PRO­FILE / Fra­ter­nal foes

Once great al­lies, pres­i­dents Kagame and Museveni are be­com­ing more and more crit­i­cal of each other, risk­ing con­flict in East and Cen­tral Africa. At stake are big in­vest­ments, re­gional lead­er­ship, the fu­ture of the EAC

The Africa Report - - EDITORIAL - By PARSELELO KANTAI, NI­CHOLAS NORBROOK and PA­TRICK SMITH in Kam­pala and Ki­gali

Once great al­lies, pres­i­dents Kagame and Museveni are be­com­ing more and more crit­i­cal of each other, risk­ing con­flict in East and Cen­tral Africa

Some­one with a sense of hu­mour drew up the seat­ing plan for Cyril Ramaphosa’s pres­i­den­tial in­au­gu­ra­tion on 25 May in South Africa. There in the best seats, re­served for Africa’s vet­eran lead­ers, were pres­i­dents Yow­eri Museveni and Paul Kagame, chat­ting, if not an­i­mat­edly, at least with ci­vil­ity. So why not seat two of East Africa’s grandees next to each other? They should have had so much to discuss. But this year, re­la­tions be­tween Uganda’s Pres­i­dent Museveni and Rwanda’s Pres­i­dent Kagame have sunk to their low­est ebb for two decades.

The day be­fore the two men flew to Pre­to­ria to cheer on Ramaphosa there was an­other skir­mish on the border be­tween Rwanda and Uganda. This time, two Rwan­dan sol­diers crossed into south-western Uganda in the district of Rukiga in pur­suit of a Rwan­dan national. When the man re­sisted cap­ture,

they shot him dead along with a Ugan­dan cit­i­zen who had tried to pro­tect him.

Uganda’s for­eign min­istry de­manded an im­me­di­ate apol­ogy. The rest of the episode is shrouded in mys­tery, but it is likely to have come up when the two pres­i­dents met the fol­low­ing day.

It fits a pat­tern of grow­ing ten­sions be­tween the two coun­tries this year over trade and po­lit­i­cal mat­ters. These es­ca­lated in Fe­bru­ary when Kagame’s gov­ern­ment started block­ing Ugan­dan trucks from en­ter­ing Rwanda at the Ki­tona cross­ing point, one of the busiest border posts be­tween the two coun­tries.

Rwanda’s for­eign min­is­ter, Richard Sez­ib­era, then barred his coun­try’s nationals from travelling to Uganda – os­ten­si­bly for security rea­sons. He told the BBC that Rwan­dans faced ha­rass­ment, ar­rest and some­times in­def­i­nite de­ten­tion by the Ugan­dan au­thor­i­ties.

Be­hind all this is Kagame’s core ac­cu­sa­tion that Museveni is back­ing dis­si­dents and mili­tias in­tent on over­throw­ing his gov­ern­ment. That is all the more se­ri­ous be­cause both coun­tries, with sub­stan­tial mil­i­tary forces and in­tel­li­gence ser­vices, re­gard them­selves as guar­an­tors for security in the re­gion.

Row over dis­si­dents

A vis­i­bly an­gry Kagame tells The Africa Report that Museveni had been try­ing to cover up Uganda’s as­so­ci­a­tions with Rwan­dan dis­si­dents such as to­bacco mag­nate Trib­ert Ru­ju­giro and for­mer Rwan­dan chief of army staff Gen­eral Kayumba Nyamwasa. Both men had been close al­lies of Kagame. But in 2009, Ru­ju­giro fell out with him and was stripped of his Rwan­dan cit­i­zen­ship and his busi­nesses.

Kagame dis­misses Ru­ju­giro as a crook now, but re­sents his pres­ence in Uganda, cit­ing it as ev­i­dence of Museveni’s com­plic­ity in a plot against Ki­gali. Rwan­dan in­tel­li­gence says it has ev­i­dence that Ru­ju­giro is in busi­ness with Museveni’s brother, Salim Saleh.

This has evolved into a very per­son­alised quar­rel, which makes it harder to fore­cast its out­come. “Pres­i­dent Museveni, we know each other,” Kagame told The Africa Report. “He knows me very well. Museveni has a flaw of think­ing that every­one must bow to him whether he’s wrong or right. He ac­tu­ally thinks he has that right, that this re­gion is his.”

