(Reporting from Uganda) — A 545-page report on atrocities that were committed predominantly by Rwanda and Uganda (and to much lesser degree by four other African nations) in DRC/Congo was first leaked to French newspaper Le Monde and later to the reporters of The New York Times. It shed light on, and in some instances confirmed, what some of us – investigators, journalists and writers – working in both East and Central Africa knew or suspected for years – that some of the most horrid atrocities committed in modern history of our planet took place in the 1990’s and at the beginning of 21st century in Rwanda, Burundi but especially in DRC/Congo – resource rich but otherwise desperately poor African nation size of Western Europe that already suffered for centuries, from the lowest and most brutal forms of Western colonialism.
Howard French wrote for The New York Times on August 27, 2010:
“While Rwanda and Congolese rebel forces have always claimed that they attacked Hutu militias who were sheltered among civilians, the United Nations report documents deliberate reprisal attacks on civilians.
The report says that the apparently systematic nature of the massacres “suggests that the numerous deaths cannot be attributed to the hazards of war or seen as equating to collateral damage.” It continues, “The majority of the victims were children, women, elderly people and the sick, who were often undernourished and posed no threat to the attacking forces.”
There is much more to the story – Rwanda and Uganda did not act on its own. There were great Western interests in exploiting of natural resources in DRC/Congo and this time European or North American military might did not get involved – the plunder had been done by proxy by two regimes that became very close to hearts of the Western political and economic leaders. One should just mention that until now, former British PM acts as advisor to Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Microsoft tsar Bill Gates is frequent visitor and investor in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city.
Before being published, report (which was in essence accusing both Kigali and Kampala of genocide in DRC/Congo) triggered protests and loud outcry from the governments of Rwanda and Uganda, both countries threatening to withdraw their military forces from controversial peacekeeping operations in Somalia and South Sudan. In unprecedented and highly contentious move, Secretary General of the UN – Ban Ki-moon – came to Kigali and begged Rwanda not to withdraw. This naturally evoked legitimate question: whose interests is Mr. Ban Ki-moon representing? If the UN report is correct and Rwandan and Ugandan militaries committed (and are still committing) genocide in DRC/Congo, how can they be expected or even allowed to serve in peacekeeping missions?
The UN Report was finally published on the 1st October 2010 (delay from its expected appearance on 1st September). Under pressure from Rwanda, Uganda and other unidentified forces, the Report was slightly watered-down but in general it stood its ground. Some changes made were just cosmetic while others were of legal nature. The New York Times, gave several examples following one:
“In a section about Rwandan and Congolese forces attacking Hutu refugees, a draft version said, “The systematic and widespread attacks described in this report reveal a number of damning elements that, if proven before a competent court, could be classified as crimes of genocide.”
The final report reads: “The apparent systematic and widespread attacks described in this report reveal a number of inculpatory elements that, if proven before a competent court, could be characterized as crimes of genocide.”
Watered-down or not, the report was out and it was damning. Over the weekend, all UN vehicles were grounded – none of them were allowed to circulate outside Kigali. As it happened, on that day I found myself in Kampala, capital of Uganda, and on top of it with a Land Rover that bares a UN license. I had to work in both Uganda and Rwanda, going back and forth between these two countries, and some temporary regulation was not going to spoil my work.
UGANDA ‘AFTER THE REPORT’ – WHAT COUNTRY IS IT?
One day before departing from Kampala I leave my car in Sheraton Hotel parking lot and hire my usual driver with his, by local standard, passable vehicle. To drive in Uganda’s capital is close to impossible – it is madness consisting of deep and treacherous potholes, dust, winding streets, beggars that overflow to the roadways. It is combat not worth undertaking if there is any alternative. And today I am aiming at Kasubi Thombs outside the center of the city – in the heart of Buganda Kingdom that used to form the very symbol of the nation – tombs that were burned down to the ground earlier this year, during the riots and tribal violence.
Today things are not going smooth. Two minutes drive and white-uniformed traffic police stops my driver who looks Bugandan. He stops him in the middle of the street, stares at him for a while and then informs him in very unpleasant and sarcastic tone of voice: “Your tire is not good! I am going to give you a ticket and if you don’t like it, go and complain to the court!”
I get out of the car, my driver gets out, we both look in disbelief at absolutely legitimate, by Ugandan standards, tire. A day earlier I drove 650km from Nairobi (Kenya) all the way to Kampala and most of the tires on other vehicles were of much poorer quality, some of them totally spent.
