DRC/Uganda/Rwanda – Muhoozi’s tweets threaten regional balance

By Musinguzi Blanshe
Posted on Monday, 20 June 2022 15:48

Lt. General Kainerugaba attends his birthday party in Entebbe
Lt. General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the son of Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, who leads the Ugandan army's land forces, looks on during his birthday party in Entebbe, Uganda May 7, 2022. REUTERS/Abubaker Lubowa

Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, the son of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has helped bring Kigali and Kampala closer together, but his provocative tweets are now unsettling a delicate regional balance between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Uganda.

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame suggested that Muhoozi edit his tweets. Then in April, during a state dinner held to celebrate the first son’s 48th birthday, Museveni advised him to desist from posting tweets that touch on cross border issues.

It was just a matter of time before the tweets would put Uganda in an awkward situation and hurt its interests in the region.

On 14 June, the speaker of the DRC National Assembly, Christophe Mboso, revealed that members had refused to ratify a treaty the government had signed with Uganda for cross border road construction. Mboso said Muhoozi has betrayed the DRC by signing a pact with Kagame, now seen as the country’s chief enemy for allegedly supporting M23 rebels who captured the Buganda border that links Uganda’s south western district of Kisoro and DRC’s Rutshuru town in the North Kivu Province.

“We said that following the pact he signed with Rwanda, we are not letting this deal pass,” Mboso said. “He just betrayed us.”

But here is the thing: there is no pact that Muhoozi has signed with Kagame on behalf of Uganda. What Mboso was referring to is a series of tweets from Muhoozi pledging that will fight for his ‘uncle’ Kagame at a sensitive time when Kinshasa was sending out furious statements accusing Kigali of destabilising it by backing M23.

“I really feel sorry for all those who think they can defeat me and my uncle militarily,” Muhoozi said on Twitter on 28 May. “It will be a disaster for them.” The same weekend, he sent out several tweets on the matter.

 

Kigali has equally been accusing Kinshasa of supporting the Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) to destabilise Rwanda. The FDLR’s members include elements who participated in Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and have lived in the DRC since then. The two states went to the extent of accusing each other of bombing their territories. These tensions, which played out during the whole month of May, climaxed with the rebels capturing the border town.

DRC feel betrayed

Uganda was accused of covertly helping rebels on Sunday 12 June to defeat the Congolese army. Some 137 soldiers and 37 policemen who were cut off by rebels crossed into Uganda and had to be sheltered by their counterparts.

The accusations pointed at Uganda are said to have come from the Congolese army. Politicians, the army, civil society and the media from the DRC followed suit, putting Uganda on the list of DRC’s enemies, albeit not to the same magnitude as Rwanda. There was a large protest in Goma on Wednesday and it featured protesters who held placards denouncing Museveni.

Operation Shujaa is part of the Rwanda-DRC problem

For many Congolese living in Kinshasa, the fact that the rebels captured a border shared with Uganda gave credence to the accusation. However, a study of the geography of the area could perhaps vindicate Uganda. Rutshuru in North Kivu, where the Banagana border point is located, shares boundaries with both Rwanda and Uganda. The Rwanda border point is located about 20 kilometres from that of Uganda.

How Muhoozi tweets hurt Uganda

Muhoozi is the commander of Land Forces of the Ugandan army. In November last year, DRC President Felix Tshisekedi permitted Ugandan soldiers to enter the DRC to pursue Islamic state linked Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in an operation dubbed Shujaa, a Swahili word meaning bravery. The operation is being executed together with the Congolese army.

In the operation’s early days, Ugandan soldiers walked from village to village trying to build trust with ordinary Congolese. There were small successes. On social media, Muhoozi presents himself as all-powerful and is now perceived as the president in waiting. Though Muhoozi wields a lot of influence in the army, he is answerable to his father.

Muhoozi presents himself as the supervisor of Operation Shujaa and often refers to the Ugandan army as “my army”. Analysts wonder whether Muhoozi’s closeness to Kagame now implies Uganda’s army will back Rwandan positions, which could erode trust.

Rejecting the road construction agreements could mean the project is on halt, yet according to a research paper published by Congo Research Group, it’s one of the key reasons why Uganda army went to Congo – to protect road construction workers. “The timeline of the operations and road construction have been connected: the UPDF officially initiated attacks against the ADF on 30 November 2021; road construction started just a few days later, on 3 December 2021,” the report says.

The roads are expected to cost about $335m, with Uganda contributing 20%. The East African country has approved a budget for the project and has been awaiting feedback from the DRC.

The Congo Research Group paper further argues that protecting Uganda’s oil fields, which are located in the Albertine region that borders eastern DRC, is part of the shujaa operation matrix. Uganda projects to start oil production by 2025. French company Total and China’s China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), who are key players in the oil production venture, only firmed up their commitment to invest in the project in February year when Operation Shujaa was ongoing. Security is said to have been a major concern with Total having pulled out of Mozambique in 2021 due to insecurity.

Apart from production, the DRC is Uganda’s main export market in the region. Having been admitted to the East African Community at the end of March, it presents more market opportunities to exploit. Without peace and better infrastructure, these opportunities can’t be fully exploited.

Failing balancing act

Early this year, Muhoozi’s shuttle diplomacy played a key role in restoring good relations between Uganda and Rwanda, having visited Kagame twice for talks. In March, his initiatives led to reopening of the border that Rwanda had closed for almost three years.

It was a big win for Muhoozi, politically, given that he is positioning himself to replace his father who has been in power since 1986. Muhoozi said it was the main reason why he held several parties to mark his 48th birthday in April. Kagame attended one of the parties that was organised by Museveni.

Muhoozi has been keen to see the Uganda-Rwanda relationship get better, yet Operation Shujaa, which he wants the public to know that he supervises, is part of the Rwanda-DRC problem. Rwanda had also wanted to enter the DRC to fight FDLR rebels. Kigali has publicly expressed disdain towards the way Uganda was permitted to deploy, arguing that Rwanda’s security interests were ignored.

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