But the dis­pute goes far be­yond the per­sonal realm. Rwanda and Uganda send peace­keep­ing forces to So­ma­lia, Su­dan, the Cen­tral African Repub­lic and be­yond. They try to set the agenda and pur­sue their spe­cific in­ter­ests on security at the African Union and the United Na­tions.

An es­ca­la­tion of ten­sions be­tween them could threaten re­gional sta­bil­ity. At the very least, with Kagame as chair­man of the East African Com­mu­nity (EAC) it could set back the cause of re­gional eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion.

Woo­ing Tshisekedi

A big part of the row be­tween Museveni and Kagame is rooted in the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo (DRC) , part of a ri­valry over re­sources and strate­gic in­flu­ence. Gold ex­ports from Uganda, for ex­am­ple, have risen from less than $10m a year a decade ago to over half a bil­lion dol­lars last year; much of it is be­lieved to be from the DRC.

So the ar­rival of newly elected Con­golese pres­i­dent Félix Tshisekedi in Ki­gali on a full state visit in late March, where he was a star attraction at the Africa CEO Fo­rum, raised eye­brows. Tshisekedi’s own sup­port­ers back home pi­lo­ried the Con­golese pres­i­dent for visit­ing the geno­cide memorial in the Rwan­dan cap­i­tal.

Nev­er­the­less, Tshisekedi con­demned the mili­tias op­er­at­ing on the Con­golese side of the border with Rwanda. “We have to be­lieve him,” says Kagame. “My prob­lems in Rwanda very of­ten end up be­ing prob­lems in the DRC, and vice versa. We can’t ad­dress that with­out co­op­er­a­tion.”

“We start with one prin­ci­ple: we our­selves are just tem­po­ral ac­tors, but our coun­tries will al­ways be neigh­bours,” said Tshisekedi at the close of the fo­rum. “Nur­tur­ing ten­sions is just a waste of time, time which we could set aside for build­ing. I have felt from Pres­i­dent Kagame a de­sire to move for­wards, it is ex­actly the kind of part­ner­ship I am look­ing for.”

Against this back­drop, The Africa Report sought out the views of Kagame and Museveni on the causes of the rising ten­sions be­tween their two coun­tries and how Africa should re­spond to the in­ter­na­tional eco­nomic slow­down and trade wars.

In­ter­rupt­ing a cab­i­net meet­ing at the majestic State House in En­tebbe over­look­ing Lake Vic­to­ria, Pres­i­dent Museveni, a spritely 74 year old, strides across the build­ing to meet us. Al­most im­me­di­ately he ticks off a list of 10 bot­tle­necks that are hold­ing back struc­tural eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion in Uganda, such as inad­e­quate in­fra­struc­ture, elec­tric­ity and trans­port sys­tems. Then he starts hand­ing out papers on devel­op­ment strat­egy that he de­liv­ered in Ja­pan and Europe. The spirit of his days at Dar es Salaam Univer­sity in the 1960s, taught by Wal­ter Rodney and other Marx­ists, lives on.

Over the next three years, gross do­mes­tic prod­uct growth in Uganda is set to av­er­age about 5.7% due to the grad­ual ex­pan­sion of ser­vices and in­dus­tries. And if oil production and re­fin­ing starts up on sched­ule in 2022, growth should in­crease by at least an additional per­cent­age point per year.

Despite these bet­ter growth prospects, does Museveni worry about Uganda’s grow­ing debt-service com­mit­ments un­der­min­ing the coun­try’s fi­nan­cial sta­bil­ity? Not at all, as long as the loans are used pro­duc­tively, he replies. “If all our cot­ton had been con­verted into tex­tiles, how much money would we

An es­ca­la­tion of ten­sions could threaten re­gional sta­bil­ity

have earned? So Africa is los­ing whether we bor­row or we don’t bor­row,” Museveni says.