I protest. I tell him he is wrong and he is simply intimidating this man for no apparent reason. Police officer gives me chilly look and says straight to my face: “You talk too much. I can detain you for no reason if I want you. You can disappear. This is Uganda.”
I am so mad I stand my ground. I write down his name and his ID number: “Rwakasimba 35482”. He is not afraid. It is obvious that what he said he means, and he is probably correct. After few minutes he gets tired or bored and let us go. For several minutes there is silence in the car; silence that is eventually broken by the driver:
“He comes from President’s (Museveni) tribe. He can do anything to me. I have no protection whatsoever. We are discriminated against, constantly. They use violence against us; they give us no jobs. Museveni says he is very good at building the roads and other infrastructure. The problem is that almost all jobs and contracts go to his own people.”
Driver’s house was burned in the same period when several people died during ethnic violence. That is when UNESCO inscribed world heritage site – Kasubi Tombs – were leveled and burned down by the mob. “First I thought it was electric fire”, says the driver. “Then I realized what happened. But there was nothing I could have done.”
Entrance to Kasubi Tombs is quiet; except for one foreign couple there are absolutely no visitors. I had come here before on several occasions – to photograph serenity of this unique architectural structure – one of the most important and distinctive in East Africa. Later I worked right down the road, photographing the slums where the riots and tribal killings took place; I photographed the post-violence tension, still terrified faces of women and children. This neighborhoods are some of the worst in Uganda which is one of the most miserable countries in Africa and therefore in the world.
Now tombs were gone. What was left were twisted metal bars and workers cleaning debris. There were new concrete foundations and some ugly structure ready to go up replacing what used to be an elegance and unrepeatable beauty of enormous roof – the world heritage site.
I approached a curator, an old man who has been working here for many years. Now months after the event, he was still shaking when I asked him what exactly happened here.
His voice was hardly audible. “I was here. Four hundred people came…” Then he breaks down, unable to continue.
An upbeat young guide who is offering government version of the events soon replaces him: “This house was very important because we Ugandans see this as a place where our nation was born. All of us were very much shocked. Yes, some people came here and they burned the place down. We don’t know who exactly they were.”
I ask whether the government was involved. I am not suggesting anything, just asking the question.
“Definitely not”, the guide looks at me in horror. “Why should it get involved? This is the best government we ever had.”
Outside, my driver comments: “The government doesn’t want anything to be connected to Buganda and to the Bugandan Kingdom, anymore. Now they call this place Kampala Central, although it is not at all in the center of the city.
Down below, in downtown, begging children are lining-up the streets. There are hundreds of them and they are very small, some as young as two or three years old. Deformed people, many of them with no limbs or without faces are trying to extract coins from passers-by. I recall a statement made by one of my colleagues based in East Africa who didn’t want to have his name mentioned: “While Rwandans are plundering Congo in organized fashion, Uganda does it is anarchic way – only the elites, the government and the army get profit – majority of the people here get absolutely nothing.
“Free and Fair Elections! Our Last Hope, Our Only Choice!” reads the slogan in downtown Kampala. Several men and women in business suits are dancing to traditional music. Riot police in full gear is occupying two intersections, holding to the automatic weapons. One slogan is declaring: “Democracy is our last hope.” It is UPC – essentially the based on legacy left by the first Ugandan President Obote, a man whose chief of staff, Idi Amin, later brought massive bloodbath to the country, throwing out all non-Africans.
Next day I have to face several insults of ‘musungu’ (‘whiteie’) at the parking lot of the Sheraton Hotel, Kampala where my car is parked. Then I realize that my windshield had been cut with something very sharp (later during the journey the crack will be growing). Hotel management will not investigate. UN license plate makes me ‘responsible’ for the UN Report and I should be probably grateful that some brick miraculously descending from heaven did not smash my head.
“When I meet [President] Museveni again, I will tell him to get out of Somalia. He is doing harm to his own people and to this continent”, declares high-ranking African diplomat based in Kampala, who later reconsiders going public and asks not to have his name put on the record.
Uganda, staunch ally of the West in East Africa, may be keeping big areas of this continent under its military boot, but it is in absolutely horrid state itself. This fact is kept as ‘secret’ – an issue hardly addressed in Western mainstream media.
