April 28, 2022

Was President Kagame’s visit to Uganda Intended to Boost Muhoozi Succession or Rwanda’s interests?

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Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame reacts as Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba cuts the birthday cake with his parents, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and First Lady Janet Museveni at State House, Entebbe, Uganda, Sunday April 24, 2022

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame is safely back home from a two-day private visit in Uganda. The Chronicles‘ review of reaction before and after the visit, from social media and news media reporting, as well as engagement with players in the know, suggests both Rwanda and Uganda stand to reap strategic, diplomatic and political benefits.

The visit, unexpected, following a near-descent into war, is latest chapter in a complicated relationship between the two capitals. The economic cost, especially for Uganda, was simply too high – with Bank of Uganda data showing Rwanda represented close to $200 million market for Ugandan goods, products and services annually.  

Until the first images of President Kagame arriving at the Entebbe International Airport emerged, few believed he would be in Uganda, except for a very small circle – mainly within Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni family and close ruling party confidants.

Indications about the visit, were released to the public through Twitter by Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the First Son and Commander of Land Forces in the Ugandan military. He was preparing a 48th birthday party which attracted so much buzz he even named an organising committee on Twitter.

And indeed, it happened. President Kagame attended a State Banquet hosted by President Yoweri Museveni at State House in honor of the 48th Birthday Celebrations of General Muhoozi. However, earlier, the two leaders had met in Nairobi, Kenya shortly before attending the signing ceremony of the treaty of accession by the Democratic Republic of Congo to the East African Community (EAC). 

The visit has been viewed differently by different sections in Uganda, with some having solely expected that it should have served their interests.

On the one hand, is some members of the ruling party of President Museveni, and well-wishers of good relations between Rwanda and Uganda. There is talk of Lt Gen Muhoozi being fronted as the successor to his father.

The opposition establishment sees President Kagame coming to grace their Muhoozi’s birthday party, bringing along his statue, as nothing short of a positive endorsement of the Muhoozi presidency come 2026.

Ugandan elites and opposition

The other section, virulently opposed to the Muhoozi succession, is the elites, some NRM historicals and some opposition groups. You do not need rocket science to see that some elements have for years positioned themselves, like any system would be, to succeed President Museveni. What I detail here, isn’t unusual whatsoever. Some have critical voices, and have openly voiced their positions.

These elites argue that President Kagame presence gives legitimacy to a government they have vehemently opposed. They see Kagame’s presence as sign for continuation of the bad they don’t want. The elites also view Kagame’s sudden moves to turn the page in Rwanda-Uganda relations, as strategic win for Rwanda, while Ugandans continue to suffer.

To demonstrate their contempt for Muhoozi, a parallel act took place. Opposition politician Robert Kyagulanyi a.k.a Bobi Wine, mobilized supporters to escort him through town to his party offices. Designed to provoke, the police gave them what they wanted, teargas. In the evening news headlines, on Saturday April 23, the same day, Muhoozi’s event competed with the Bobi Wine’s publicity stunt.

In a nutshell, while the ruling establishment is happy with Kagame’s visit, some elites and the opposition, are in agony. Understandably so, YES. However, the critique of Kagame visit, is visibly misplaced.

The fact that President Kagame let it be known to Uganda, since March 2019, that he couldn’t budge unless his country’s interests are safeguarded, is sign enough that everything else is secondary.

President Paul Kagame and host President Museveni arrive at the State House in honor of the 48th Birthday Celebrations of General Muhoozi

By President Kagame taking the initiative to constantly seek engagement with Uganda, shows he is keenly aware that a conflict with his northern neighbor isn’t in anyone’s interest. If anything, it will lead to unnecessary strife, yet both country’s are barely 40 years after war and a Genocide.

While it appears that some Ugandan elites, and the opposition, don’t like the Rwanda-Uganda rapprochement, it could suggest they enjoyed the war path.

The view inside Rwanda is that; When Rwandans were getting abducted, killed, tortured, disappeared and kidnapped, by Uganda’s military intelligence – where was their outrage then? Why did we not hear criticism of what was being done to innocent Rwandans.