The best ex­am­ple, he ar­gues, is the gov­ern­ment’s strat­egy on de­vel­op­ing Uganda’s oil re­serves. Al­though it was one of the first coun­tries in East Africa to find com­mer­cial quan­ti­ties of oil – it has es­ti­mated re­cov­er­able re­serves of at least 1.7bn in the Lake Al­bert basin – Uganda has held out for a deal that met its key de­mands: a sub­stan­tial amount of the oil should be re­fined near the oil wells, pro­vid­ing enough sup­ply for national and re­gional mar­kets.

“With­out a re­fin­ery, the oil would have stayed in the ground. It has been there for two mil­lion years. There’s no way we could be an oil pro­ducer while im­port­ing fin­ished prod­ucts [such as petrol]. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s re­ally trea­son, and I’m not a traitor,” says Museveni.

The pipe­line’s not the point

In June, Museveni’s gov­ern­ment fi­nally agreed terms with France’s To­tal, China National Off­shore Oil Cor­po­ra­tion and Ire­land’s Tul­low for the tar­iffs and fees on the pipe­line to Tanga port in Tan­za­nia to ex­port crude. That part of the project was of sec­ondary im­por­tance, ac­cord­ing to Museveni: “I wasn’t in­ter­ested in the pipe­line […] but the oil com­pa­nies wanted to re­cover their money quickly, so we com­pro­mised as long as they agreed with my oil re­fin­ery.”

Such de­ci­sions about re­source al­lo­ca­tion will prove crit­i­cal if Uganda is to meet the am­bi­tious aims of its Vi­sion 2040 pro­gramme, which aims to achieve up­per-mid­dle-income sta­tus through a suc­ces­sion of five-year plans. Along­side the oil production and re­fin­ing, the gov­ern­ment is build­ing a new hy­dropower project at Karuma on the edge of Murchi­son Falls National Park. It is also in­vest­ing in new trans­port projects, in­clud­ing the re­vi­tal­i­sa­tion of its national car­rier, Uganda Air­lines.

That fits into the plans for a boost to tourism, mar­ket­ing the coun­try’s nat­u­ral beauty. In all these projects, Museveni makes it clear that the jobs cre­ated are as im­por­tant as the rev­enue they raise.

Point­ing to his tra­di­tional tunic, he says: “This shirt I am putting on is a Ugan­dan shirt […] from cot­ton to fab­ric to gar­ment. If you sell a kilo of what they call lint cot­ton, af­ter they re­move the seed you may get $1 a kilo. Africa has been end­ing the process there. But when you make a shirt out of it, you get $15.” It is a straight­for­ward pro­gres­sion with clear re­wards, he adds: “You spin the cot­ton to get thread – there are jobs. You weave – that’s more jobs. You print the colours – that’s more jobs. You’re do­nat­ing all those jobs.”

Yet there is also a big tax-rev­enue drive, partly to pay for the gov­ern­ment’s new in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ments. The most con­tro­ver­sial has been the so-called lugambo (mean­ing gos­sip) tax, un­der which Ugan­dans pay a tax of USH200 ($0.05) per day to use digital ser­vices such as What­sapp, Skype, Facebook and Twit­ter. Ac­tivists have con­demned the tax as an at­tempt to re­strict free­dom of speech. It fol­lows the cut­ting off of Twit­ter and Facebook dur­ing the 2016 elec­tions.

Con­sump­tion tax

Museveni staunchly de­fends it: “We don’t have to tax tech­nol­ogy. Our tax pol­icy is very clear. We don’t tax production when you are putting in­puts into production for in­dus­try, for agri­cul­ture. […] But when it’s just con­sump­tion, that’s where we tax.” Other coun­tries in the re­gion, es­pe­cially Tan­za­nia, are watch­ing to see the im­pact of Uganda’s ini­tia­tive.

The day be­fore our in­ter­view, Museveni had been tour­ing north­ern Uganda, getting his mes­sage out, al­though elec­tions are not due un­til 2021. He used the term “the pol­i­tics of war” when re­fer­ring to a mooted al­liance be­tween long­time op­po­si­tion can­di­date – and his for­mer doctor – Kizza Be­si­gye and Robert Kyag­u­lanyi, bet­ter known as Bobbi Wine, the 37-year- old singer and self-appointed ‘Ghetto Pres­i­dent’ (see TAR 107, ‘The Youth Wave’).“what I meant was that here

‘Africa is los­ing whether we bor­row or we don’t bor­row,’ says Museveni

in Africa we are build­ing coun­tries, [whereas] in Europe and Amer­ica people are run­ning coun­tries. So it’s a struggle of direc­tion. Do we do this or do we do that? And they are all very se­ri­ous is­sues.”

