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Losing sight of grand strategy

FILE PHOTO: Posing for the cameras, Kagame (left) and Museveni

How Kampala’s cold war with Kigali harms Uganda’s national interest and what can be done about it

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | Last week, Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) arrested the Vice Chancellor of Victoria University, Lawrence Muganda, apparently on charges of espionage. Muganga is not the only person who has suffered such arrest. Many Ugandans of Kinyarwanda culture are routinely arrested and detained by CMI in illegal detention facilities, held for months and even years without trial, often without charges. Many are tortured. The accusation is that they are spies of Rwanda.

It is obvious, given our very bad relations with Rwanda, that Kigali must be having many spies in our midst. It is also possible that many of those arrested are guilty. But why does CMI hold them for months or years without trial or even a charge? Apparently, CMI says, it is conducting “investigations.” This claim begs the question: why arrest before investigating?

I admire Museveni because he often keeps his eye on the big picture i.e., he is good at grand strategy. But over the last three years I have been disappointed and frustrated: this big picture disappears when it comes to dealing with Rwanda.

Grand strategy must be driven by policy. What is our policy for this region? Museveni has stated this consistently and succinctly: regional integration beginning with a customs union and then moving towards a political federation.

Museveni is the leading champion of this cause, seeing it as a personal mission he must accomplish. In fact, he has said he will not retire unless and until this vision has been attained.

Precisely because he is both its ideologue and champion, our President carries a heavy weight of responsibility to act with both tact and circumspection in the region. And for the most part, he has done this.

When Kenya and Tanzania have imposed tariffs and other restrictions on our exports in blatant violation of the East African Community (EAC) agreement, our businesspersons supported by our public officials have called for a retaliatory response. However, Museveni has consistently acted mature, insisting on restraint in order to find ways to resolve the differences amicably.

This is Museveni on grand strategy: don’t let small slights or even big quarrels distract you from your vision. It is also a grand strategy he has carefully employed in our domestic politics. Many, including me, who have criticised him, even vitriolically, have not been alienated. Instead, he has always made efforts to find some accommodation with them. Army generals such as David Tinyefuza (now Sejusa) and Henry Tumukude are the perfect example.

They fell out with him, spoken ill of him but when occasion presented itself, he reconciled with them. This practice of grand strategy has slowly and steadily calmed his opponents and critics, often winning some of them to his side as in the case of Betty Kamya, Aggrey Awori, Omara Atubo, to mention only but a few.

It is on Rwanda that grand strategy disappears. Small disagreements with Kigali are easily escalated into big quarrels. Vitriolic personal attacks by Kigali’s internet bots and trolls guide our policy towards that country. The micro trumps the macro. From grand strategy, we have descended to tactics. The vision of regional economic integration leading to political federation is lost over allegations that Kigali kidnapped some people from Uganda.

In grand strategy (and in the wider flow of history) these kidnappings are mere noise, not meaning. Don’t be distracted by them. If they ever happened, it is a moment for diplomacy, not a reason to pick a fight.

But something has gone fundamentally wrong with our policy towards Rwanda. We are relying on our intelligence agencies, especially CMI, to conduct our diplomatic relations with Kigali. Intelligence should inform and aid diplomacy. A smart chief of an intelligence organisation must know the core interest of the state he serves and use intelligence to promote that policy.

In Kampala’s relations with Kigali, intelligence is driving diplomacy, has actually supplanted diplomacy, and is driving it in a negative way. CMI is always looking for reasons for us to quarrel with Rwanda, not to fix problems with them. And I suspect they behave this way because they know “the principle” consumer of their briefs prefers it that way, hence their promotions and increased budgets and power.

I have seen many correspondences where Kigali has written memos complaining about our actions that threaten their security. It is possible that some of Kigali’s claims are wrong. But replies from our Ministry of Foreign Affairs are depressing but also illuminating. They show that the ministry of foreign affairs no longer does diplomacy. I suspect that it sends Rwandan memos to CMI for a response. From the tone in the replies, I suspect CMI replies and gives them to foreign affairs who pass them on to Kigali. And it does so with arrogance, practically dismissing everything using very hostile language. We need doves, not hawks, to handle Kigali.

