Rwanda’s most-feared army General, James Kabarebe, has reiterated that the country’s armed forces overpowered the Ugandan army in Kisangani, DRC and remained determined not be defeated at all costs, Chimp Corps report.
Uganda and Rwanda, whose forces fought deadly battles around the city of Kisangani in June 2000, maintain military deployments along their borders amid growing security tensions.
Kabarebe, who for almost decade served as Rwanda’s Defence Minister, spoke for 26 minutes at the ruling RPF party conference on December 21 – listing the army’s achievements and blaming Uganda for his country’s problems.
Over 2,400 of RPF cadres gathered at Intare Conference Arena in Rusororo for the Party Congress.
Kabarebe, now serving as Senior Defence Advisor to President Kagame, told RPF top shots and youth leaders that the Congo war came from then DRC President Laurent Kabila, who was supporting the former Rwandan army (Ex FAR) blamed for the 1994 genocide.
Kabarebe said the war was “very difficult in a sense that there were 8 Countries that Rwanda was fighting in Congo!”
In a veiled reference to Uganda, Kabarebe added: “There was also a neighbouring country that was firing and fighting us from behind from the city of Kisangani. That country became the 9th country!”
He said Uganda had the “objective of changing the status and rule in Rwanda. That war was to bring back the former army to Rwanda and to change all the good things RPA had done for the country. The good thing with that war is that it never reached Rwanda even a single day.”
Kabarebe has on previous occasions blamed Uganda for fueling instability in Rwanda, a claim Uganda dismissed as baseless,
At several public functions last year, Kabarebe wondered why Rwandans were “scavenging” in Uganda.
It remains unclear why Kabarebe chose to attack Uganda at a time of intense diplomatic efforts to restore the two countries’ relations.
Kampala accuses Kigali of slapping a trade embargo on Uganda; aggressive espionage; closing the Gatuna border; uprooting prominent Ugandans from the Rwandan economy and orchestrating a hate campaign against Uganda and its officials.
On its part, Kigali accuses Uganda of supporting Rwandan rebels; arrest and harassment of Rwandan nationals and economic sabotage.
But in his recent remarks, Kabarebe appeared keen on reassuring the country’s leadership and the young generation that Rwanda’s Defence Forces are invincible.
He said Uganda used a wrong assumption that “RDF is now a combination of RPA and the ones they were fighting. If we attack them they will turn against each other. They attacked and fought us for a few days but they were defeated. That was a Real defeat – not this usual defeat. There was one General (Kahinda Otafiire) who is a minister. I think he is now Minister for Justice (recently appointed Minister for East African Affairs). He said that Banyarwanda are stubborn people. The other day they were killing each other, exterminating each other. Now they are joining hands and they are finishing us.”
“In all those circumstances, success and the first weapon came from the leadership! Let me be specific – it is the Leader. The second is sacrifice and patriotism that we had been trained. Another one that has become our culture is not being defeated. Not to allow to be defeated,” said Kabarebe.
“Not to be defeated, RDF makes mistakes. There are so many! But being defeated is never an option. It never happens. This is how people were trained and nobody will ever divert from it.”
Kabarebe said “one of those countries (Uganda) is still a problem to us because the rest are now friendly countries. They are no longer our problem. But that one that is causing us problems.”
In a speech to Parliament in August 2017, Museveni said Uganda forces were ambushed by Rwandan soldiers.
He said the UPDF forces were under instructions not to fight and were lightly armed as they guarded key facilities.
“The fighting was escalating but I had given strict orders for our army not to attack and only to defend themselves when they were attacked,” said Museveni.
“On August 6, 1999, prior to the arrival of the verification mission in his area, Prof Wamba dia Wamba arrived in Kisangani. The other faction, apparently backed by RPA, had laid ambushes on the road from the airport and shot at the UPDF convoys which were clearing the way for Prof Wamba. In all this, we had promised Prof Wamba security in areas where there was some friction,” recalled Museveni.
“Two of our soldiers were killed inside the plane and seven were injured. It was not easy for me to find out the cause of the problem. Col Kale had not yet returned from Kigali and the fighting in Kisangani was continuing, with Major Ddiba’s companies being attacked. The companies were scattered in the town guarding buildings such as hotels, mosques and office blocks; so, they were not really deployed to fight. They had only been deployed to stop disruption but they were being attacked day after day,” he emphasised.
Kabarebe also claimed that Uganda planned to divide Rwanda into two territories.
Kabarebe, who was an escort of a senior officer in the NRA war that brought Museveni to power, said there was an idea from the ‘neighborhood’ that Rwanda “was not a country that can govern itself… That it had disintegrated… Because of that reason it was suggested that it should be divided into two so that it could be ruled as country of two tribes with borders annexed to two countries…. such that each one could take a part of it … because Rwanda was no longer a country.”
He said “those who had those ideas still have those ideas and are still dreaming about those ideas. They have never stopped it.”
Kabarebe’s comments came as a surprise to several officers we interviewed for this story considering that Uganda provided bases, arms, ammunition, food, medicine and water for RPF from 1990 to 1994.
Several Ugandan commanders especially in the artillery wing helped in the planning and capture of Kigali in 1994.
A Ugandan official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the president ordered government not to discuss the Rwanda issue in the media, described Kabarebe’s comments as “absurd” and “fabrications.”
