‘Rebels’ that have defined Uganda-Rwanda relations

What you need to know:

  • Efforts. Despite talks between the two countries over the alleged rebels, there seems to be continuous mistrust that has led to never-ending bickering.

Kampala. For at least two decades, Uganda and Rwanda have accused each other of trying to cause regime change in the other country.
The difficult relationship between the two countries has been defined by defections, especially of dissident soldiers from one country to the other and accusations of supporting the dissidents to cause war in their home countries. In the current standoff between the two neighbouring countries, Rwanda has accused Uganda of hosting or supporting individuals hostile to Rwanda, notably Ms Charlotte Mukankusi and businessman Tribert Rujugiro.
Ms Mukankusi, according to President Museveni’s letter to Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, does not live in Uganda but recently visited the country to implore Mr Museveni to “resist” the government of Rwanda, which Mr Museveni said he refused to do.
In the same letter, Mr Museveni also explained that Uganda could not force Mr Rujugiro to sell off his businesses in Uganda unless Rwanda proved in Ugandan courts that the businessman is involved in acts of terrorism against Rwanda. Rwanda accuses Mr Rujugiro of financing dissidents including General Kayumba Nyamwasa, who is currently in exile in South Africa.
Gen Kayumba is reported to have set up a rebel outfit called P5, which is said to be part of bigger rebel outfit called Rwanda National Congress (RNC).
In a report dated December 31, 2018, a United Nations Group of Experts claimed that Uganda is one of the countries Gen Nyamwasa was banking on to nurture his newly formed rebel group.
The new groups are said to be operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where FDLR, which was formed shortly after Mr Paul Kagame’s party took power in Rwanda in 1994.
The UN report claimed that Gen Nyamwasa had frequently travelled from South Africa into the Great Lakes region as he seeks to recruit and attack Rwanda, claims that Rwanda say were true.
On March 5, one week after Rwanda blockaded its Gatuna border to Ugandan goods, Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa spoke out on Rwanda’s claim that Uganda supports those fighting it.
Mr Kutesa wrote in a statement: “It is false that Uganda hosts any elements fighting Rwanda. Rwanda knows this very well as it has been a matter of confidential communication at the highest levels of the two countries.”
It is not only Rwanda that has troubles emanating from DR Congo, however. In December 2017, the Uganda People’s Defence Forces bombarded what they said were Allied Democratic Forces rebel camps in Congo, saying that they killed at least 100 rebels and destroyed multiple camps.
Did Uganda suspect that Rwanda would back the ADF rebels in Congo? We don’t know. In his letter we referenced above, Mr Museveni said that he hears “a lot of stories” about Rwanda, but he said that he would never raise them unless he confirmed them.
In the same letter, however, he noted that it is wrong for Rwandan elements to “work behind” Uganda. He did not elaborate, but there are writings on the wall in what has happened in the recent past.
Lt Joel Mutabazi, a former bodyguard of President Kagame, is currently serving a life sentence in Rwanda. He fled to Uganda and had been given a refugee status before he was grabbed and extradited to Rwanda without a court process, as the law requires, and with the help of individuals in the Uganda Police F.
Daily Monitor broke the story of Mutabazi’s troubles when he was first attacked by unknown gunmen at his residence in Kasangati, Wakiso District, on July 12, 2012.
Lt Mutabazi is the most prominent among a number of Rwandan refugees who were abducted in Uganda and repatriated to Rwanda, and top policemen, including former police boss Gen Kale Kayihura, are in the army court charged, among other things, with cases related to these abductions.
Lt Mutabazi had not been known before the attack when he escaped unhurt during the Thursday night attack where he had been living with his family for the last two years.
How it started
After the 2000 Kisangani clashes in which the two countries’ armies fought in the Democratic Republic of Congo at the turn of the century, then Rwanda’s political commissar, Maj Alphonse Furuma, crossed to Uganda.
He fled the country in the company of the former Speaker of Rwanda’s Parliament, Mr Joseph Sebarenzi Kabuye and Maj Mike Mupende.
Maj Furuma, also a former Aide de Camp (ADC) to the former army chief of staff, Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa, who also fled in 2010, alleged that president Kagame ordered the killing of thousands of innocent civilians during the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA) war and after capture of power.
In the same year, Mike Mupende also fled with his family to Uganda before they were handed over to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and were later relocated to the United States.
Earlier, in 1997, former Rwandan government intelligence chief, Col Theoneste Lizinde, had fled through Uganda and went to Kenya, where he was assassinated in 1998. At the time of his assassination, Uganda-Rwanda relations were still good. In 2002, another senior Rwandan army officer, Maj Frank Bizimungu, also fled and came to Uganda.