Between 2011-15, I worked with Museveni on improving our relations with Kigali. I was greatly impressed by his grasp of grand strategy. Rwanda was a big destination of our exports of goods, in 2015 worth $250m, remittances by Ugandans working in Rwanda were $443m. I don’t have the number for export of services but I know it sends the largest number of tourists to Uganda and they stay the longest and has thousands of students studying here. Rwanda is, therefore, a strategic asset for our farmers, businesses and professionals.

Between 2011 and 2015, Museveni worked closely and tirelessly with presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya on major infrastructure projects for the region. How can all this be ruined by mere allegations of kidnap which, I must also mention, Uganda could hardly produce evidence of. The only evidence they adduced in courts of law and to me was of three people we had officially handed over to Kigali.

Rwanda has made many mistakes, big and small, in her relations with Uganda. For instance, its internet bots and trolls declared war on Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Keinerugaba. They have made many highly personal attacks on him for reasons I cannot even understand. Yet he was a powerful voice in seeking good relations with Kigali, and he had the clout to push this case. But they alienated him. The closure of the border was, I think, a strategic mistake. But these mistakes were a response to, not the cause of, our indifference to their complaints. We need to fix the primary first before we handle that which is derivative. But do we want to? That is the question!

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amwenda@independent.co.ug 

9 comments

  1. Mwenda, you don’t stop to amuse. You speak when it benefits you. The same way Museveni handles Kigali is the same way he has handled his business throughout….. there’s occasionally intermittent pauses…… speak of micro and macro……

  2. My only disappointment is that Rwandair still flies to EBB. If Kagame Pilato closed the border and stopped Rwandans and Ugandans from crossing, then M7 should have also banned Rwandair on the EEB route – which is still their most lucrative route, so it hurts them to the bone. This madness of “maturity” and not retaliating is utter stupidity and weakness.
    In all this however, what is the root problem?? M7 and Pilato Kagame. Both are egoistic killers and hell bent on life presidency. They both reached their peak decades ago and should be wheeled out of office by whatever means possible. 2 individuals should not control the lives of 60M people by the whims of their moods!!!

  3. Judging from the time that the border closure has taken , one can only admire the resilience and tenacity of the Rwandese and the ease with which they have exposed our dishonesty in dealing with neighbours. One thing is clear we cannot rely on our press to tell us what is happening on the international scene. Some.mistakes both tactical or strategic usually come to light in casual instances or even casual remarks. As a resident of a border area I recall my discomfort when the late Robert Mugabe said that intervention into Congo was the mandate of SADC to which Congo was a member. A few months later we had Kisangani and up to this day most Ugandans still debate who won.When it comes to the rejection of our goods one only has to look at the membership of KACITA and our National Uganda chamber of commercec- most of these are kayungirizis have never run even a kiosk! They would rather smuggle goods from.as far afield as Chile and export them to the neighborhood. These are goods like sugar or a even shoe polish! And I will never forget to point out that when the border between the two countries closed, dried cassave chips was the significant merchandise that merited mention. And finally I have always wondered whether most of this classified intelligence information has anything to do with intelligence..
    Thank you

  4. If you may recall well some time back i wrote in one of my rebuttals to Mr Mujuni’s articles in defense of Tibuhaburwa’s quest for life presidency that Mr Mwenda’s brain reached the climax long time ago and is now on downward curve! And he never disappoints.in today’s piece he gives us another chance to illustrate this point: In defence of his long time friend president Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Mr Mujuni blames Tibuhaburwa’s govt for operating illegal detention centers and for detaining both people of Rwandan origin and Rwandans for months and even years without producing them in court for trial, or even a mere charge! Reverse this scenario to Tibuhaburwa’s internal opponents Mr Mujuni will write in inverted commas such as “illegal”, “opponents”, “intellectuals” etcetera! But now because his two long time friends are fighting because each one of them is suspecting the other of sponsoring militias to overthrow them, Mr Mujuni speaks in tongues. Why? Because Mr Mujuni has got a lot to lose as an individual.

