By independent reporter
Rwanda, Uganda ties strained as Gen. Saleh and Rwandan dissidents are accused of training mercenary force
The meetings and their plans have already raised concerns in the region because the African Union (AU) already has a force led by Uganda and Burundi in Mogadishu propping up the Transitional Federal Government (TFG).
The matter has gained international interest because of the involvement of President Yoweri Museveni’s younger brother, Gen. Caleb Akandwanaho aka Salim Saleh. Newspaper reports last December claimed that Saracen International, a company in whose Uganda branch Saleh has a big stake, is involved in training militias in Somalia’s semi-autonomous state of Puntland.
In a summary of the meetings written by Karegyeya, the dissident Rwandan says that the “AU forces currently in Somalia were not only inadequate but also hampered by lack of equipment and a restrictive operation mandate. The TFG needs to urgently boost its military, police and security services capability in order to secure the government and stabilise the country. There is currently no local ability to neutralise the above threats hence there is a need to acquire this capacity from outside Somalia.”
In his summary of the notes of the meetings, Karegyeya says the mandate of the mercenaries is to train the security services – army and police – in terms of operations, mediation, diplomacy and human rights. Secondly, in exceptional circumstances, and at the request of the TFG, they would carry out operations aimed at security and protecting the civilian population and government institutions.
And finally, TFG and UN would provide the arms and equipment that would be used both in training and operations including communication equipments. “Where they are unable to provide the arms and equipments,” the notes say, “funds would be availed to the Security team in order to purchase those equipments.”
Karegyeya confirmed to The Independent his role in this mercenary force but insisted the word mercenary was not appropriate. “This was supposed to be a contract with private security firms that are working legally and above board, not a mercenary force,” he said. However, a mercenary force is defined as an army for hire. Therefore, any private security firm that provides soldiers on contract to a sovereign state is supplying mercenaries.
Karegyeya said The Independent has only ten percent truth. “These people gave me a contract to do consultancy for them for six months,” he said, “I told them that they need to train their own people by hiring private security firms. I then pulled out of the contract around the time Kayumba was shot because the government of Rwanda objected to my involvement. I even have a contract I signed with the ambassador in Nairobi and it does not provide for me supplying mercenaries.”
Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa is also a dissident Rwandan army officer in exile in South Africa.
Asked about the mandate to “carry out operations” against insurgents on behalf of the TFG, Karegyeya said that would be training government troops during operations in what would amount to technical support – just like Americans are doing in Iraq. “The contract itself did not take off because the TFG did not come up with the money. In fact the TFG pulled out of the deal because they felt they may not sustain the contract given the amounts of money involved,” he said.
There are concerns that the TFG is going behind the back of the AU to hire a mercenary army to replace them. But more worrying, security sources say, is that this is being done behind the AU but with the active involvement of the UN. A security source in the region who preferred to remain anonymous told The Independent that the UN involvement in financing mercenaries to prop the TFG without AU approval is going to cause a major rift in the relations between the two bodies.
The East African newspaper reported last December that Kampala had denied that Saracen’s activities would undermine the work of the AU. Quoting army spokesperson, Lt. Col. Felix Kulayigye, the regional newspaper reported that “As long as their operations do not contravene the UN procedures it does not harm the peacekeeping mission.”
The meetings between Karegyeya, the TFG and the UN mandated the former Rwandan spy chief turned dissident to diligently source for security companies in South Africa “operating above board” and legally that would provide the required capacity on contractual basis. These mercenary forces would perform the aforementioned objectives.
Sources say the UN official based in Nairobi at the centre of this controversy is one Bruno Mpondo-Epo. When The Independent reached him by phone, he claimed several times that he could not hear anything although he could be heard clearly. When an SMS was sent to him about the matter, he claimed he did not have any knowledge of it. However, when informed that Rwandan government officials had confirmed being approached by him on the question of Karegyeya, he refused to reply.
