Uganda and Rwanda: Friends or Enemies?
In August 1999, only a month after the signing of the Lusaka ceasefire agreement, a new dynamic of conflict emerged within the anti-Kabila alliance and further complicated Africa’s seven-nation war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). A major battle took place between the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) and the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), resulting in the death of over six hundred troops and civilians.
The underlying cause of the conflict that erupted was persistent and serious differences over the objectives and strategies of the war in the DRC. Uganda’s strategy has been to mobilise the Congolese people to fight Kabila and empower them to develop an alternative leadership. Rwanda, on the other hand, is under more pressure to overthrow Kabila, who is arming its enemy. Sceptical of the capacity of the Congolese to develop an immediate solution for their country, the Rwandans’ first priority has been to establish a secure border with the DRC.
The immediate crisis was managed, with the leaders of both countries agreeing on a ceasefire, removing their commanders from Kisangani, reaffirming their commitment to the Lusaka agreement, and finding a compromise proposal to enable their two proxies – the competing factions of the Rally for the Congolese Democracy (RCD) – to sign that agreement.
Eight months after the Kisangani clashes, however, the relationship between the two countries has not much improved. Communication is at a minimum between Presidents Museveni and Kagame. Tension is building up again in Kisangani. Despite the commitment to unite the RCD factions, the Congolese rebels remain more divided than ever.
Much remains to be done to heal the rift and end suspicions created by the failure to find a common approach to the DRC war. If not properly managed, the relationship could significantly complicate attempts to resolve the conflicts in the region. Moreover, any further conflict between Uganda and Rwanda themselves threatens to be extremely bloody, not least because the armies know each other’s strengths and weaknesses so well. If early efforts are not made to ease tensions, Africa could see another war between “brothers”, as happened between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The Lusaka Agreement may well be the only unifying factor between the Rwandan and Ugandan leaderships at this point. The commitment of both countries to the new ceasefire in the DRC which came into effect on 14 April 2000, and their call for rapid deployment of the UN peacekeeping force, are signs that they are both aware that they cannot win the war unilaterally with an alliance that remains so fragile.
If Lusaka is implemented, the military competition may well be transformed into a political struggle between Presidents Museveni and Kagame to determine the political approach that should prevail in the ultimate resolution of the DRC problem. But political differences, while they carry their risks, are much to be preferred to trials of military strength.
To Uganda and Rwanda
1. Implement the recommendations of the UPDF/RPA Joint Inquiry concerning the demilitarisation of Kisangani, and seek to reach agreement once and for all on a definitive version of the Kisangani clashes.
2. Conduct a summit between Presidents Museveni and Kagame to establish a new basis for a strong bilateral relationship, and understandings about dealings with third parties.
3. Institutionalise better channels of communication between political leaders, organisations and institutions in both countries, and technical co-operation between ministries.
To the United Nations Security Council
4. Support the renewed commitment to a ceasefire by the parties to the DRC conflict, and the call of regional leaders to implement the Lusaka Agreement, by deploying immediately the 500 observers and 5,500 troops under the second phase of the UN Mission in the DRC.
5. Support the implementation of all aspects of the Lusaka Agreement, including the disarmament of militias and armed groups, and the withdrawal of foreign forces according to the timetable established in that Agreement.
Nairobi/ Brussels, 4 May 2000