What you need to know:
Lt Col Emmanuel Katabazi, the deputy director general of the Internal Security Organisation, asked the leaders to ramp up surveillance and mobilisation in readiness of the unrest.
Uganda’s spymaster has placed intelligence and security agencies in districts bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) on high alert, warning that an outbreak of a war likely to topple “one or two” governments is imminent.
Lt Col Emmanuel Katabazi, the deputy director general of the Internal Security Organisation (ISO), Uganda’s domestic spy outfit, asked the leaders to ramp up surveillance and mobilisation in readiness of the unrest.
“Therefore, you [officials of] border districts, prepare [and] intensify your intelligence gathering, you the district internal security officers (Disos), regionaI internal security officers (Risos). The dynamics in that place (Congo) are for what?” he said.
The comments came hours to the start, tomorrow, of June, the month DRC President Felix Tshisekedi set as likely period for the departure of the EAC regional force that he said has done little to nothing to deal with M23 question, and their planned replacement with a fighting force to be deployed by the South African Development Community (SADC).
Military and intelligence chiefs of EAC are currently meeting in the Burundian capital, Bujumbura, to discuss the DRC situation and make recommendations for considerations by the region’s heads of state summit expected this week.
It remained unclear if the region or Uganda have on the cards a plan to ask Kinshasa to extend the time of the regional force on its soil or whether Kampala will unilaterally choose to reinforce its border defences to guard against spillover of any violence in the vast western neighbour.
The spy chief framed his comments, which by their explicit nature contrasted the generally restrained or muted approach preferred by intelligence communities, in the context of a revived M23 rebellion and plans by SADC to deploy a force to fight them and other belligerence groups in eastern DRC.
Lt Col Katabazi added: “We are going to have a fight there [in the Democratic Republic of Congo] and the powers that are interested are very many outside East Africa. But either one government will collapse or two, and that is the deputy Director General [of the Internal Security Organisation] telling you.”
He did not name the countries on the cusp of regime changes in his briefing to spies and resident commissioners of districts that straddle the DRC border from Rwenzori in south-western and western Ugandan to Bunyoro in the mid-west.
The spymaster made the comments in the full knowledge that journalists were covering the meeting, which is rare, since an interface between spymasters and officials who constitute a district security committee are generally hush-hush.
Various intelligence reports circulated in Uganda and internationally, place the number of rebel and militia groups destabilising the mineral-rich eastern DRC, where foreign companies have for years immersed in extracting high-value gems, at between 100 and 200.
However, the most consequential of them has been the March 23 Movement (M23) insurgent group whose fighters, after years of hibernation following a presumed 2013 defeat and peace deal, last year launched blistering attacks and conquered vast territories in North Kivu province.
President Felix Tshisekedi’s government, in accusations, separately echoed by the United Nations and the United States, said Rwanda was a sponsor of M23.
Kigali denies the allegation and has asked Kinshasa - which it claims has failed to assert state authority to fully govern DRC territory - to stop scapegoating President Paul Kagame’s government.
M23’s robust battlefield gains marked by conquest of territories where the rebels began collecting taxes and running local administration, pushed thousands of Congolese to seek refuge in Uganda, while the public altercation between Kinshasa and Kigali raised a spectre of a regional conflagration of the conflict.
Whereas Uganda’s military, the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), had from November 2021 deployed in eastern DRC under Operation Shujaa, a joint mission with Congolese army to annihilate the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a designated terrorist group, it got sucked into the M23 conundrum after then Land Forces Commander Muhoozi Kainerugaba condemned regional plans to attack the rebels.
In series of tweets last year, the First Son described the M23 rebels fondly as “our brothers” to be talked to and asserted the unbreakable bond between Uganda and Rwanda, and gave assurances that Kampala would in a conflict be on Kigali’s side.
These comments infuriated Congolese politicians, prompting its Parliament to demand that UPDF leave Congo soil, which did not happen.
Separately, some civil society leaders seized on the remarks to claim Uganda was in bed with M23, which Kinshasa calls a terrorist group. The flag of Uganda and effigies of President Museveni, alongside that of his Rwandan counterpart Kagame, were torched in protests the Congolese groups organised in the eastern commercial city of Goma that was on the radar of M23 for capture.