    Then on the issue of Tibuhaburwa’s ingenuity of bigger strategies for “his” country Uganda we will never tire to refer you to his January 26th 2017, speech: he is not a servant of anyone, but rather for himself and family! So it’s utter rubbish to insult Ugandans of sound that Tibuhaburwa tirelessly and genuinely works to better any one’s socioeconomic condition.

    The two army generals you refer to as Tibuhaburwa’s reconciatory prowess, in particular Gen Henry Tumukunde told all and sundry that he simply duped M7 in order to allow him retire from the yoke of the army to avoid dubious court marshal appearances. The position of Gen Sejusa need not be elaborated as everyone knows his current relationship with Tibuhaburwa.

    He got Uganda a peasantry society and will leave it a peasantry society! Over time, Mujuni’s fallacious economic statistics have fallen in his face i.e that Uganda under Tibuhaburwa has performed exceedingly better in the East African region. What’s on the actual ground? Kenya and Tanzania have somersaulted into the lower middle-income societies whereas Uganda has largely stagnated!! What a beautiful shame Mr Mujuni.

    Finally, your concluding remarks are very insulting: no one has ever asked you to speak on their behave, for you already speak for yourself and Tibuhaburwa! We only remind you to be fair to yourself!

  5. Rwandan living in Uganda

    …..Between 2011-15, I worked with Museveni on improving our relations with Kigali. ……what was the problem then? You are cherry picking on events in your narrative. You have failed to gasp M7’s points of concern like Kigali funded goons violently capturing refugees from UNHCR compounds and camps in Uganda…and others. Be honest and balanced. M7 never closed the border, let the one who closed it open it first. Just because the Rwandan Internet bots make claims about the arrested spys does not mean it is true. How many Rwandan spys have been returned in ⚰ after being shot by Ugandan army.

  6. 1.Its not easy to work with nations whose people are so close knit for example S.Sudan,Eritrea and Rwanda they normally rely on local gossip and spies to make an informed decision on foreign policy.I am told once you land in Rwanda and you are not a native you are followed.
    2.There are grades of wars which are meant to yield positive results.The first grade type of wars are over Trade and Business like the one between China and USA,Britain and EU,then there are second grade wars which involves allies like the one between USA and Russia over North Korea then the third grade type of War is like the one between Uganda and Rwanda it has no benefits and its obvious that Rwanda knows her level compared to the Geopolitical staus of Uganda thats why M7 is even not trying to woo Rwanda for any talks and thats what is killing Kagame.

  7. Andrew I agree with you on most points. However for someone who claims to be part of the inner circle you seem to either not know the full story or are pretending not to know why M7 cannot forgive Kagame. My understanding is that Kagame had infiltrated ugandan security forces and police and almost managed to topple and/or kill M7. Now one thing I know form history is that M7 can forgive many things as you state in the article , BUT not an attempt to take power from him. And that is why M7 will deal with Kagame severely because he knows that just unlike him Kagame cannot make peace with anyone ( just ask Karegeya, and all those murdered exiles) So M7 realizes that this is a fight to the death. That’s why generals like Aronda, Katumba, Kale, Lokech had to be eliminated.

  8. Totally on a different issue, Mwenda. Policies do not and should not drive strategies. But, strategies should drive policies. Policies are subordinates of strategies; they are rules set to achieve a strategic objective. For instance, the regional integration, begining with customs unions….that you refer to in your article is in fac a strategic objective to me; not a policy. A policy statement would then read something like (as a rule) “from today onwards, all customs unions should/must follow or do a, b, c…..” So, good policies should and must derive from strategies…..

    • Policy statement would read…. “in the spriti of East African Integration, our customs authority will not retaliate if any of our neighbouring countries imposes tariffs on our goods”

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