Aske d what he con­sid­ers his legacy, Museveni slips back into elec­tion­eer­ing mode: “First of all, the anti-colo­nial ef­forts, the lib­er­a­tion of Mozam­bique, Zim­babwe, An­gola, South Africa itself. Then the pol­i­tics of unity, build­ing a strong, dis­ci­plined army, and then, fi­nally, de­fog­ging the ide­o­log­i­cal hori­zon be­cause in Africa people don’t know what is needed. By re­mov­ing the fog, it has helped Uganda. That’s why Uganda is grow­ing.”

The other area he pin­points is re­gional in­te­gra­tion: “In­te­gra­tion – we are the ones who in­sisted on it.” Why then, we asked, was Uganda not doing more to heal the rift with Rwanda, as it is dis­rupt­ing trade and re­gional projects?

A pause, then a smile with an un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally brief re­sponse. “No. Those are hic­coughs, but the direc­tion of the in­te­gra­tion is cor­rect.”

What is the cure for the hic­coughs? An­other smile and more pauses.“there’s al­ways medicine for hic­coughs. You drink some wa­ter. We shall find a solution.” He con­cludes: “We’ll deal with Rwanda con­fi­den­tially – not through jour­nal­ists.” Try as we might, that was the only available verdict from Kam­pala on re­la­tions with Rwanda.

Barbs in pub­lic

Con­trary to stan­dard diplo­matic pro­to­cols, this bi­lat­eral dis­pute has been aired thor­oughly in pub­lic. When it started in Fe­bru­ary, Kagame gave a tough mes­sage – with­out men­tion­ing Uganda – to a national lead­er­ship re­treat at Gabiro: “You can at­tempt to desta­bilise our coun­try. You can shoot with a gun and kill me, but there is one thing that is im­pos­si­ble: no one can bring me to my knees.”

To which Museveni fired back, at the open­ing of a new manufactur­ing plant and sur­rounded by be­mused for­eign busi­ness­men: “Those who want to desta­bilise our coun­try do not know our ca­pac­ity. Once we mo­bilise, you can’t sur­vive.”

Ac­cord­ing to one of Museveni’s most se­nior diplo­mats, the dis­pute has gone be­yond mere rhetoric. “My con­cern,” the diplo­mat says, “is the state of our re­gional eco­nomic or­gan­i­sa­tions […], just as we are ne­go­ti­at­ing with the Euro­pean Union and maybe Bri­tain on the side […] as well as launch­ing our own African Con­ti­nen­tal Free Trade Area (AFCFTA, see page 8) and a host of other pan-african in­sti­tu­tions. We can’t af­ford to tread wa­ter now.”

Kagame’s po­si­tion as EAC chair­man – and run­ning one of the re­gion’s smallest economies – makes his diplo­matic po­si­tion crit­i­cal. For now, Rwanda is in open dis­pute with Uganda and Bu­rundi, while there are rum­bling dis­con­tents in its re­la­tions with Tan­za­nia.

Re­view­ing the state of Rwanda’s re­gional re­la­tion­ships from the top floor of the min­istry of de­fence in Ki­gali, Pres­i­dent Kagame seems al­most eerily re­laxed about these grow­ing ten­sions. Oc­ca­sion­ally, he al­lows him­self the odd chuckle when try­ing to ex­plain why his crit­ics have got it so wrong – as if their er­rors were just too ab­surd to merit dis­cus­sion.

None of these lo­cal dif­fi­cul­ties have shaken Kagame’s be­lief in re­gional eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion, even po­lit­i­cal fed­er­a­tion, he tells The Africa Report. He was a lead spon­sor of the AFCFTA and an en­er­getic chair­man of the African Union, try­ing to shake up its in­sti­tu­tions and re­form its fi­nanc­ing struc­tures.