On top of it, the country is anything but democratic. Opposition figures and uncomfortable critics of his regime are often jailed, intimidated or they disappear. Only recently, Uganda's constitutional court has dismissed treason charges against the country's top opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, who was the main Museveni’s challenger in 2006 elections. This decision of the court could, at least in theory allows him to stand in 2011 elections. It should be seen how long he would be allowed to challenge Museveni!
Press freedom in the country has steadily declined over the past five years, according to the Freedom of the Press 2010 report. Local media rests on several ‘star reporters’ – the main pillars of the regime, who are either very close friends of Museveni, or of Kagame in neighboring Rwanda, or both. One of them is Charles Onyango-Obbo, a reporter who could be described as “we don’t ask who pays him and he would not tell” who is bombarding East African media with his lengthy pro-Kagame reportages and outrageous anti-Chinese pieces. In the latest article he was accusing Chinese workers who are building hospitals and schools for not sleeping with African women.
Bloomberg News on October 15, 2010 reported “More than half of Uganda’s 31 million people face severe food shortages by February 2011”, basically a famine. That’s how bad things are economically or more precisely, socially.
Ugandan military is involved in several armed conflicts, including above-mentioned one in DRC/Congo (that so far took about 5 million lives in that country) in which it is, together with Rwanda, accused of committing genocide. It also fights brutal civil war in the north of its own country – against Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army. On top of it, it is also involved in Somalia.
“Uganda's support of the AU-led mission in Somalia has drawn fierce criticism from Al-Shabab, which has links to al-Qaida. It cited Uganda's participation in the AU mission in claiming responsibility for July terror attacks in Uganda's capital that killed 76 people”, reported AP on October 6, 2010. But Al-Shabab is not the only critic.
Naturally, the soldiers Uganda sent to the Horn of Africa are not just peacekeepers, they are money-making mercenaries. “President Yoweri Museveni suggested that anywhere from 12,000 to 20,000 troops could be provided for a U.N.- or African Union-led mission in the anarchic Horn of Africa nation”, continued coverage of the AP, but then came the punch line: “He said Uganda had the manpower, experience and training, but merely lacked the funding.” Funding is always readily available.
Blasts on October 6, 2010 were met by arbitrary arrests of the opposition leaders and even foreign human rights advocates including, as AFP reported on October 7, 2010, “13 Kenyans, among them a human rights activist, who may have been extradited illegally… Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued a joint letter calling on Uganda to either release or provide details of the evidence against Al-Amin Kimathi, founder of the Kenya-based Muslim Human Rights Forum… Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi, the defense lawyer for the Kenyan suspects, said Omar was arrested in Kenya not Uganda, as authorities here insist. Rwakafuuzi also suggested that some of the 13 accused Kenyans were charged because American and Kenyan officials suspect they have terrorist links, not because of any evidence linking them to the Kampala blasts…”
Apart of atrocities in DRC/Congo, Ugandan army is accused of continuous rapes in on its own war-ridden territory. In her powerful and deeply disturbing report in influential www.allafrica.com on August 2, 2010, Rosebell Kagumire follows the story of Ugandan woman Nakasi, now 51 years old, a mother of 12 children from the district of Soroti. Ms. Nakasi had been raped 16 times by government soldiers, infected with HIV and later thrown out of her marital home by the enraged husband.
Ms. Rosebell Kagumire writes in her report: “Girls as young as 3 years old and women of all ages have been raped over and over. The prevalent sexual violence by both the LRA and government soldiers has left behind a traumatised and stressed generation of women. But their story is hardly ever told to the public”.
The record of Ugandan (and Rwandan) military gets even worst. On August 17, 2006, Medical News Today reprinted part of Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report (2005) with the title “Rwanda, Uganda Conscripted HIV-Positive Fighters To Spread HIV During War With D.R.C.”. Report Says: “Rwanda and Uganda between 1998 and 1999 conscripted about 2,000 HIV-positive fighters to rape women and children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to spread the virus during their wars with the country, according to a report released by McMaster University professor Ed Mills and Johns Hopkins University professor Jean Nachega at the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto, the Toronto Star reports. According to a 16-page, 1999 complaint filed by the D.R.C. government to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, which is included in the report, "about 2,000 AIDS-suffering or HIV-positive Ugandan soldiers were sent to the front in the eastern province of Congo with the mission of raping girls and women so as to propagate an AIDS pandemic among the local population and, thereby, decimate it." Mills said children as young as age one were raped by the fighters.”