Besigye, 3 other colonels
In turn, two Ugandan colonels, Anthony Kyakabale, Edison Muzoora and Samson Mande fled Uganda to Rwanda and declared war on Uganda. The three UPDF officers had supported Dr Kizza Besigye during the 2001 elections. Dr Besigye had just broken ranks with President Museveni and challenged him in dare-devil style.
While still a serving soldier, Dr Besigye had in 1999 penned an explosive missive entitled “An insider’s account of how the Movement lost the broad base”, accusing President Museveni and his administration of mismanaging the political movement and the country.
Dr Besigye’s challenge to Mr Museveni caused shivers in political and military circles, with the colonel, who was the Bush War physician for President Museveni and other top rebels.
President Museveni, for months, toyed with the idea of having Dr Besigye tried in the army court for issuing the critical document in “a wrong forum”, but the Head of State later allowed Dr Besigye to retire from the army amid agitation from different people, particularly delegations from Dr Besigye’s home district of Rukungiri.
Retiring Dr Besigye from the army gave him free pass to challenge for the presidency, and one thing led to another until he declared that he would run for president.
History has a weird sense of humour, because on the same day in October 2000 when Dr Besigye declared that he would challenge President Museveni in the 2001 elections, President Museveni and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame were playing football at their common former school, Ntare School in Mbarara.
The football game, which reports indicate got a bit disorganised when President Museveni received the news of Dr Besigye’s declaration that he would run for president, was seen as another of the efforts that the two leaders used to remind each other of how common their destinies were intertwined even as challenges continued to cloud the relations between the two neighbouring countries they governed.
By that time, the ghosts of the Kisangani clashes in which the armies of two the countries fought in the Democratic Republic of Congo, were still freshly hovering over the horizon.
Mr Kagame returned to Rwanda and Mr Museveni settled down to his new headache of dealing with his former personal physician as his new opponent.
And former fighters Mande and Kyakabale would soon indicate that they favoured Dr Besigye as Mr Museveni’s new challenger famously claimed that he enjoyed 90 per cent support in the army. Tempers flared and the clampdown was set in motion.

Losing the court battle
Dr Besigye would later lose the violence-laden election and challenge Mr Museveni’s victory in the Supreme Court, losing the verdict 2-3, although all the five Supreme Court justices stated that the election was fraught with irregularities.
Relations between Uganda and Rwanda were not good at the time and a number of officials in Kampala claimed that Dr Besigye drew support for his presidential bid from Kigali. After losing the court petition, Dr Besigye remained under 24-hour security surveillance, which he beat in 2002 to escape to exile in South Africa.
Dr Besigye has until now refused to tell the story of how he beat the surveillance to escape and which border he passed on his way to exile, although some accounts claim that Rwandan agents could have helped in his escape.
Colonels Kyakabale and Mande fled into Rwanda. Because the colonels had voiced support for Dr Besigye’s bid for the presidency, intelligence and political players in Kampala, most notably the late Nobel Mayombo, who then headed the military intelligence, outdid themselves trying to establish a link between Dr Besigye and the dissidents in Rwanda, who were said to be building what remained a shadowy rebel outfit named People’s Redemption Army (PRA).
Even when Muzoora, Mande and Kyakabale were linked to Rwanda in one way or the other, Rwanda denied offering them any support to attack Uganda.
Rwanda, on the other hand, expressed concerns about the presence of Rwanda dissents in Uganda, with some of them getting safe passage to flee to other countries.

Making peace
In talks that ensued as a result of this, the two countries agreed not to support each other’s dissidents and to bar them from engaging in hostile activities such as military training, spying or carrying out propaganda against their respective countries within their boundaries.
After these negotiations, Uganda also agreed to relocate Furuma, Bizimungu and Mupende, in addition to Rwanda relocating Kyakabale, Muzoora and Mande.
The UPDF spokesperson at the time, Maj Shaban Bantariza, now working at the Uganda Media Center as its deputy executive director, was quoted in the media in 2003 as saying: “We have maintained our bargain of the deal. In return, Rwanda should also reciprocate and make a move on Kyakabale, Muzoora and Mande.”
Col Kyakabale and Col Mande were later relocated to Sweden, but Col Muzoora is said to have remained in the region to command PRA.

Unresolved death
In 2011, Col Muzoora’s dead body was found dumped near his house in Bushenyi in a death that remains unresolved.
Uganda insisted that the group was operating in DR Congo but with cells in Rwanda, an allegation the Kigali regime persistently denied.
In 2004, UPDF deployed heavily at the border with DR Congo, saying the rebel group was planning to attack, a claim that was reinforced by the UN Special Representative to DR Congo, William Lacy Swing, who claimed that the group existed. But in 2006, president Kagame said the rebel group was “fictitious”.
Many Rwandan soldiers continued to flee the country and were using Uganda as a route to run into exile.
Others who fled Rwanda include; Maj Robert Higiro, Maj Emmanuel Nkubana, Maj Bichombero, Lt Joel Mutabazi and others.
In 2007, former Rwandan intelligence boss, Col Patrick Karegeya, also fled Rwanda after he was arrested twice and thrown in jail over allegations of indiscipline, desertion and insubordination.
There were reports that he had used Uganda as a route to run into exile in South Africa, where he was killed in Johannesburg on December 31, 2013.