Hav­ing downed an ex­cel­lent Rwan­dan espresso in the min­istry’s wait­ing room, we launch into the idea of cre­at­ing an East Africa cof­fee brand, a sort of caf­feinated ver­sion of Europe’s multi­na­tional Air­bus production line. Kagame says he com­pletely agrees with such co­op­er­a­tion. Then there is a pause: “But that only hap­pens if you ad­dress many other prob­lems. Noth­ing is so in­de­pen­dent of the other: the busi­ness will not be in­de­pen­dent of the pol­i­tics […] and the pol­i­tics is not com­pletely in­de­pen­dent of the eco­nom­ics.”

Give and take

The prob­lem is, he ex­plains, that “we are still stuck in very old pol­i­tics […] even when we are aware that there are more and bet­ter things we can achieve to­gether, but still we take this route that’s old-fash­ioned or ar­chaic.” We as­sumed that his use of the first per­son plu­ral was rhetor­i­cal rather than any ad­mis­sion of fault.

Lest there be any doubt about his en­thu­si­asm for ‘new pol­i­tics’ he con­tin­ues: “In­te­gra­tion nec­es­sar­ily means give and take, giv­ing away a cer­tain level of sovereignt­y. […] The old pol­i­tics plays on sovereignt­y as if it’s the be­gin­ning and the end of ev­ery­thing.”

Giv­ing up sovereignt­y is a calculated risk. “It be­gins with po­lit­i­cal will […] you must bring in the cit­i­zens of your coun­try be­cause you need that back­ing to deal with any threat you en­vis­age.”

All that is much eas­ier in Europe than in Africa, Kagame be­lieves. In Europe, he says, there are par­ties – con­ser­va­tives and lib­er­als – that span the con­ti­nent. But in Africa, the par­ties and the par­lia­ments are still too frag­mented, con­fined to national iden­ti­ties. “In East Africa, in­te­gra­tion has come about as a re­sult of lead­ers sit­ting in this room and say­ing: ‘This is the right thing to do.’ But they forget to mo­bilise their people to be part of it.”

A lot of Western politi­cians would ar­gue that this is ex­actly what has gone awry with the Euro­pean Union project.

Western prob­lems, Africa’s ad­van­tage

That brings us to the ef­fects on Africa of the re­vival of na­tion­al­ist and pop­ulist pol­i­tics in Europe and the Amer­i­cas. For Kagame, the ideal type of demo­cratic pol­i­tics in the West ap­pears to be crum­bling, but that can be turned to Africa’s ad­van­tage: “We are in an era where there are these dif­fi­cul­ties across the world, but they con­sti­tute the best op­por­tu­ni­ties for Africa, the best we’ve ever had.”

Nav­i­gat­ing the emerg­ing mul­ti­po­lar world suits Kagame: “You can try to get the best from which­ever side you may choose and what you think may work best for you […] the free­dom to nav­i­gate, mak­ing choices be­tween so many things.” Like Africa’s nim­bler diplo­mats, Kagame has been able to win friends and in­flu­ence of­fi­cials equally in the coun­cil cham­bers of Bei­jing, New Delhi, Tokyo, Brussels and Moscow. Only in London and Wash­ing­ton DC, which were counted among his most ar­dent ad­mir­ers two decades ago, are of­fi­cials tak­ing a more scep­ti­cal line on Ki­gali’s gov­er­nance model.

By com­par­i­son, nav­i­gat­ing East Africa may prove trick­ier for Kagame. As chair­man of the EAC, he has no real prob­lem with the fact that his coun­try has been ac­cused of back­ing an in­sur­rec­tion in Bu­rundi: “I don’t in­ter­fere with [the me­di­a­tors, Museveni and Tan­za­nia’s for­mer pres­i­dent Ben­jamin Mkapa]. I’ll make my con­tri­bu­tion, and that’s where it will stop. I won’t dic­tate what should hap­pen in

Pres­i­dent Kagame seems al­most eerily re­laxed about these grow­ing ten­sions

Bu­rundi […]. Let those who are re­spon­si­ble for it deal with it.”

