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How Obiang spoilt Museveni, Kagame party in Kapchorwa

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Heroes dayThere are deserved winners and, well, not-so-deserving winners.

In the easterly district of Kapchorwa on January 26, both types were in attendance to celebrate NRA/M’s Victory Day when Yoweri Museveni took power a quarter century ago after leading a five-year guerilla war.

The deserved winner, undoubtedly, was Rwanda’s Paul Kagame for his central role in that war.  He was duly awarded three medals: The Most Excellent Order of the Pearl of Africa – Grand Master, which is the highest national award in Uganda, The Kagera Medal, and The Luwero Triangle Medal.


The top Ugandan honour, which legally is reserved for Heads of State and Heads of Government, was most recently awarded to Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete.


When President Museveni made his historic visit to Kigali last August he made it clear he intended to recognise Kagame’s contribution to the war he, Museveni, started and led even if he didn’t specify how exactly he intended to do so.

Yet as 2011 wound out and preparations for the celebrations kicked off in earnest, the main celebrant was already known amongst the organisers.

To say they planned the day around Kagame wouldn’t be an exaggeration. Kapchorwa was chosen both because of the eastern region’s role as NRA’s last frontier and Kagame’s role in routing the forces there against the new regime.

Perhaps most importantly, Museveni’s recognition of Kagame in such a splendid and publicly spectacular way was intended as icing to the relationships between the two, which have been under intense and sustained repair since that August visit to Kigali.

Enter Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Mbassogo Obiang Nguema.

In power since 1979, Nguema, who currently chairs the African Union, had not been planned for. In fact, his name wasn’t even on the official programme of the day, which was printed with only Museveni and Kagame’s faces.

But slightly a day or so to the event, Nguema is said to have contacted his Ugandan counterpart to let him know that since he was on his way to Addis Ababa for the AU summit, he wouldn’t mind stopping over in Kampala for a visit.

Nguema’s communication was a follow up on a desire he had expressed to Museveni when he was in the former’s capital Malabo in June 2011 for the 17 Ordinary Session of the African Union Assembly.

As diplomacy goes, there’s no way Museveni, or Uganda, could turn down Nguema’s request. There are only few (and far between) sufficient reasons to do so.

As such, Nguema was hastily integrated in the celebrations due the next day.  But then, whereas a medal could easily be pulled out of the storage, the same couldn’t easily be done to a proper citation that usually precedes the decoration.

Its shallowness underlined Uganda’s unpreparedness for the man.

Nguema, as Gen Elly Tumwine, the head of the chancery, which is charged with medals and awards, read it, was honoured, albeit wrongly, for overthrowing an imperialist regime. He overthrew his uncle and killed a number of his own family.

He was also honoured for holding regular elections every after seven years, chairing the AU, hosting the African Cup of Nations football tourney, and making his country an oil producing country.

There were muffled chuckles in the audience and his oddness at the celebrations was visible even to the blind.

His citation paled, by far, in comparison to Kagame’s. With glee, Tumwine referred to Rwanda’s president, and rightly so, as a comrade and one of Uganda’s own.

Kagame, who had arrived in Uganda on January 24, for bilateral talks ahead of the celebrations, was one of the 27 armed rebel fighters in a group of over 40 rebels who attacked Kabamba Barracks on February 6, 1981 and essentially started the war.

Not only that, he was among the 33 people who reportedly attended the final meeting that planned that first attack three days before it happened.

Kagame grew up in Uganda where his parents fled to in 1960 when he was three.

He started his military career in the Front for National Salvation (FRONASA), which Museveni had revived in 1972.

He was recruited into Fronasa by his bosom buddy Fred Rwigyema, the founding commander of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), the military wing of the RPF, who Museveni honoured posthumously in Kapchorwa with two medals.

Kagame’s military number in Museveni’s war was Resistance Officer (RO) 0161.

All throughout the war and afterwards, until he left in 1990 to reorganise and lead the RPA in a struggle for a right of Rwandan refugees to return home, Kagame’s forte was in intelligence.

At one point early on when the Ugandan war had just broken out, Kagame is reported to have foiled an internal plot to oust Museveni.

He rose through the ranks to become deputy director of Military Intelligence in charge of counter intelligence and temporarily as Chief of Intelligence when Mugisha Muntu, who held the office, was appointed army commander.

All this notwithstanding, during celebrations to mark Rwanda’s Liberation Day in 2009, Museveni, heaped praise on Rwigyema for his role both in the Ugandan and Rwandan wars.

Senior Rwandan officials were infuriated that he didn’t think much of Kagame’s role, who had just decorated Museveni with two medals for his contributions to the RPF war and campaign against the genocide.

Museveni’s stance has never been clarified but it, in effect, worsened the already fragile relations between the two countries.

Nonetheless, both leaders, and their handlers, have worked tooth and nail to improve their relations, which, today, are eliciting as many questions as the tensions and bad blood between them did a couple of years ago.

On Thursday in Kapchorwa, it was the fourth time in six months the two presidents were meeting. Over Christmas, Museveni hosted their entire families at his country home in Rwakitura

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