By Haggai Matsiko
Henry Okello Oryem, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs spoke to The Independent’s Haggai Matsiko about the allegations that Uganda is backing the M23.
After the press conference in which you refuted claims in the United Nation’s experts report that Uganda and Rwanda were supporting the M23, President Kabila called journalists and told them that what you had said was because of the press, that it was not the real situation on the ground?
No. It was not because of the press. I said it was `rubbish’ because I was confident of what I was saying. The information I got from those who were alleged to have gone to DRC, my technical people, and other arms of government assured me that the information in that report was absolute rubbish that is why I articulated it with confidence. So it wasn’t just for the press.
Uganda has been leading efforts to resolve conflict in Kabila’s house, he now says Uganda is partly responsible for the conflict because it is supporting the M23, what is going on?
He has not said we burnt his house, in fact the Congolese government has not said anything.
But Kabila said that he believed that what was in the report was a true reflection of what has been happening in the last eight months. And the report accuses Uganda of supporting the M23?
Yes, but what is the total sum on the government of Uganda and President Museveni? If he says it reflects what has been happening on the ground, what does it amount to? Do we still enjoy the confidence or not? If we still enjoy the confidence, then it begs the question what is really on the ground. If we are there, then why do we still enjoy the confidence?
I understand President Kabila sent an emissary to the government of Uganda, what message did the emissary carry?
They still expect us to continue with our role, to mediate the process through ministry of Defence, which is good. They are seeing the big picture.
So what is the problem, is it the Congo government, some elements somewhere or the UN?
There are two problems in this process. There are parties who profit and gain from the confusion in DRC. There are some in the DRC, some outside DRC. So they cannot accept stability in the region. So when Uganda comes and has the capacity to stop M23, and we say hey stop it, let us sit down and talk we are hitting right where it hurts them because once we bring peace and stability. They are in no position to continue profiting. So they go tarnish the name of Uganda, provoke a situation where Uganda might want to withdraw, provoke a situation where Uganda loses credibility, the process collapses, confusion continues and they continue gaining.
In his statement, Kabila said there could be elements in Uganda or the UPDF that support the M23?
If there were elements in the UPDF that support the M23, I would not have rubbished the report, no. I would have qualified my report saying, yes the report in general is rubbish but partly it is true. We can explain the allegations in the report and we are going to respond to the actual report systematically and comprehensively, allegation by allegation.
There are those that believe that the wish to maintain the billion dollar MONUSCO is partly behind such claims?
It could be; there are many players. These people have been there for over ten years, the biggest UN budget, the biggest UN operation, the biggest number of people to have access to travel through Eastern DRC. But nobody has done an audit on whether they have achieved anything, whether they are not violating the human rights of Congolese, whether there is value for money on the ground. But we innocent Uganda who have the capacity to do more than MONUSCO with even not a single soldier having to go to DRC, but we are able to stop M23 and we have done it. But how do they thank us? By putting us in the UN report, maligning us, putting our name in the mud.
There have been situations in the past where regional efforts to resolve conflict have been circumvented by international players like in the case of Libya. Do we see conflict between international players like the UN and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR)?
No, we have no conflict with the UN. These are individual powerful states who think Uganda is peddling too much influence in the DRC and bringing peace and stability in that region. They wish to continue having that confusion so that they can continue gaining and extending their authority there, wrongly or rightly, they want to continue peddling their authority because they think that by Uganda being able to control M23 and bring stability there, they think that Uganda is trying to extend their tentacles to have influence there, which then erodes their influence of Eastern DRC.
You say these are powerful states and elements. Do you see Uganda getting its way with these powerful elements?
We do not have to engage them; we have no interest in the DRC. It is up to DRC, what do they want? If the people of DRC want stability and peace, their best option, their best friend, their best comrade, is Uganda. We are very straight forward about this. We were in the DRC for a purpose, we finished our operations in the DRC, we finished what we wanted to in the DRC, we admit, it is not a secret; we were there in the national interest, not through the backdoor, not at night but in the day time. So if we want to go back to the DRC, why are they saying we went at night through the backdoor? No, we do not. Yet, the ADF which is a direct threat to our security, ADF who maimed and killed thousands of our people are 20 miles from our border in the DRC. What has MONUSCO done about it? Nothing. What has the DRC done about the ADF, nothing. But we are patient, we are watching, we have told them that ADF is a threat to our national security. We have told MONUSCO to do something. They have failed. We have told the DRC to do something. They have failed. But we are reserving our rights, if threatened to hit the ADF.
As a person who has been part of the process to pacify DRC, what is the final bullet to the Congo crisis?
The solution is very simple, the government of DRC has got to get its act together; it should stop blaming others for problems in its country. It should form a strong army and take control and charge of Eastern DRC. It should be capable of controlling eastern DRC and not allow all these negative forces, all these thugs to move up and down in eastern DRC. That is what we wanted, strong, capable, powerful institution to manage eastern DRC, then they put development, roads, trade and all the other things that we see in other places. But provided that they are not a hundred percent in charge of controlling and managing and establishing a system that they can control, we will always have this problem in eastern DRC.
But realistically, that can only be in the long run. Where do you see a short term solution?
An army can be built in five years. In 1979-1980, when we came back from Tanzania, the entire army of Idi Amin was pushed out, but within two, three years, a strong army was built, it was the UNLA army that was fighting President Museveni in the bush. So it is very possible to build a strong army, have the right people, the right caliber and the right attitude as an army.
Some people say that without a strong army in DRC and with the M23 growing, the solution is in dividing DRC as happened to Sudan?
DRC does not have to be divided. DRC is not like Sudan. Sudan was divided because of Arab chauvinism; the Arabs wanted to change the black people to be Arabic. DRC is not like that, we are talking about one people, same people, same background, blacks. I do not believe in splitting DRC. It is just a question of them getting their act right; dealing with the challenge.
But within DRC, some people who are said to be Rwandese claim they are mistreated and this is where the problem stems from, no?
Yes, but they are very small proportion compared to the population in eastern DRC, the majority of them are Zairwa’s.
How have these developments affected the pacification process?
(Defence Minister Crispus) Kiyonga was in Goma last week to continue with the programme of setting up the neutral international force and make sure the verification process is taking place. So the process is still going on, it is not being cutoff or suspended and we are happy that DRC is supporting it and we hope that eventually we will be able to achieve something by the end of the year.
So we see an international force in DRC very soon?
Yes, a joint international force provided that the countries that pledged start sending the troops on the ground, we shall soon see the force, which Kabila also supports.
How about the money that the UN was supposed to put on table for the maintenance of this force?
I think when they start seeing results of this force on the ground, I am sure they will start sending the money but for now they are still suspicious. They are not confident.
Is Uganda really considering pulling out of Somalia because of the allegations in the UN experts report?
Yes. We made it very clear. This is not a secret. These allegations we found are unfounded, mischievous and deliberately meant to tarnish the good name of the government of Uganda. They have incensed us, we are not happy; we are disappointed and as such we are reviewing our entire international engagement in the region in enforcing peace, bringing stability in the region, we are re-examining it as our foreign policy. So we re-examining our interests in Burundi, Southern Sudan, Central African Republic, and Somalia, to see whether it is worth it because we are doing something and we are being abused on the other side.
So have you received any reaction from the UN about this move?
No, we haven’t. We sent a special envoy Ruhakana Rugunda to NewYork to meet the Secretary General and present it to him. Once he has presented it, we will be able to know.