By Erasme Rugemintwaza
“When analyzing the panoply of weapons and the pugnacious assaults of the Ugandan army in the DRC, with armored vehicles, “drones”, many observers resuscitate the theater of Kisangani where the two ancient friends Rwanda and Uganda, who had rushed to invade the Zaire clashed savagely: Twenty years later, the six-day war in Kisangani, between the Rwandan and Ugandan armies respectively RDF and UPDF, the complexes of the vanquished as well as those of the victor persist. At present, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC are talking about fighting the Allied Democratic Forces, ADF, in “Operation Shujaa” (Brave). However, some doubt these advanced reasons and fear that Uganda can ricochet and have confrontation with Rwanda.
For about two weeks the Ugandan army, the UPDF launched assaults against the ADF rebels on Congolese soil. Officials from both states said this was the only one to fight the ADF, the armed group responsible for terrorist attacks and killings in both countries.
While airstrikes were carried out in areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo, an indisputable ADF military rear base, some experts doubt Uganda’s motive in this new war, fearing a possible escalation and a confrontation with Rwanda which recalls the “Six Day War” in June 2000, in Kisangani.
The official announcement of the Ugandan army’s intervention on Congolese soil, hidden for days, was delivered by Patrick Muyaya Katembwe, the spokesperson for the DRC government, during a press conference on 29 November, 2021 in these terms:
-“Today, we face a common threat called ADF. ADF strike at our home, and they strike at their home. It is here that they[ADF] have their bases. And today, in relation to the situation on the ground, and how the threat is growing worse, our armies are doing what we call targeted actions. If we spot them in the Ugandan side and the Ugandan side can intervene, or we can intervene more quickly, then we inform Ugandan party and we intervene.”
An intervention that resuscitates the specter of the past
In 1996, under the pretext of dismantling the Hutu refugee camps, which according to the new Tutsi regime in Kigali, sheltered and served as a rear base for attacks by the farmer Rwandan Armed Forces and Interahamwe Hutus against the Tutsi regime in Kigali, Rwanda, Uganda as well as Burundi created a rebellion in the name of the Congolese who wanted to put an end to the so-called dictatorship of Mobutu. But after the capture of Kinshasa, the two armies, Ugandans and Rwandans did not directly leave the DRC, despite the hostility of the Congolese and under the new power in the hands of Kabila senior.
In the years 1997-2000, the DRC was a world spectacle, with observers, journalists and international organizations stationed in the country. Newspapers daily condemned the Ugandan and Rwandan armed forces in Congo, accusing them of looting the country instead of fighting armed groups, as they pretended.
Kisangani will then be the scene of clashes between these two friends for the control of Kisangani airport which could serve as an air bridge to repatriate the looted wealth. In an interview that he gave to the pro-government newspaper, Igihe.com, Tito Rutaremara delivered, with this legendary arrogance of the victor and especially of the Tutsi, the “secrets” of this almost fratricidal war. He told Igihe.com: _”Since Rwanda had taken a large part of the territory, Uganda asked them to join them in the occupied territories and work there.” Rutaremara said:” The only part that we had occupied was the airport [of Kisangani: editor’s notes], but it is them [the Ugandans: editor’s note] who choose the best zones. They then began to exploit the minerals deposits, to cut down the trees, but could not find a way to bring back the looted goods home. They used to go through the airport and we say to them, “Where do you get these other people’s things? We sat down together to agree, that we must fight, and that it is the Congolese who must sell their minerals and so on to help us pay the soldiers, where are you taking them, these things?”
Numerous documents indicate that clashes between Rwandan and Ugandan troops began in 1999, after Ugandan troops Ugandan troops were outraged by hindrance to exploit Congolese wealth.
In the month of June 2000, it became worse because a real war, very deadly, broke out.
According to Rutaremara, on the day of the deadlock, General James Kazini, who commanded the Ugandan army in Kisangani, first called Colonel Karenzi Karake who commanded the Rwandan armies, negociating to stop the fighting and then Ugandan army withdrew more than ten kilometers outside Kisangani.
According to reports, the war has killed at least 2,000 Ugandan soldiers.
Peace came following the reconciliation of Zambian President Frederic Chiluba who went to Kampala and Kigali to meet with President Museveni and Paul Kagame to discuss a lasting solution to the conflict.
Tito Rutaremara says the defeat of Uganda is one of the reasons that the government of that country has a negative view of Rwanda and that Rwandans have been held in the country since 2017.
The Rwandan-Ugandan clash is probable
For Stephanie Wolters, specialist in the Great Lakes region, this new military operation launched by Uganda risks turning, as in the past, into a confrontation with Rwanda, whose army is operating in the same region.
“This is also something envigeable,” he recalls, referring to the “Six Day War”, which saw Rwanda and Uganda openly clash in June 2000, in Kisangani. “We know that relations between Rwanda and Uganda are bad. They often fought in the Congo for economic, political and security reasons. So, the situationt worries.”
Ugandan political analyst Assuman Bisika didn’t agree with this worst-case scenario. Rather, he emphasizes the “Convergence of interest between Uganda and Congo”. Thus he underlines that “Uganda has a road construction project in eastern DRC. So, it is not a simple invitation from the DRC to Uganda to come and fight. The two countries share common ground. In addition, I do not see what justification the Rwandan troops would have for a war, especially since the Ugandan zone of operations is far from Rwanda.”
Uganda then wants to secure the area for other interests than those of supporting the FDLR or RNC as Rwanda always accuses of it. In fact, in August 2021, in Kampala, President Yoweri Museveni announced that he was only waiting for the agreement of his Congolese counterpart, Félix Tshisekedi, to launch an offensive against the ADF. The recent attacks in the Ugandan capital have apparently accelerated matters.
Rwanda on the lookout
Relations between Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni, his Ugandan counterpart, are very tense. For several years, Kigali has accused Kampala of supporting rebel groups wanting to destabilize Rwanda.
Asked by RFI, Rwandan government spokesperson Yolande Makolo assures that this Ugandan army operation in the DRC is a matter that concerns only Kampala and Kinshasa.
But she says Rwanda is monitoring developments and possible consequences for its national security, before concluding that it is in everyone’s interest to work for stability in the region.
The joint operations of the Congolese and Ugandan armies are concentrated far from the Rwandan border. But for Kigali, there are other factors that come into play. “If this is limited to a fight against the ADF, there is no problem,” explains a source close to the authorities in Kigali. “But if Uganda is tempted to provide support to other armed groups present in the DRC and which aim to destabilize Rwanda, there, it will be problematic.”
Rwanda has often accused Kampala of supporting the RNC and the FDLR, groups it considers terrorists.
Note that nowadays, there is very serious media war between Rwanda and Uganda. The smallest thing in one side, is the subject of passionate debates. However, the regimes of Kigali and Kampala appear to be vying for hegemony in the African Great Lakes region. But, as its President Paul KAGAME says, Rwanda is a sovereign country for Rwandans, a country which was not created by anyone and which must assume itself as such. And Uganda should realize this and shed its patriarchal attitude. Twenty years ago, the ‘six-day war” in Kisangani clearly demonstrated this.