As if even this would not be sufficient to disqualify Museveni’s troops from partaking in international “peacekeeping operations”, there have been consistent accusations that HIV-positive male soldiers are send to conflict areas of Uganda (particularly remote parts of Acholi) to rape other males, infecting them with AIDS. While similar reports about Rwandan and Congolese forces operating in DRC/Congo are relatively common (one of the most widely quoted is the one by The New York Times, from August 5, 2009, written by Jeffrey Gettlemen, the newspaper’s East Africa bureau chief), Western media covered targeted rapes of males in Uganda only rarely.
However, Uganda is allegedly where this horrid practice began. Black Star News, San Francisco Bay View and other news outlets ran recently (BSN on October 6, 2010) story by Milton Allimadi “Congo: Targeted Rapes To Spread HIV/Aids started in Uganda”. Allimadi writes: “Inside Uganda, an Acholi politician, Tiberio Atwoma Okeny, was one of the few who publicly accused the Museveni regime of using targeted rapes, including of males, to spread Hiv/Aids to punish Acholis for their perceived support of insurgency against his regime. Okeny was arrested and charged with sedition and treason. It’s not by accident that rebellion has lasted for more than 23 years in Uganda's Acholi region. Partly it’s because Joseph Kony, who leads the Lord's Resistance Army, is inplacatable; partly, because Museveni, like Kony is a die-hard militarist who lives by the sword; but mostly, it’s because Acholis remember the diabolical crimes unleashed by Museveni's army, including targeted rape of males –in addition to females– to spread HIV/AIDS.”
Paradoxically, homosexuality in Uganda is outlawed and practicing it carries penalty of 14 years to life, while introducing death penalty for practicing it is still under consideration and being advocated by the President. On June 3, 2010, the Ugandan website The New Vision ran an article titled “Museveni warns against sodomy,” quoting President Museveni: “The African Church is the only one that is still standing against homosexuality. The Europeans are finished. If we follow them, we shall end up in Sodom and Gomorrha.”
Another paradox is that the West was, for years, hailing Uganda for its determined fight against HIV/AIDS. Upbeat figures were being quoted, showing how present government reduced number infected with the disease. According to UNAIDS 2008 facts and figures: number of people living with HIV in Uganda: 940 000 [870 000 – 1 000 000]. Allimani writes: “…Uganda under Museveni was considered to be an ‘ally’. Uganda… was also being celebrated for its open and aggressive policy to combat and contain Hiv/Aids. Later, it was revealed that some of the reported achievements were exaggerated and funneled to Western media outlets by well-paid public relations firms.”
In the light of all that was said above, the fact that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is even suggesting sending more of his mercenaries/troops to Somalia means that he has some mighty forces in the West backing him.
It should be considered absurd, almost grotesque, that the world and the United Nations could even consider accepting the armies of these two countries – Uganda and Rwanda – that are under investigation for genocide in DRC/Congo and are accused of gross violation of human rights at home.
* * *
After Kampala, I hit the road again, this time heading towards Rwandan border some 300 miles from Ugandan capital. Leaving Kampala, the road was clogged, badly paved and surrounded by indescribable misery, not unlike that in Congo. It was true combat driving, when one little error would mean that some half-wretched truck could drive through my door or some desperate child could fall under my wheels.
Further from the capital, continued road construction seemed to be abandoned. Few local workers were hanging at the side, but no progress or activities were visible. If improvement of infrastructure was one of the claims to fame of Museveni’s regime, there was not much to celebrate – it would be safe to conclude that Ugandan infrastructure is one of the worst in the world. The symbol of this could be Port Bell on Lake Victoria (some 20 miles from Kampala) – small harbor that mainly consists of slums – once proud port with large ships navigating to Kenya and Tanzania. Now none of the ferries are operating and most of them are rusting and rotting. It is forbidden to photograph those ghostly ships. As I was explained by the guard: “We don’t want foreigners to come here and take pictures and then maybe write lies that we don’t take good care of our infrastructure”.
With average life expectancy of less than 52 years, Uganda is 16th country from the bottom in the world on the HDI list (Human Development Index – data from 2007 – 2009).
It shows. Leaving the main road (which I did on many occasions), Uganda begins to resemble hell – with children with their swollen bellies suffering from malnutrition, standing aimlessly by the side of the road, begging once they see decent looking car. They have no shoes on their feet.