Plight of about 3,000 Rwandans

As of November, last year, The Chronicles obtained exclusive access to government data that showed 2,567 Rwandans had been deported, often having been tortured and left for dead. They endured hanging, waterboarding, electrocution, hooded throughout, and plucking-out nails inside facilities of the dreaded Uganda Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI).

The deportations did suddenly stop recently following the Muhoozi mission to Rwanda, and meeting President Kagame. However, documented cases are available, of Rwandans who were killed like Emmanuel Magezi who was arrested by intelligence operatives in Mbarara district, and his lifeless body turned up inside Butabika Hospital.

Silas Hategekimana spent 18 days enduring physical and psychological torture in CMI torture chambers. He succumbed to the effects of the cruelty meted on him during detention.

Some Rwandan nationals are said to still be missing to date.

ALSO READ – Uganda: The Anatomy of a Mass Kidnap

The silence around the mistreatment of Rwandans shows that these elites, opposition, and some historicals who are “unhappy” with the Kagame visit, actually did not mind the plight of Rwandans. It wouldn’t be wrong to suggest they found that normal, argue those in Rwanda.

Right from the beginning of the crisis, the government of Rwanda had clearly set out its concerns. In addition to abuse, tortured and deportations of Rwandans, Kigali outlined all armed groups and individuals, who were getting sanctuary in Uganda.

Rwanda released graphic details about Uganda’s support to armed groups attempting to wreak terror on Rwanda.

Operatives and leaders of these groups received facilitation and safe passage in Uganda, including by senior officials of the Government. It has been detailed that former minister Philomene Mateke was go-between for the FDLR militia that is based in eastern DRC. The Rwanda National Congress (RNC) had operatives recruiting, and actually also taking part in arrests and interrogation of Rwandan nationals.

Great Generals Vs Greater Generals

Among the senior militia figures arrested in DR Congo and later transferred to Rwanda for prosecution include two FDLR officials – Ignace Nkaka, best known as La Forge Fils Bazeye (spokesperson), and “Lt Col” Jean-Pierre Nsekanabo (head of intelligence) who were apprehended at the Bunagana border on their way from Kampala for a meeting with RNC officials.

ALSO READ: FDLR Spokesman’s Journey From Congo, Uganda, To Rwandan Jail

ALSO READ: Habibu Mudathiru’s Tears, Regrets and Message To His Children

In May last year, a court in Rwanda convicted 37 suspects in connection with the deadly attack in Kinigi, the tourist hotbed located in Musanze district, carried out in October 2019. The court heard a flood of evidence chronicling how the recruitment, planning and finance of the RUD-URUNANA cell from inside Uganda, was conducted. In fact, the attack itself was coordinated in Uganda. Former Minister Mateke, again featured prominently, during the trial.

For the sections arguing that President Kagame’s visit to Uganda or the rapprochement, is giving strength to Museveni people, do they expect President Kagame to permanently remain in state of war for the benefit of those who want Museveni gone? Do they want Rwanda to fight battles for them?

How come there was never public condemnation from those Ugandan elites, of their government, for openly supporting Rwandan militias? A lot of issues remain unanswered, as to how this laissez-faire attitude prevailed.

The exclusive primary RESPONSIBILITY of the President of a country, is to protect the country’s interests, at whatever cost. President Kagame is answerable to his people. A war or tensions between the two countries will not benefit Rwandans. Besides, the sections that have been rooting for Rwanda to go to war with Uganda, have only been looking out for their own interests.

The powerfully packaged speech at the State Banquet shouldn’t be understood for what it was not. As a parent himself, invited by another parent, President Kagame had the duty to be there, as well as give candid guidance.  

The Head of State did exactly so. Kagame noted that he was grateful to have welcomed Gen Muhoozi to Rwanda.

“I could see the conversation was that of peace, resolving problems between Rwanda and Uganda,” said Kagame, adding: “I share these experiences with those who have been on the battlefield. Great Generals are those who fight and win wars. Greater Generals are those who win peace.”

If there was anything either Rwanda or Uganda could have done that can bring peace, it should be seen as beneficial to both Rwandans and Ugandans.

The governance and political choices of Uganda are the responsibility of Ugandans, and not in any way, the responsibility of Rwanda’s President.

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