President Museveni’s speech during Rwanda’s 15th liberation anniversary at Amahoro Stadium on July 4 infuriated some senior officials of the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) who accused the President of Uganda of having exhibited his “good-old patronising and condescending attitude towards Rwanda.”Our sources say that in accusing the President of being patronizing and condescending, some RPF officers were not happy with the speech in which the President appeared to heap praise on the fallen first RPF leader, Maj. Gen. Fred Gisa Rwigyema, in the liberation of Rwanda.
In his speech, the President mentioned Rwigyema’s name 11 times and that of Gen. Paul Kagame only three times. Rwigyema, a former deputy army commander of Uganda’s National Resistance Army (NRA) was the overall RPF leader at the time Rwandese refugees in Uganda invaded their homeland on October 1, 1990.
He was killed the following day in a power struggle with Maj. Chris Bunyenyezi and Maj. Dr. Peter Bayingana as the invading force closed in on Kigali.
Bunyenyezi and Bayingana who are believed to have been behind the plot to eliminate Rwigyema were also killed by pro-Rwigyema fighters. This sparked a bitter fight within the RPF that inevitably weakened the invading force that was then in the outskirts of Kigali – and was about to capture the city from the fleeing forces of President Juvenal Habyarimana.
The death of the three most top RPF commanders encouraged Habyarimana’s forces to regroup and mount a fierce counter-offensive against the RPF whose forces were nearly annihilated. That forced Museveni to recall Kagame from the United States of America where Uganda had sent him for military training, to lead the scattered Tutsi fighters.
But the official RPF version of the war portrays Kagame as the man who planned, led, and executed the mission from the start.
The President told his audience after he was decorated by Kagame with two medals for his role in the war – that two Rwandan “youths,” Fred Rwigyema and Paul Kagame, were part of a group of 40 fighters that he led to attack Kabamba on February 6, 1981 to start a guerrilla war that brought him to power five years later.
It appears that the President’s reference to Gen. Kagame as a youth was also not well received by some sections of RPF.
“Fred Rwigyema kept telling me about their homeland—Rwanda from where they had been excluded by the sectarian regime that was in charge,” Museveni said in one of the 11 times he referred to Rwigyema.
Even when the war started, Museveni said, it was Rwigyema who sent him a message to that effect.
Museveni also spoke about the strained relations he has had with the RPF leadership since the armies of the two countries clashed in Kisangani, DR Congo in 1998.
“In spite of the strained relationship between our two countries some years ago, President Kagame, I am sure, knows that, recently, when efforts were afoot to isolate and demonise Rwanda in the region and internationally, we stood against that position. I am glad the situation is evolving towards peaceful co-existence in the Great Lakes Region,” he said.
No sooner had Museveni left Kigali than the country’s Chief of Defence Staff, Gen. James Kabarebe called a news conference to indirectly respond to his [Museveni] speech.
Kabarebe was quoted in front page article in the The New Times, the RPF-run English daily on July 7, as saying that, “the battle to liberate Rwanda by RPF/A would have failed had President Paul Kagame not been in charge.”
The New Times further quoted Kabarebe as saying, “The truth must be told. Nobody should lie to you that we had another person like President Kagame. This is what I believe and also the army’s position.” He said the existence and survival of RPF depended on Kagame throughout the struggle. “He was the only one who had [the] courage to confront the enemy,” he said in a veiled response to Museveni’s speech.
Kabarebe’s remarks kicked off a barrage of attacks against Museveni. For example, in an article under the headline: “President Yoweri Museveni Squandered an Opportunity, a senior RPF officer under a pseudo name of Andrew Gashambizi attacked the Ugandan President for what he called his, “good old patronising and condescending attitude towards Rwanda.”
The article accuses Museveni of portraying himself as the man who conceived the idea of liberating Rwanda and made it happen.
The Observer story of Thursday July 9 which was titled “Museveni’s Untold Role in RPF War” found an already infuriated RPF leadership. Quoting several NRA senior officers, our story examined Museveni role in the RPF war, including logistical support and deployment of his younger brother, Gen. Salim Saleh to reorganize the RPF fighters following the death of Rwigyema, Bunyenyenzi and Bayingana.
Another senior RPF officer penned another article under the headline; Rwanda: The Liberation Struggle Belongs to the People,” that was to be published on July 15 but the paper was withdrawn before it went into circulation on the orders of President Kagame.
The article had however already been posted on the website of The New Times and had been picked by some online news services such as AllAfrica.com. (The article is reproduced on page 5)
We are told President Kagame who was in London feared that the article would damage efforts to mend fences with Museveni. The Observer has been told that Uganda has officially complained against the insensate maligning of President Museveni by Rwandese government officials.
Kigali, our sources say, has delivered an apology to Uganda’s Ambassador to Rwanda, Richard Kabonero.
Kabonero declined to comment on the matter. “I don’t speak to the press, I have no comment,” he said after he expressed shock as to how The Observer got to know about the issue.