THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | Last week, President Yoweri Museveni delivered an impressive speech to fellow African Union (AU) heads of state in Addis Ababa about the need for regional and continental integration. According to social media, the president even got a standing ovation. The speech was Musevenisque in its historical sweep, breadth of perspective, depth of analysis and strategic foresight. It showed how Museveni the politician contradicts Museveni the intellectual. It also proves that leaders are human – they have egos and other emotions that stand in the way of their strategic ambitions.
Museveni argued that the colonial conquest of Africa was made possible by the failure of pre-colonial African chiefs to unite against the foreign invader. Instead, he said, they allowed their tactical differences to blind them to this strategic threat they all confronted. He then advised contemporary African leaders to put aside such tactical disagreements in pursuit of the bigger continental goal of what he called “strategic security” and prosperity. Even the president’s harshest critics on Uganda’s social media agreed that this was indeed a great speech.
I read the speech with admiration and frustration: admiration for its grand vision and frustration with its disconnection from Uganda’s foreign policy towards Rwanda. Charity begins at home. If Museveni believes that strategic cooperation should be placed above tactical differences, why has he not promoted this approach in Kampala’s relations with Kigali? The Museveni who spoke in Addis Ababa should find it important to work hard to solve this misunderstanding with Kigali.
It may be surprising to many readers that Uganda has never made any formal or informal complaint to Rwanda about what Kigali has done to her. Yet social media and security officials in Kampala accuse Kigali of kidnapping Rwandan dissidents in Uganda and either killing them or taking them to Rwanda and thereby violating our sovereignty, a complaint Rwanda reads in the Ugandan media. I have asked for evidence of this from Kampala to take to Kigali for four years and gotten NOTHING. The only person Kampala has presented as evidence, a one Lt. Mutabazi, was NEVER kidnapped. He was officially handed over by the officials of the state of Uganda to the officials of the state of Rwanda.
Let me assume that Kampala’s claims of kidnappings and killings are true. Museveni should send his officials to Kigali, or personally call President Paul Kagame to find ways to resolve it. Kigali has complained to Kampala that Uganda provides sanctuary to persons working actively to destabilise their country and ensure regime change. Social media and intelligence services in Uganda also claim that Kigali has been seeking to overthrow the government in Kampala and this is one of the reasons why former police chief, Kale Kayihura, was hounded out of office.
To his credit, Museveni has many times gone out of his way to resolve differences with his enemies and critics. In 2011, I worked closely with him to fix the relationship with Kigali. He has throughout his political career sought talks with nearly every rebel group that he has fought, including the psychopathic Joseph Kony. He reconciled with Chris Rwakasiisi and with the families of Milton Obote and Idi Amin. Therefore, it is surprising that Uganda and Rwanda can veer so close to military confrontation at the time when Museveni is leading the argument for strategic cooperation.
It is possible Kigali did something that hurt Museveni personally and/or Uganda nationally. But what is it that it cannot be discussed and resolved? Does such action stand above our need for regional integration? What is so difficult for Uganda to get its grievances on a piece of paper and invite Rwandan officials to find a solution? Kigali has grievances against Kampala which they have made clear formally and informally. I have personally carried these grievances very many times to Kampala.
What is depressing is that for two years now, the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) has been arresting Rwandans in Uganda, detaining them, torturing them and deporting them back to Rwanda. It has never taken any of them before courts of law. Young Rwandans who have suffered this fate or whose relatives have suffered it have approached me severally for assistance. Officials of the government of Rwanda have done the same. They think given my access to key decisions makers in Uganda I can help. My appeals have landed on deaf ears. The only response I have gotten is that I am a spy of Rwanda.
As a private citizen I have staked everything to get the relationship between Uganda and Rwanda on the right footing. I can only count losses. I am acutely aware that this quarrel between Kampala and Kigali will inevitably lead to the collapse of the East African Community (EAC), the very institution that Museveni says is absolutely critical for our strategic security and prosperity. Let us not forget that the quarrel between Kenya and Tanzania and between Tanzania and Uganda in the 1970s led to the collapse of the first EAC. We are witnessing the beginning of the second unravelling of this regional body.
Last week, Rwanda blocked Ugandan cement from entering their country. Many Ugandan investors, workers and exporters are losing jobs and contracts in Rwanda. From Kigali’s perspective, it makes sense: why keep paying scarce dollars to individuals and businesses in a country seeking your destruction. And Uganda hasn’t acted much differently: we denied Rwandair a licence to fly out of Entebbe to London and Brussels in spite of a bilateral agreement on this. And Museveni has been chair of the EAC while Kagame for the AU.
Burundi has closed its border with Rwanda, South Sudan is falling apart and Tanzania is kicking Kenyans out and looking to SADC. That leaves Kenya as the only country not squabbling with other EAC members. But within Museveni’s broad definition of regional integration, Nairobi’s declaration of Somalia as an enemy state last week only shows how our nations are far from uniting and cooperating on anything.
The lesson I drew from Museveni’s otherwise great speech is that our strategic needs are often in conflict with our tactical considerations. Basically we are human. The fact that we know the problem and the solution does not take away our feelings, egos and idiosyncrasies. That is why Museveni needs to revise his views about pre-colonial African chiefs. Their response to colonial intrusion was shaped by the petty conflicts they were involved in. Consequently tactical quarrels overpowered strategic considerations – exactly as is the case between Uganda and Rwanda today.