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Pointing fingers at DRC won’t solve Kampala’s problems

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Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, in a statement to Reuters on July 14, accused former Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila of giving sanctuary to armed rebels and allowed them to use proceeds of exploiting minerals and timber to build their strength.


By Barnabé Kikaya Bin Karubi

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, in a statement to Reuters on July 14, accused former Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) president Joseph Kabila of giving sanctuary to armed rebels and allowing them to use the proceeds of exploiting minerals and timber to build their strength. This most serious charge lacks details, yet its severity is beyond serious.

Picture: AFP – Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and former DRC President Joseph Kabila.

The ADF-Nalu is the deadliest of dozens of armed militias that operate in the mineral-rich eastern DRC. The US designated it a terrorist organisation, and is offering a reward of $5million (R95m) for information leading to the capture of their leader, Musa Baluku.

This statement was made after the ADF-Nalu massacred 41 students at a High School in the Kasese District on Ugandan soil.

Media reports assert that Uganda launched an offensive in 2021 to drive the ADF-Nalu out of their Congolese strongholds. But these operations have failed to put an end to the group’s attacks. This is clearly a matter that Museveni should focus on and answer the question, why?

Picture: Uganda’s national flag

There is yet another question that Museveni should not evade : why choose to accuse former President Joseph Kabila at a time when the situation in the DRC is so volatile, preparing for a “make or break”election at the end of the year, with large territories under the control of armed groups, with large territories under the control of armed groups, with the eastern part of the country in hyper-militarisation, and with troops from Monusco, the East African Community (EAC), the FARDC (the Congolese national army), in addition to the multitude of armed groups, Congolese and foreign?

Before answering, it is appropriate to refer to the document titled “Eastern Congo: the lost rebellion of the ADF-Nalu” published in Briefing Afrique N°93 Nairobi/Bruxelles, December 19, 2012, an edifying newsletter from the International Crisis Group.

It states, “an aggregate of several armed movements supported by external actors – Mobutu Sese Seko’s Zaire and Hassan al-Tourabi’s Sudan – the ADF- Nalu initially fought against Museveni’s Ugandan regime, but never managed to gain a foothold there.”

And further reads: “A movement of Ugandan origin, it has taken root in the east of the DRC, particularly in hard-to-reach mountainous areas. Thanks to their leader, Jamil Mukulu, a Christian convert to Islam, the ADF-Nalu have gone from being a Congolese-Ugandan problem to taking on a regional dimension as part of the radical Islamist nebula in East Africa.”

Picture: Democratic Republic of Congo flag

Like his predecessor Laurent-Désiré Kabila, who came to power in 1997, Joseph Kabila, who became President in 2001, has always opposed Ugandan and Rwandan insurgent organisations.

He succeeded in reducing the Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army to its simplest form. With the signing of the Lusaka Agreement tasking the UN International Force alongside the Congolese army with tracking down and neutralising rebel groups from Rwanda (ex-Far and Interahamwe), Burundi (FDDL), Uganda (ADF, LRA, UNRF II, WNBF, Nalu) and Angola (Unita).

Moreover, Joseph Kabila exerted military pressure on the ADF-Nalu that led the then leader of the movement, Jamil Mukulu to flee eastern Congo to be arrested in Tanzania and extradited to Uganda where he is serving a prison sentence.

Evidence revealed by International Crisis Group in its report is this excerpt: “On April 25 2010, the attack on the Niyaleke military camp near Beni by an ADF-Mayi-Mayi coalition re-launched operations against the ADF in the Beni and Lubero territories. On June 25, the FARDC launched Operation Ruwenzori. It was prepared by the FARDC in collaboration with Monusco. This offensive enabled Congolese troops to capture several ADF camps and cut several of their logistical lines”.

What’s more, Joseph Kabila was the first head of state in the sub-region to denounce the ADF-Nalu’s allegiance to Daesh and to describe this armed group as terrorist.

Clearly, it was under Joseph Kabila that the ADF-Nalu lost the most ground in the DRC. It is also under Kabila that the ADF-Nalu has become less and less resistant to attacks by the Ugandan UPDF army, both in the DRC and in Uganda.

In short, after having neutralised the LRA, Kabila was in the process of putting an end to Uganda’s main insurrectionary movement when the political transfer of power occurred following the 2018 elections that resulted in a peaceful change with the whole country at peace. In the name of the sacred principle of state continuity, it was up to his successor to carry on the work.

Tshisekedi’s Lack of Diplomatic Tact and Skills

Instead, DRC President Felix Tshisekedi embarked on policies that weakened the FARDC, the national army by sub-contracting national security to foreign and regional armies as well as to groups of European mercenaries. Each one of these forces have different agendas. The fatal mistake was to turn his back to the SADC region, an organisation that was instrumental in saving the national integrity of the DRC.

The difference between the EAC and SADC in as far as the Congolese question is concerned is that three out of seven EAC countries are proven by UN and NGO reports of being involved in the looting of natural resources in eastern DRC and maintaining insecurity as a pretext for their endeavours.

The SADC on the contrary has lost its children fighting for the national integrity and sovereignty of the DRC. From 1998 and again in 2013, soldiers from Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, Malawi and Angola shed their blood to defend the DRC. It was therefore an ill-advised decision to ignore SADC, the DRC’s “biological family” and bring the country to the EAC with tied fists and feet.

A Sword in Water

At a time when the Congolese are looking for answers to the question of insecurity in the whole country, Museveni has made a surprising choice: to clear his name and designate a scapegoat who will serve as the culprit.

It’s true that the next presidential elections in Uganda will be held in 2026, three years from now. But it’s a deadline that doesn’t look good, as Museveni is not only contested by his opposition and even by his political and biological families. The security situation has always been essential to his leadership, more so than the economic and socio-cultural situation. Even if it’s easy to guess what’s coming next, what’s impossible to understand is the paving stone he thought he was throwing into the pond, the boomerang effect of which has come back to bite him, removing any pretext.

After all, the Congolese people who are paying the price of their neighbours civil wars being fought on Congolese soil, have the right to ask Museveni and other leaders of countries bordering the East of the DRC to open negotiations with their opposition, armed or unarmed, the same way as the Nairobi and Luanda processes ask the DRC to negotiate with the M23. That in all eventualities, could be the beginning of the solution to the problems in the Great Lakes Region.

To come back to the poignant question raised upfront: maybe the answer is to be found in a desperate interest driven relationship, and transactional pact between Museveni and his desperate counterpart in the DRC. Just project and deflect attention and make Kabila the villain ! A desperate act indeed.

*Barnabé Kikaya Bin Karubi is Distinguished Research Associate at the Centre for Africa’s Diplomacy and Leadership at the University of Johannesburg.