President Museveni approached the United States, the United Kingdom and Kenya for military assistance to the National Resistance Army (NRA) rebel group that he led, but the requests were turned down, according to de-classified American intelligence.
This is the first formal disclosure of the false starts to NRA’s guerrilla campaign which its leader Museveni has consistently cast as a home-grown popular uprising that succeeded without the need for external assistance.
No reason is stated in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) dossiers why Washington spurned Museveni’s 1981 request for arms, but the cable contains accounts of America’s unease about the rebel leader’s closeness to the then Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi who the West considered unfriendly.
In the cold war period which formally lapsed with the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, three years after Museveni seized power; the Americans worried that the new “nationalist, non-aligned” Uganda President, a scholarly Marxist-oriented individual, would gravitate toward the Soviet Union and impinge the spread of capitalism.
“The survivability of his government would take precedence over all other considerations and make Museveni susceptible to potential offers of Libyan or Soviet military assistance,” the CIA wrote in a memo to guide Washington’s political decisions, including by the then President Ronald Reagan.
Those fears were not unfounded. On January 28, 1986, three days after Museveni captured power, Gaddafi on the eve of the new President’s “fundamental change” inaugural speech, sent a congratulatory message in which he derided the West as “fascist usurpers” who had been “crushed” by the NRA victory.
He wrote: “I congratulate you in the name of our common struggle and the sacrifices which the Libyan Arab people have offered to Uganda and the joint blood which drenched its land and will not be shed in vain. The triumph of the National Resistance Army under your command has affirmed the seriousness of our alliance; that the battle you have waged for Uganda since 1977 has finally crowned with victory, and the fascist usurpers have finally been crushed; those who laughed much have cried last.”
Whereas President Museveni and the slain Libyan leader collided in after years, the disagreements did not undo the mutual appreciation.
In his book, Sowing the Mustard Seed, Mr Museveni writes on page 142 that “it is the 96 rifles, 100 landmines, five GMPGs (general-purpose machine guns), eight RPGs (rocket-propelled grenade) and a small quantity of ammunition that constitute the much-talked-about ‘massive assistance’ given by Libya to NRA”.
“This relatively small amount of weapons was useful, but not decisive in any way. The mines were particularly useful in blocking the Luwero roads (at the epicentre of the insurgency) by blowing up [government] trucks,” he writes.
Libya played benefactor to Museveni alongside other rebel groups such as Andrew Kayira’s Federal Democratic Movement of Uganda (Fedemu) and Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF) I led by Moses Ali, Uganda’s current deputy premier and a general in the military.
In an interview yesterday, Gen Ali said Libya parachuted an arms cache for him in Kerila in present-day Yumbe District while NRA’s supplies were dropped in present-day Gomba District in central Uganda following a meeting they held in Libya in the early 1980s under Gaddafi’s chairmanship.
“When I met Gaddafi, he asked me ‘can you manage a war alone’? I said ‘I can’t because there are different organisations that should act together for victory,’” he said.
As those belligerent groups intensified the fight, Gen Tito Okello Lutwa overthrew the Milton Obote government upon which UNRF I was absorbed in the junta, with its vice chairman Amin Onzi representing the rebel group in the military commission. The regime lasted for six months before NRA leader Museveni who in a calculated move opted for peace talks in Nairobi, deposed Lutwa.
Gen Moses Ali in last evening’s interview intimated that the NRA victory was made possible in part due to a December 1985 meeting in Tripoli during which Gaddafi, to whom he and Museveni and others had committed to work together, asked them to withdraw from the key Katonga Bridge and “it gave NRA and Museveni opportunity to cross to Kampala”.
We were unable to reach Mr Museveni who was yesterday held up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the African Union summit to elect a new chairperson while the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party’s vice chairman Moses Kigongo, described in the dossier as a person of “unquestioned loyalty”, was unavailable to comment.
The CIA is America’s foreign intelligence gathering arm, which relies principally on human intelligence and other methods, and its predictions in the de-classified intelligence show a paradigm of correct assessments and misses.
For instance, whereas the north-south divide exploded through the protracted Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) war, the victims of the insurgency were huddled in Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camps without a spillover of refugees into Kenya or Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) at the time key US allies as the CIA agents envisaged.
The CIA intelligence is de-classified every thirty years and, as such, the dossiers only offer a glimpse into Washington’s views on reigning leaders in a historical context --- and, in Museveni’s case, in 1986 when he captured power.
The US Mission is Kampala yesterday declined to comment on whether its views on Museveni have evolved and how, although diplomatic cables leaked by Wikileaks showed America’s views about the Ugandan leader had changed in many respects.
Mr Don Wanyama, the senior presidential press secretary, yesterday said the President is a “nationalist and pan-Africanist and neither pro-West nor Pro-east, but pro-Africa”. “President Museveni remains an ideologue of African solutions for African problems...Museveni should be judged by his action; he put in place a new Constitution and organised elections putting Uganda on a steady democratic path,” he said in reference to the CIA’s assessment that the President was originally not enthusiastic about elections.
In both his 1981 and mid-1984 contacts, as well as his otherwise “friendly and productive” 1986 meeting with the US Ambassador in Kampala shortly meeting after deposing Lutwa, Museveni never mentioned elections in the conversations.
“In addition to the conciliatory letter that he wrote to a senior US official in 1984, Museveni dispatched an emissary to the US embassy in Nairobi in August 1985 to seek military and economic assistance ... in a letter addressed to a senior US official in September 1984 in which Museveni sought support for the NRM and outlined his objectives for a post-Obote government, Museveni made no mention of future elections,” CIA agents noted in the briefing to Washington political superiors.
Museveni’s government, to his credit, however, has since 1996 organised five general and presidential elections which he has won, although the Supreme Court confirmed that two of them, the one of 2001 and 2006, were rigged.
Mr Wanyama told Daily Monitor that some of the CIA conclusions, including predictions that “Museveni’s central political objective is to break the repressive rule of northern ethnic groups that has characterised all Ugandan governments since independence”, were “speculative or far-fetched”. “It is true northern Uganda was the last part of the country to be pacified, but we must be realistic that there was resistance there [to Museveni’s rule],” Mr Wanyama said. Military opposition to Museveni’s rule began almost immediately, in 1987, through the Alice Lakwena-led Holy Spirit Movement before her nephew Joseph Kony continued the campaign through the LRA insurgency.
the issues at hand
Merit. The CIA in their assessment had rated Museveni as better than his predecessors, focused on the country’s reconstruction and an individual likely to fall for any foreign economic and military support except, of course, if convinced the “offers of help are not based on the assumption that he can be bought”.
Incorruptible. In 2011, twenty-five years after seizing power, President Museveni in a response to allegations that he likely received an inducement from a foreign oil company declared himself a “Ssabalwanyi” or master fighter and said he would never accept a bribe from a foreigner even if pinned to his body while asleep.
Some scores. In spite of the misses, the CIA was right in its predictions that Museveni-Gaddafi relations would endure. The Libyan leader, killed in a western-backed uprising in 2011, is the only foreign leader that President Museveni has publicly acknowledged, however diminished, to have offered military assistance to NRA rebels in the early days of the guerilla war and after their victory.
Failed attempt. In 2011, Mr Museveni led an unsuccessful diplomatic charm offensive to galvanise African leaders to block military action spearheaded by Britain and France, and one that former President Barack Obama said the US was supporting from the rear, to depose Gaddafi.
The CIA dossier noted that Museveni’s relation with the UK, back in 1986, was “particularly poor” but we could not independently confirm this.