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EXCLUSIVE: Uganda Fortifies Military Positions Along DRC Border

In July 2019, over 400 Catholic bishops from Africa convened in Kampala to mark 50 years since the formation of the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM).

President Museveni, who addressed the symposium in Munyonyo, later held private meetings with each of the Bishops from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Catholic Church is only powerful institution with the moral authority to exert pressure real pressure on the state and played an influential role in forcing President Joseph Kabila out of power in 2018. It also runs the country’s education and health sectors.

This gives the Catholic Church the reach and resources to provide critical social services to the people across the country where the state is literally invisible.

Museveni utilised the meeting in Kampala to reach out to every Bishop from DRC.

In these meetings, according to informed officials, Museveni urged the Congolese Bishops to go beyond preaching the word of God and support efforts to economically develop the Eastern part of the country.

Museveni told the Bishops that “good roads, railways and factories would create many opportunities for the youth whom the armed groups have been recruiting” in the Kivu region.

He also called for support for regional integration, saying it would attract more capital investments in the region to tap into widened markets hence creating jobs and improving people’s wellbeing.

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The President gave the example of Northern Uganda where he said the LRA insurgency was defeated by building better transport infrastructure in the area.

At this time, Museveni was also in touch with President Felix Tshisekedi on routing rebel movements using military means but also planning for tarmac roads connecting DRC to Uganda.

Museveni knew that with the blessing of the Catholic Church, working with Tshisekedi on infrastructure development in DRC would be much easier.

The Ugandan leader also wanted market for Ugandan products especially after Rwanda closed its border with Uganda.

Rwanda had complained that Uganda was reinforcing its positions near the common border.

However, the deployment of UPDF in the mountains along the border with Rwanda was more of a ruse as Kampala focused on securing the more reliable and sustainable market for its goods in DRC.

The volume of trade between Uganda and DR Congo was estimated at $ 531 million by July 2019, but this is largely informal.

Diplomatic maneuvers

ChimpReports understands the joint infrastructure developments financed by Kampala and Kinshasa will lead to DRC dropping the $10bn case against Uganda at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Officials managing this legal process have been making progress in recent months.

It is said on learning about this joint plan, Rwanda quickly moved to front Dr Emmanuel Ugirashebuja, the president of the East African Court of Justice (EACJ), to challenge Uganda’s justice Sebutinde for the African slot at the Hague-based court.

Sebutinde’s second term had already been endorsed by the African Union Commission (AUC) candidate’s committee.

A post at the ICJ would have given Rwanda some leverage in the case against Uganda by DRC.

Museveni was forced to make individual calls to various heads of state to support Sebutinde.

In a virtual address to the UN General Assembly this year, President Museveni rallied the international community to throw its weight behind Justice Sebutinde.

“Later this year an important election will be held for judges of the International Court of Justice, one of the key organs of our organization. We are also proud that Judge Julia Sebutinde, from Uganda, the first African woman to serve on the Court, who has served the Court with distinction, will be up for re-election for a second and final term,” said the President.

“I commend to you Judge Julia Sebutinde and request your support for re-election to her second and final mandate on the International Court of Justice,” he emphasised.

Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kutesa reached out to his counterparts across the world to support Sebutinde.

In New York, a diplomat identified as Duncan Muhumuza and other junior officials, worked the telephones and held meetings with scores of envoys at the United Nations to throw their weight behind Sebutinde.

It is understood that President Paul Kagame promoted Amb Moses Rugema and appointed him Chief of State Protocol to coordinate the operation to have Ugirashebuja replace Sebutinde at ICJ.

Rwanda had planned to use the Commonwealth heads of state meeting in Kigali earlier this year to heavily mobilise for Ugirashebuja but the function was adjourned to 2021 due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, Sebutinde was reelected to serve on the ICJ bench, a major diplomatic victory for Uganda against Rwanda.

Military Force

As Ugandan diplomats in Kampala and New York were working the telephones to keep Sebutinde at the ICJ, military commanders were drawing plans for deployment in DRC and reinforcing forward operating bases in the Rwenzori Mountains.

The entire Albertine region flank bordering with Congo has since been secured with heavily-armed military personnel, unmanned aerial vehicles and long range heavy artillery.

While appearing on television last week, opposition leader, Dr Kizza Besigye hinted on this deployment, saying, “Uganda is accumulating forces” – but didn’t delve into the details.

Contacted to comment on this deployment in the Rwenzori area, Defence spokesperson Brig Flavia Byekwaso, responded: “Wow. Let me make inquiries and get back to you.”

She had not responded when we published this article.

However, multiple officials we talked gave two main reasons for the enormous military deployment.

“Of late, there has been increased terrorist activity in the region. The ADF rebels are aligned to the ISIS ideology and have been receiving recruits and arms from different parts of the world,” said a source who preferred anonymity as this is a very sensitive matter.

“We suspect ISIS is trying to create branches in the region especially the densely forested and poverty-stricken area of DRC. These people could be connected with the militants in Cabo Delgado province in northern Mozambique, where civilians have been subjected to dreadful human rights violations including armed attacks, kidnapping and beheadings,” the source added.

With Uganda expecting oil production activities to commence in 2021, the army reinforced its positions in the Albertine area to keep ISIS and affiliate militant groups such as ADF, at bay.

The second reason advanced for the military deployment along the DRC border is to secure Ugandan road contractors who will build roads in the Kivu area.

The Ugandan Cabinet earlier this year approved an ambitious plan to construct a 223km road network running from the Ugandan border deep into DRC territory to boost bilateral trade.

ChimpReports understands Dott Services, a Ugandan construction company and two Turkish firms, will oversee the construction and upgrading of the national road from Kasindi section (border) to Beni (80kms) and the integration of the Beni-Butembo Axis (54 kms) to national road.

Government will also construct another road from Bunagana in South Western district of Kisoro through Ruchuru up to Goma (89kms). Traders using this route usually take about three days to transport goods from Kisoro to Goma due to bad roads but with a tarmac road, the duration of the journey will be reduced to only two hours.

Other roads being considered include Mpondwe-Beni road which is about 977 kilometres and Goli-Bunia road (181 Kilometres).

A source said the construction workers “have to be secured. So the Ugandan armed forces will work closely with DRC and development partners to ensure success of the project especially the security of the workers.”

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