Hardly any foreigner would dare to drive to the interior through dirt-tracks dotted with boulders – until now the main transportation arteries of the nation. If they would dare to, they would discover unbridled logging operations, destroyed forests with fires and chemicals that are ‘cleaning’ the farmland.
Few national parks are nothing more than sad reminders of enormous slaughters of the past. In Murchison Falls National Park and Queen Elisabeth National Park, troops of Amin and Okello had managed to massacre almost all wildlife, once considered to be some of the most dense and magnificent on earth – including 15,000 elephants, as well as countless rhinos and lions. These days, the national parks in Uganda serve as grossly overprized and huge zoos with better PR, very rarely visited in comparison with their counterparts in Tanzania and Kenya.
* * *
In February 2011, President Yoweri Museveni won elections after quarter century in power. On February 20th 2010 UPI reported: “The Electoral Commission declared Museveni, in power since 1986, winner of Friday's election with 68.38 percent of 8,272,760 votes cast. The Inter-Party Cooperation alliance, whose candidate Kizza Besigye was reported in second place, said "an obscene and open use of money" and "unprecedented bribery no doubt subverted the will of people." Ballot-stuffing and multiple voting occurred in more than half the districts, while opposition supporters were turned away and poll watchers arrested, the group said. The opposition also said troops were used to intimidate voters. The IPC said it would "consult other political actors, religious leaders, civil society and the public to determine how to bring an end to the illegitimate government" and "bring the country back to the path of constitutional rule."
Protests shook Kampala and other Ugandan cities and police and military were deployed to disperse the crowd.
Main Ugandan opposition leader – Dr Kizza Besigye, the Forum for Democratic Change leader – gave interview to influential allAfrica.com: “Yes, people went out to vote, but an election means that their vote counts. It's not about people walking to the polling stations. The registers which were at the polling stations were different from those we had (as political parties). Many people were disenfranchised as a result. The EC decided that whoever comes to the polling station votes whether you are identified or not. So there was a lot of multiple voting, our polling agents were arrested and removed from polling stations in many areas and there was a lot of ballot stuffing. Many of our agents were denied the results declaration forms even where an election went on in an orderly way and results were announced. Different results were recorded from the results that were announced. All these were outside our control, whatever capacity we had, because of the involvement of the military and security forces interfering with the elections. There were the indirect influences, which had a huge impact – the obscene amounts of money which were splashed throughout the campaign process, including on the voting day. The terror, you know, with the military everywhere, fighter aircrafts and helicopters hovering over people's heads with the threats that you either vote for President Museveni or there is war. If people were allowed to vote by secret ballot, to have their votes counted and recorded accurately, we would still have won in spite of all those influences.”
As teargas was covering Kampala, the country was experiencing severe food and water shortages, as well as something not far from social collapse.
* * *
Back on October 1st, 2010, the UN Report was out. As I drove more than 2.000km through unfinished roads and dirt tracks of Uganda, I couldn’t comprehend – what happened to all that loot from Congo and with all those payments from ‘peacekeeping missions’? Uganda appeared like collapsed place, torn by internal conflicts, tribal violence and with indescribable misery.
Obviously, for common folks it did nothing great to be such a staunch ally of the West. They did not seem to benefit at all!
Is it possible that all those palaces of the elites in Kampala and Entebbe, that those few super luxury limos and SUVs that one could spot in the capital, that the handful of men (some of them from the military) and women with gold bracelets and rings, actually consumed all that wealth extracted from Congo? Or is it that the palace of the President is hiding that tremendous pillage? Naturally, Uganda is not the only one that steals. Next-door Rwanda is the one that is being accused first, and there are others – including countless Western interests, like the mining ones.
The way it is now, only those men and women who are in ‘development field’ can love Uganda; only those who have personal and very lucrative interest could admire this place. The rest of the world should be concerned, in fact very concerned. Uganda itself seems in need of some outside peacekeepers. To expect it to continue sending its murderous army abroad is nothing less than direct insult to the common logic. It is also enormously dangerous to those men and especially women in need of protection.
Andre Vltchek ( http://andrevltchek.weebly.com/ ) – novelist, filmmaker, investigative journalist, author of numerous books and documentary films. His latest non-fiction book – Oceania – deals with western neo-colonialism in Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia (http://www.amazon.com/Oceania-André-Vltchek/dp/1409298035). His revolutionary political novel Point Of No Return is available in French in bookstores and on line: http://www.amazon.fr/Point-non-retour-André-Vltchek/dp/2916209816/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1300095352&sr=8-2