Rwanda. In fact Fred Rwigyema had even sent me a message to that effect. It was in the middle of the night in New York. President Habyarimana was also in New York. I tried to ring him but I was told that he was asleep and could not be woken up.

This action by the Banyarwanda officers and soldiers of NRA complicated our geo-strategic situation. We had already been engaged in fighting Sudanese-sponsored terrorism that had caused a precipitate mutation in our relationship with SPLA from sympathy to active support. In fact I had put Fred Rwigyema to be in charge of that effort, based at Oraba, Koboko.

On account of some confused perceptions, our relationship with Mzee Moi’s Kenya was very tense. Now the French, the Belgians and Mobutu’s Congo had entered into the equation against us. I must here salute our Tanzanian brothers and sisters, again, under the leadership of President Mwinyi, with the late Mwalimu’s influence in the background.

Although they did not materially assist in this situation, their non-hostile neutrality was very helpful. However, we evolved very radical contingency plans for any eventuality which I would not like to go into on this occasion.

Faced with this situation, I decided on a two-elements position: support RPF so that they are not defeated, on the one hand; and engage the late President Habyarimana to agree to a negotiated solution on the other hand. That is how the Arusha negotiations started.

One European ambassador based in Kigali at that time came to see me in Entebbe. He told me words to the effect that I should tell RPF to stop fighting; otherwise, the 900,000 Tutsis in Rwanda could be wiped out. I think I told him something like those who kill innocent people always perish. I think this ambassador could furnish the tribunal in Arusha with more information.

We condemn those who carried out the genocide. It showed the ideological-political bankruptcy of that group and their external backers. Why not fight the RPA which had attacked the Habyarimana regime? Why kill wananchi? Why, indeed, bomb the trading centres on the Uganda border? Why not concentrate on bombing the RPA or the NRA positions? These were crimes against humanity. I do not know whether the perpetrators have paid for their crimes.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, the many challenges you went through notwithstanding, I congratulate you on your victory, on the stopping of genocide, on defeating the counter-attacks of the genocidal forces, stabilising the country and beginning the long journey of development.

As we come here for this occasion, you should know that the NRM always stands by principles of patriotism within Uganda and pan-Africanism within Africa. In spite of the strained relationship between our two countries some years ago, President Kagame, I am sure, knows that, recently, when efforts were afoot to isolate and demonise Rwanda in the region and internationally, we stood against that position.

I am glad the situation is evolving towards peaceful coexistence in the Great Lakes region. Trade and economic co-operation among the Great Lakes region’s countries is the main vehicle for co-prosperity. In Uganda we are putting aside considerable sums of money to improve road and rail infrastructure for this purpose.

We have also plans to develop electricity on the Nile, the smaller rivers and the gas and oil fields so as to lower the costs of doing business in the country and the region. I salute the people of Rwanda for recently, through the consultative process, supporting the plan for fast-tracking the East African Federation.

I, similarly, salute the people of Burundi on the same account. These decisions are, indeed, a vindication of the changes that have taken place in these countries recently — moving away from neo-colonial parameters to pan-Africanism and the dignity of the Black people. These decisions, taken together with the earlier decisions by the citizens of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, mean that potential exists for building a strategic centre of gravity in this part of Africa.

Those who see far are most elated to be part of this very significant historical process. Your Excellency, on behalf of the people of Uganda and on my own behalf I extend to you and the people of Rwanda our appreciation for inviting us to participate in your 15th anniversary of Liberation day.

I am also most deeply honoured by the awards bestowed on me. The medals of the “National Liberation” and that of the “Campaign against genocide” that were awarded to me today are not just my medals. They are medals for the NRA and Fronasa fighters. They are medals for the NRM members that either sympathised with the RPF struggle or actually supported it more substantively.

They are medals for the people of Uganda who stood with us as we were being demonised for not abandoning the RPF and the people of Rwanda in their historical struggle.

I am glad you also honoured Mwalimu Nyerere post-humously. During the RPF struggle, he gave us a lot of advice that was very crucial. Earlier on, as already mentioned above, he had given a lot of support to the liberation movements like NRM, FRELIMO of Mozambique, etc. Some of these liberation movements, later on, also extended support to others RPF and SPLA.

Murakoze, Murakarama bavandimwe.

I thank all of you.

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