Rwandan ministry of Foreign Affairs sources told The Independent that Mpondo-Epo approached them on seeking to know whether Kigali had any objections on Karegyeya doing business with the UN. According to the ministry of Foreign Affairs sources in Rwanda, Kigali told Mpondo-Epo that they strongly objected to the UN paying for a mercenary army organised by a former security chief now turned dissident who is openly hostile to the government. They also expressed concerns that such an arrangement gives Karegyeya opportunity to train an army to destabilise Rwanda.
Rwandan ministry of Foreign Affairs officials were therefore shocked when the UN was willing to go ahead and grant Karegyeya the lucrative contract in the face of their objections. One of them who preferred anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue told The Independent that the UN was breaching its own rules to engage the services of a dissident who has openly declared his intention to overthrow the Rwanda government by violent means. Yet even this may be less than the real problem.
The coming together of Saleh and Karegyeya to provide mercenary forces in Somalia is causing a lot of anxiety in Kigali. Karegyeya is accused by Kigali of involvement in last year’s spate of grenade blasts in Rwanda. Only this month, a military court in Kigali stripped him of his rank and sentenced him to 20 years in jail for terrorism. Karegyeya, in an interview he gave to The Observer newspaper in Kampala, said that “dictators do not step down, they are forced out of power,” a remark interpreted as an open declaration of war against Rwanda.
A highly placed Ugandan security source told The Independent that President Yoweri Museveni held a meeting of his top military and security officials on Somalia late last year. During the meeting, he hinted that Uganda should try to reach out to President Paul Kagame of Rwanda for more troops to beef up the embattled AU forces in Mogadishu. However, this source who preferred not to be named said, there were suppressed mummers of disapproval from quarters close to Saleh – indicating a reluctance of sections of the Ugandan military establishment to work with Rwanda.
In this fast moving story, it has since emerged that the AU has not sanctioned Saleh’s provision of private security to Puntland, an entity that is not recognised by the continental body. The entry of Karegyaya into the picture adds to worries that Saleh may join forces with him to use these private mercenaries for a future military operation in other ventures. Rwanda, sources say, is not taking this matter lightly. Kigali is concerned that the UN can finance a mercenary army of a dissident fighting a member state.
Coming in the heat of a general election campaign in Uganda, the reports have intensified claims that Saleh and Karegyeya are linking up because Ugandan security sources are totally convinced that Kigali is financing President Yoweri Museveni’s main challenger, Col. (retired) Kizza Besigye.
Kigali denies financing any candidate in Uganda and President Paul Kagame has told The Independent that he wants to totally keep as away from Uganda’s politics. Kigali is therefore not going to contribute a penny to anyone running for political office in Uganda.
But Kampala is convinced otherwise. Consequently, sources say, Museveni’s recent requisition of Shs 380 billion as a supplementary budget is meant to counter suspected billions of shillings from Kigali. This paranoia in Kampala is making Kigali nervous. If Kampala thinks Kigali is undermining it, then it is in Kampala’s interest to work with Karegyeya on a plan to destabilise Rwanda. It is in this context that the agreement between the UN, the TFG and Karegyeya for a mercenary force is taking shape.
Karegyeya’s proposal to the TFG and the UN is for a six months contract worth US$ 4 million; enough cash to train an army, gain fighting experience in Somalia and establish capability to invade Rwanda.
Besides, The Independent has learnt, the contract is renewable. The Independent has evidence of bank transfers by the TFG from the Commercial Bank of Africa in Nairobi to Karegyeya’s personal account in First National Bank, Sandton. The money was paid by the embassy of Somali Republic in Nairobi.
Karegyeya agreed to mobilise two companies in South Africa with “the required competences, skills and experience” and which had the willingness to undertake the task. He held meetings with them in Johannesburg and Pretoria. Later, a meeting was held in Centurion in Pretoria between representatives of the TFG and the UN which endorsed the proposal. If it is true that the deal did not take off, this may calm fears in Kigali and lead to improved relations with Kampala