President Museveni later in October 2022 sacked Muhoozi as commander of the Land Forces, but simultaneously promoted him to a full general, after his tweets at home confused the Ugandan military and diplomats on what to do since they remained unsure whether they represented his personal or official views or had the tacit approval of his father, the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces.
The threat of a regional dimension of the conflict prompted East African Community (EAC) leaders to agree on a two-pronged approach – a political resolution where former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta leads the shuttle diplomacy, and a military option under which the militaries of Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya and Burundi have deployed a regional force to pacify eastern Congo and take charge of areas vacated by M23 under an inconclusive dialogue deal.
Kinshasa, however, said the EAC regional force where Congo, like Rwanda, is a member state, has done little to nothing to subdue the rebels and sought support of Southern African Development Community (SADC), where Congo is also a member, to deploy a fighting force to obliterate M23 and pacify the east.
It appears Uganda’s Number Two at the domestic spy agency, ISO, was in his Monday remarks referring to this maze of interests and efforts, to assert that the break-up of a major war is imminent in DR Congo, Africa’s second biggest country.
In the late 1990s to early 2000s, Uganda and Rwanda on the one side and some SADC member states on the other, fought a multi-country war in then Zaire, renamed DRC, which ousted long-serving President Mobutu Sese Seko and installed Desire Kabila, who was assassinated and replaced by his son Joseph Kabila, whom Tshiskedi succeeded in 2019.
“We are going to have a fight there [in Congo] and the powers that are interested are many outside East Africa … SADC is going to move in and it’s not going to move in as SADC [bloc]. Bilaterally, each country is going to come in [to deploy its own troops],’’ Katabazi, who holds the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel in Uganda’s army, said in his briefing in Hoima on Monday.
He added: ‘‘The Disos and RDCs, intensify your work because as confusion is happening that way [in Congo], me I don’t understand what is M23.The other day it was defeated. How it resurrected, at a strategic level of intelligence sharing, there is something more than that. So, kazi kwenu [Kiswahili word for the ‘work for you’].’’
RDCs are presidential appointees and chair security committees comprising army and intelligence officials, as well members of the executive committee of the local government in districts they superintend.
The ISO deputy director did not say whether Uganda would directly deploy additional boots on the ground inside DR Congo, or re-hat those already there, if the war he predicted were to happen, or which side Uganda would be.
IN THE WORDS OF THE SPY CHIEF
“We are going to have a fight there [in the Democratic Republic of Congo or DRC] and the powers that are interested are very many outside East Africa. But either one government will collapse or two and that is the deputy Director General [of the Internal Security Organisation] telling you.
Therefore, you border districts, prepare [and] intensify your intelligence gathering, you the District Internal Security Officers (Disos), RegionaI Internal Security Officers (Risos). The dynamics in that place (Congo) are for what?
[The] South African Development Community (SADC) is going to move [troops into] Congo and it’s not going to move in as SADC [bloc]. Bilaterally, each country (SADC member state) is going to come in.
The Disos and resident district commissioners (RDCs), intensify your work because as confusion is happening that way [in DRC], me I don’t understand what M23 [rebel group is].The other day it was defeated. How it resurrected, at a strategic level of intelligence sharing, there is something more than that. So, kazi kwenu [Kiswahili word for the ‘work for you’].
Let us all struggle every day, update ourselves to be better and follow knowing that the enemies of Uganda. I would have given many examples of what we face in advancing the Ugandan revolution…
Like even in projects, you initiate this project [and the] World Bank brings another [project] to counter it; you do this [and] the World Bank does that; you want to change education syllabus, they bring something else; and, we continue rotating in a circle.
Then we have leaders who don’t understand. How can you fail to control an LC5 chairman? You and the Diso, two of you? At least slap him [the district chairman, and] they sack you. How, how, how [can you fail to control a district chairman]?
Persuade, educate. I have told the Disos, this RDC has been just appointed. So, why did the President appoint this RDC? What was the commander’s intent? [You should understand].
This Diso did military training, did political education and intelligence course for many months so he should be the one to guide you and educate you.”
Extracted from the a briefing on Monday by Lt Col Emmanuel Katabazi, deputy director general of Internal Security Organisation, to members of security committees of districts bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo