History & Culture

Rwanda: Museveni informed Habyarimana on RPF invasion

A very long story from The Guardian talks about live of Rwandans exiled in Ugnda from regime to regime. Helen C Epstein, the writer, narrates history of RPF from invasion to genocide end. She also brings in Ugandan involvement in liberation war with hidden support from the west. However, she mentions that Museveni kept updating Habyarimana on Rwandans living in Uganda, and their plans.

Before Idi Amin took power, Rwandans suffered a bit in Uganda, but when he overthrew Obote in 1971, many Rwandan moved out of the border refugee camps. Some tended the cattle of wealthy Ugandans; others acquired property and began farming; some married into Ugandan families.

And when Obote returned to power in the 1980s, he stripped the Rwandans of their civil rights and ordered them into the refugee camps or back over the border into Rwanda, those who refused to go were assaulted, raped and killed and their houses were destroyed.

In response to Obote’s abuses, more and more Rwandan refugees joined the National Resistance Army, an anti-Obote rebel group founded by Museveni in 1981. When Museveni’s rebels took power in 1986, many of them were Rwandan refugees, and he granted them high ranks in Uganda’s new army.

By the time Museveni took power, the plight of the Rwandan refugees had come to the attention of the west, which began pressuring Rwanda’s government to allow them to return.

Habyarimana was aware, and feared

Rwanda’s president, Juvénal Habyarimana, refused, protesting that Rwanda was among the most densely populated countries in the world, and its people, dependent upon peasant agriculture, needed land to survive. The population had grown since the refugees left, and Rwanda was now full, Habyarimana claimed-policy of full glass of water.

Museveni had even informed Habyarimana that the Rwandan exiles might invade, and Habyarimana had also told US state department officials that he feared an invasion from Uganda.

Kiwanuka Lawrence Nsereko, a journalist with the Citizen, met a Rwandan officer in Ugandan army, who revealed war preparation.

“We want some of our people to be in Rwanda”, and a new open borders programme was among the strategy.

Soon Rwandans living in Uganda would be allowed to cross over and visit their relatives without a visa. This would help solve the vexing refugee issue, he explained.

Lawrence suspected the Rwandans might use the open borders programme to conduct surveillance for an invasion, or even carry out attacks inside Rwanda. But another Rwandan officer confirmed the hypothesis, “We are going back to Rwanda,” the colonel said.

Lawrence had little doubt that if war broke out in Rwanda, it was going to be “very, very bloody”, he told Helen. He decided to alert Rwanda’s president. Habyarimana agreed to meet him during a state visit to Tanzania. At a hotel in Dar es Salaam, the 20-year-old journalist warned the Rwandan leader about the dangers of the open border programme. “Don’t worry Lawrence”, said Habyarimana “Museveni is my friend and would never allow the RPF to invade.”

Habyarimana was bluffing. The open border programme was actually part of his own ruthless counter-strategy. Every person inside Rwanda visited by a Tutsi refugee would be followed by state agents and automatically branded an RPF sympathiser; many were arrested, tortured, and killed by Rwandan government operatives. The Tutsis inside Rwanda thus became pawns in a power struggle between the RPF exiles and Habyarimana’s government. Five years later, they would be crushed altogether in one of the worst genocides ever recorded.

On the morning of 1 October 1990, thousands of RPF fighters met in a football ground, some were Rwandan Tutsi deserters from Uganda’s army; others were volunteers from the refugee camps.

They crossed into Rwanda that afternoon. The Rwandan army, with help from French and Zairean commandos, stopped their advance and the rebels retreated back into Uganda.

A short time later, they invaded again and eventually established bases in northern Rwanda’s Virunga mountains.

Presidents Museveni and Habyarimana were attending a Unicef conference in New York at the time. They were staying in the same hotel and Museveni rang Habyarimana’s room at 5am to say he had just learned that 14 of his Rwandan Tutsi officers had deserted and crossed into Rwanda. “I would like to make it very clear,” the Ugandan president reportedly said, “that we did not know about the desertion of these boys” – meaning the Rwandans, not 14, but thousands of whom had just invaded Habyarimana’s country– “nor do we support it.”

In Washington a few days later, Museveni told the State Department’s Africa chief, Herman Cohen, that he would court martial the Rwandan deserters if they attempted to cross back into Uganda.

When Museveni returned to Uganda, Robert Gribbin, then deputy chief of mission at the US embassy in Kampala, had some “stiff talking points” for him. Stop the invasion at once, the American said, and ensure no support flowed to the RPF from Uganda.

Museveni had already issued a statement promising to seal all Uganda–Rwanda border crossings, provide no assistance to the RPF and arrest any rebels who tried to return to Uganda. But he proceeded to do none of those things and the Americans appear to have made no objection.

When the RPF launched its invasion, Kagame, was in Kansas at the United States Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. But after four RPF commanders were killed, he told his American instructors that he was dropping out to join the Rwandan invasion, he flew into Entebbe airport, travelled to the Rwandan border by road, and crossed over to take command of the rebels.

Museveni has never agreed on support to RPF

According to the writer, Helen C Epstein, for the next three and a half years, the Ugandan army continued to supply RPF fighters with provisions and weapons, and allow the soldiers free passage back and forth across the border. In 1991, Habyarimana accused Museveni of allowing the RPF to attack Rwanda from protected bases on Ugandan territory.

The entire border area was cordoned off. Even a French and Italian military inspection team was denied access.

In October 1993, the UN security council authorised a peacekeeping force to ensure no weapons crossed the border. The peacekeepers’ commander, Canadian Lt-Gen Roméo Dallaire, spent most of his time inside Rwanda, but he also visited the Ugandan border town of Kabale, where an officer told him that his inspectors would have to provide the Ugandan army with 12 hours’ notice so that escorts could be arranged to accompany them on their border patrols.

Dallaire protested: the element of surprise is crucial for such monitoring missions. But the Ugandans insisted and eventually, Dallaire, who was much more concerned about developments inside Rwanda, gave up.

The border was a sieve anyway, as Dallaire later wrote. There were five official crossing sites and countless unmapped mountain trails. It was impossible to monitor.

The US was monitoring Ugandan weapons shipments to the RPF in 1992, but instead of punishing Museveni, western donors including the US doubled aid to his government and allowed his defence spending to balloon to 48% of Uganda’s budget, compared with 13% for education and 5% for health, even as Aids was ravaging the country.

In 1991, Uganda purchased 10 times more US weapons than in the preceding 40 years combined.

The 1990 Rwanda invasion, and the US’s tacit support for it, is all the more disturbing because in the months before it occurred, Habyarimana had acceded to many of the international community’s demands, including for the return of refugees and a multiparty democratic system.

After the invasion, hundreds of thousands of villagers fled RPF-held areas.

Genocide, any Tutsi-supporting RPF or not, was targeted

For Habyarimana and his circle, the RPF invasion seemed to have a silver lining, at least at first.

International aid donors had pressured Habyarimana to allow opposition political parties to operate, and many new ones had sprung up. Hutus and Tutsis were increasingly united in criticising Habyarimana’s autocratic behaviour and nepotism, and the vast economic inequalities in the country.

When Rwanda’s ethnic bonfires roared back to life in the days after the RPF invasion, Habyarimana and his circle seem to have sensed a political opportunity: now they could distract the disaffected Hutu masses from their own abuses by reawakening fears of the “demon Tutsis”, who would soon become convenient scapegoats to divert attention from profound socioeconomic injustices.

Shortly after the invasion, all Tutsis – whether RPF supporters or not – became targets of a vicious propaganda campaign that would bear hideous fruit in April 1994.

Chauvinist Hutu newspapers, magazines and radio programmes began reminding Hutu audiences that they were the original occupants of the Great Lakes region and that Tutsis were Nilotics – supposedly warlike pastoralists from Ethiopia who had conquered and enslaved them in the 17th century.

Cartoons of killings began appearing in magazines, along with warnings that all Tutsis were RPF spies.

In December 1993, a picture of a machete appeared on the front page of a Hutu publication under the headline “What to do about the Tutsis?”

Habyarimana knew that the RPF, thanks to Ugandan backing, was better armed, trained and disciplined than his own army.

Under immense international pressure, he had agreed in August 1993 to grant the RPF seats in a transitional government and nearly half of all posts in the army.

As Habyarimana’s increasingly weak government reluctantly acceded to the RPF’s demands for power, Hutu extremist mayors and other local officials began stockpiling rifles, and government-linked anti-Tutsi militia groups began distributing machetes and kerosene to prospective génocidaires.

The spark arrived at about 8pm on 6 April 1994, when rockets fired from positions close to Kigali airport shot down Habyarimana’s plane as it was preparing to land. The next morning, frantic Hutu militia groups, convinced that the Nilotic apocalypse was at hand, launched a ferocious attack against their Tutsi neighbours.

This is an extract from The Guardian, see full story: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/sep/12/americas-secret-role-in-the-rwandan-genocide

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Jean Baptiste Karegeya

 

 

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