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Conflict

Uganda's hidden role in Congo's conflict

Despite Uganda's denial of involvement in the Congo conflict, Kampala and the DRC's histories are entwined, with ethnic and political alliances that go way back to a guerilla war that ousted Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

The Ugandan government continues to deny a UN report accusing it of involvement in the armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ibrahim Abiriga, the representative of the Ugandan president in the border district of Arua, told DW that his country is being falsely accused.

"The UN report is not correct. We are not reacting on it because we know these experts made up unfounded stories, which we can not confirm,” Abiriga said.

Soldiers in camouflage uniform carrying automatic rifles walk along a street

The M23 rebel movement is primarily made up of ethnic Tutsis

 "Our president (Yoweri Museveni) is the oldest in the region, he wants peace and development, " Abiriga added.

However, the situation in eastern DRC remains unstable. Since April 2012, M23 rebels have been fighting in North Kivu province. They accuse President Joseph Kabila's government of not keeping to a common peace agreement signed in 2009. Now they are seeking to bring parts of the country under their control.

The outcome of the conflict is relevant to Uganda in three ways: strategic, economic and for its own domestic policy.

Guerilla alliance

President Yoweri Museveni's regional strategic alliances date back to the overthrow of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. Tutsi refugees from Rwanda and the Congo at that time joined the rebels from Uganda. Together they overthrew the dictator, and brought Museveni to power.  Later some of these troops fought in the civil war in Rwanda, ending the genocide of the Tutsis.

A soldier looks at the wreckage of the plane in which Juvenal Habyariman died. (AP Photo / Jean-Marc Bouju, Archiv)

The death of President Juvenal Habyarimana in a plane crash ignited the Rwandan genocide

There, they brought the present government of Paul Kagame to power. Now the two countries are supporting their old allies in the DRC.

The Tutsis in Uganda have remained close to the government. They currently hold many positions in the military and police. Noah Achikule is familiar with the background. Having initially fought in Idi Amin's army, he later joined a rebel organization based in the Congo. Today he is an international election observer and advises the Kampala government on security issues.

"A Tutsi-led government in Congo would be a privilege for Uganda, and a privilege for Rwanda," Achikule said. "And a Tutsi regime in this part of the DRC would give them the ability to access large amounts of mineral resources. It would also act as a retreat position in case chaos break out in Uganda or Rwanda".

Plunder and blunder

Since the 1990s, Uganda has been robbing the DRC of its minerals.

In December 2005, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague ordered Kampala to compensate Kinshasa.  The court  found the Ugandan state guilty of plundering natural resources during its five-year occupation of the northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

The latest report by the UN group of experts gives an account of how Ugandan politicians and Congo's military brass have enriched themselves. It says the Ugandan military is cooperating with various rebel groups, including the M23, who help smuggle goods such as gold and precious tropical hardwoods out of the country.

High stakes

President Museveni is fighting for his political survival. He has been in power for over 25 years. Opposition groups and international donors are demanding the democratization of his regime.

An overview of Luswishi cobalt mine in Katanga Province, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Xinhua /Landov (c) dpa

DR Congo holds 75% of the world's cobalt which is used in batteries.

Ugandan journalist Moses Odokonyero explained to DW what drives Museveni to play such huge a role in the region.

 "The President of Uganda has many interests; he has an interest in Somalia and in Congo. He was involved in Rwanda, Southern Sudan, and in the Central African Republic. He is clearly a guy who likes to influence the region. And the reason for that is very simple: he wants to use that as a bargaining chip when negotiating with the West. "

Uganda's internal political development is highly dependent on the opinion of Western countries. The US alone accounts for almost half of Uganda's national budget.  Uganda's threats to pull out its troops from peacekeeping missions in Somalia, Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo should be seen in this context. They may not be serious; however they could change Uganda's negotiating position considerably.

Some Western countries have already frozen their budget support to Kampala. Whether more radical sanctions will follow is yet to be seen.

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