Ac­cu­sa­tions by Bu­rundi’s Pres­i­dent Pierre Nku­run­z­iza against Rwanda are re­jected whole­sale: “The first prob­lem of Bu­rundi is Bu­rundi itself,” says Kagame. “When you put lies on the ta­ble […] they’ll be seen for what they are. And then the East African lead­ers will de­cide how to move for­ward. This is the ap­proach.”

Brothers in arms

The theme of neigh­bour­hood ten­sions leads us in­ex­orably back to Kagame’s com­plex re­la­tion­ship with Museveni. Ex­iled to Uganda af­ter a purge of the Tutsi eth­nic group in Rwanda in 1959, Kagame’s child­hood was con­sumed by the po­lit­i­cal dra­mas of Mil­ton Obote’s over­throw, the oust­ing of Idi Amin Dada and the bru­tal rule of Tito Okello.

It was Kagame and Fred Rwigyema who led the Rwan­dan con­tin­gent in Museveni’s National Re­sis­tance Army, which seized power in Kam­pala in 1986. Al­though Kagame was appointed head of mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence, he and Rwigyema’s main aim was to over­throw the Ju­vé­nal Hab­ya­ri­mana regime, which was plan­ning the eth­nic cleans­ing of Rwanda.

At that stage, Kagame was be­gin­ning to make his break with Museveni, al­though the two re­mained al­lies. And Uganda’s mil­i­tary help was use­ful in the bat­tles to seize power in Ki­gali and de­feat the géno­cidaires in 1994.

Much of the think­ing de­vel­oped in Museveni’s guer­rilla cam­paign – rev­o­lu­tion­ary com­mit­tees and de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion – resur­faced in Kagame’s Rwan­dan Pa­tri­otic Front (RPF). Museveni’s com­bi­na­tion of rev­o­lu­tion­ary rhetoric about pop­u­lar power, anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paigns, re­struc­tur­ing and de­vo­lu­tion – com­bined with a rhetor­i­cal com­mit­ment to free-mar­ket eco­nom­ics and at­tract­ing in­vest­ment – also shaped much of the RPF’S strat­egy.

There was a third grand al­liance be­tween Kagame’s and Museveni’s forces: the cam­paign to over­throw Mobutu Sese Seko in what is now the DRC. Ini­tially, they worked along­side the forces of Lau­rent-désiré Ka­bila, but the seeds of con­flict over mil­i­tary strat­egy and the shar­ing of lo­cal re­sources had been sown.

It was the bat­tle for Kisan­gani, the di­a­mond town on a bend in the Congo River, that tore Kagame and Museveni apart. They had dif­fered over which lo­cal rebel fac­tions to back and how to divide the spoils of war. But, above all, the split was due to the deadly clashes be­tween their forces – seen by the Ugan­dan forces as a colos­sal be­trayal by their Rwan­dan coun­ter­parts.

From there the per­sonal re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two lead­ers fell apart, ac­cord­ing to the Ugan­dan diplo­mat we spoke to. Such is the level of mis­trust that there can­not be good­faith ne­go­ti­a­tions, Kagame told us, adding that Museveni had failed to treat him with re­spect.

Now, as both men hone their dif­fer­ing plans and strate­gies for the re­gion, there could be a pro­longed stand-off. Nei­ther side is likely to plan a di­rect at­tack on the other, but both sides are test­ing the limits. The dan­ger, says the diplo­mat, lies in whether ei­ther side mis­judges the red lines: there is no ob­vi­ous face-saving mech­a­nism and no one is will­ing to risk play­ing the me­di­a­tor.

Such is the level of mis­trust that there can­not be good­faith ne­go­ti­a­tions

Since com­ing to power af­ter the Ugan­dan Bush War, Pres­i­dent Museveni has ruled with an iron grip

Rwanda’s Pres­i­dent Paul Kagame takes pride in his mil­i­tary back­ground

Kagame went on an of­fi­cial visit to Uganda in March 2018, when re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries were less fraught than to­day

The gov­ern­ments of Ki­gali (right) and Kam­pala (below) are jock­ey­ing for in­flu­ence in the re­gion

Kagame’s in­vi­ta­tion to the DRC’S new pres­i­dent Félix Tshisekedi in March raised some eye­brows

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