“Who could have thought about dividing Rwanda into two? And annexing it two countries? That sounds so farfetched. Kabarebe should provide evidence to substantiate his outlandish remarks,” the official observed.
Kabarebe, who hails from Ibanda, western Uganda, also accused former Rwandan president Pasteur Bizimungu of collaborating with Museveni to undermine Rwanda’s progress.
Bizimungu took power shortly after the Rwanda genocide with Kagame serving as Vice President and Minister of Defence.
Kabarebe did not explain why he thought Bizimungu should not have worked closely with his fellow president (Museveni).
Nevertheless, Kabarebe said Rwanda’s enemies were many.
“And those who wanted us to completely get destroyed were many. Apart from Politicians, like he has talked about them… like president Bizimungu who was being used by the neighbouring president,” he said.
Cooperation between Bizimungu, a Hutu, and Kagame, a Tutsi, was intended to symbolize post-genocide reconciliation.
But their relationship soured, and in March 2000, Bizimungu resigned after falling out with fellow senior RPF members over the make-up of a new cabinet. Bizimungu was arrested in 2002.
Bizimungu was jailed in 2004 after a trial critics said was politically motivated.
He had been convicted for creating a militia, embezzling state funds and inciting ethnic violence in a nation still healing from genocide. He was later pardoned by president Kagame.
Traitors and leftovers
At the RPF event, Kabarebe said Uganda had infiltrated the RPA and described early opposition as “traitors.”
“So many soldiers. Actually not many. Some we didn’t even respect so much and even we didn’t use them so much. They started being used and even escaped. They took refuge to that country of Uganda. Those of Furuma, Mupende, another Bizimungu and others and many other low ranks continued to flee,” he said.
“And other politicians like Sendashonga who were in that bandwagon of that country that wanted to do some bad things here. That is the route they took. Traitors. In a short time when even the country still had those problems, people who fought for the Country started to be traitors and we saw it.”
In his conclusive remarks, Kabarebe spoke about the current war in DRC, describing rebels, who have recently attacked several parts of Rwanda, as “leftovers.”
He emphasised: “All that you hear from across in Congo. Those are just leftover drops. Last wars of leftovers also take place. Those are the scrap bits of those people who support them, who think that Rwanda can’t be an independent country.”
Kabarebe, who previously served as Chief of Staff of the Congolese army during Laurent Kabila’s reign, added: “Where have they (rebels) reached? Recently, FDLR attacked each other. They fought at Masisi. One faction called itself FDLR (Bakiga) and another called itself FDLR (Abanyanduga). You wonder who wins. Will the winner take Masisi?”
He emphasised: “Then FDLR (Induga) called itself CNRD. That went to South Kivu and tried to pass through Burundi and attack the Nyungwe areas while the other FDLR remained in North Kivu. People with such thinking are the leftovers. You have also been hearing on news and radios that the Government of Congo and others…have been picking those leftovers. And I think by next year it will be a different story – not FDLR anymore.”
The DRC army, working with Rwandan Special Forces, has in recent months intensified attacks on Rwandan rebel movements in South and North Kivu, killing dozens.
Hundreds of fighters have since been handed to Rwanda for prosecution.
Kabarebe did not spare former Rwanda Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa who lives in exile in South Africa.
He accused him of corruption, a charge Kayumba has vehemently denied.
“The other president who had vehicles with Congo number plates that used to do Magendo (smuggling) from Mombasa to Congo. He wasn’t doing it alone. He was doing it with Kayumba Nyamwasa who was the Chief of Staff at the time. He (Kayumba) was in charge of Customs and guarding borders and all roadblocks,” said Kabarebe.
However, in a recent interview with New Vision, Kayumba provided an insight into his possible fallout with Kabarebe.
Kayumba revealed that in 1998, Kabarebe was expelled from Kinshasa, where he was the army chief of staff.
Initially, together with others, Kayumba had objected to Kabarebe’s appointment as chief of staff and keeping Rwandan troops in DR Congo after the fall of president Mobutu.
“We pointed out that our soldiers would be viewed as an occupation force, and it would be better to withdraw the troops before any conflict. Our views were not taken because Paul Kagame had personal motives that have persisted till today. After the expulsion of Kabarebe, Paul Kagame felt humiliated and called Kabarebe, Karegeya (former head of intelligence), Emmanuel Ndahiro and myself to discuss the course of action,” recalled Kayumba.
“The three of us except Kabarebe advised against the idea of going back to DR Congo because there were no political, strategic or security reasons to justify the war. Nevertheless, the country went to war and we supported it, but the unjustness of the war created uneasiness between Kagame and Kabarebe on the one hand, Karegeya and many others including myself, wondering whether the war was worthwhile,” Kayumba added.
“In the process, things went horribly wrong, especially the Kitona debacle, where we lost many soldiers and hundreds were captured. (Ugandan and Rwandan forces on August 4,1998 launched a surprise attack on Kitona airbase in western DRC, but were repulsed by Zimbabwean and Angolan forces supporting the then government). Recently, I heard Kabarebe praising the Kitona fiasco as a masterpiece and wonder: What did it achieve? In another jurisdiction, Paul Kagame and I should have resigned and Kabarebe court-martialled.”