President Museveni approached the United States, the United Kingdom and Kenya for military assistance to the National Resistance Army (NRA) rebel group that he led, but the requests were turned down, according to de-classified American intelligence.
This is the first formal disclosure of the false starts to NRA’s guerrilla campaign which its leader Museveni has consistently cast as a home-grown popular uprising that succeeded without the need for external assistance.
No reason is stated in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) dossiers why Washington spurned Museveni’s 1981 request for arms, but the cable contains accounts of America’s unease about the rebel leader’s closeness to the then Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi who the West considered unfriendly.
In the cold war period which formally lapsed with the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, three years after Museveni seized power; the Americans worried that the new “nationalist, non-aligned” Uganda President, a scholarly Marxist-oriented individual, would gravitate toward the Soviet Union and impinge the spread of capitalism.
“The survivability of his government would take precedence over all other considerations and make Museveni susceptible to potential offers of Libyan or Soviet military assistance,” the CIA wrote in a memo to guide Washington’s political decisions, including by the then President Ronald Reagan.
Those fears were not unfounded. On January 28, 1986, three days after Museveni captured power, Gaddafi on the eve of the new President’s “fundamental change” inaugural speech, sent a congratulatory message in which he derided the West as “fascist usurpers” who had been “crushed” by the NRA victory.
He wrote: “I congratulate you in the name of our common struggle and the sacrifices which the Libyan Arab people have offered to Uganda and the joint blood which drenched its land and will not be shed in vain. The triumph of the National Resistance Army under your command has affirmed the seriousness of our alliance; that the battle you have waged for Uganda since 1977 has finally crowned with victory, and the fascist usurpers have finally been crushed; those who laughed much have cried last.”
Whereas President Museveni and the slain Libyan leader collided in after years, the disagreements did not undo the mutual appreciation.
In his book, Sowing the Mustard Seed, Mr Museveni writes on page 142 that “it is the 96 rifles, 100 landmines, five GMPGs (general-purpose machine guns), eight RPGs (rocket-propelled grenade) and a small quantity of ammunition that constitute the much-talked-about ‘massive assistance’ given by Libya to NRA”.
“This relatively small amount of weapons was useful, but not decisive in any way. The mines were particularly useful in blocking the Luwero roads (at the epicentre of the insurgency) by blowing up [government] trucks,” he writes.
Libya played benefactor to Museveni alongside other rebel groups such as Andrew Kayira’s Federal Democratic Movement of Uganda (Fedemu) and Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF) I led by Moses Ali, Uganda’s current deputy premier and a general in the military.
In an interview yesterday, Gen Ali said Libya parachuted an arms cache for him in Kerila in present-day Yumbe District while NRA’s supplies were dropped in present-day Gomba District in central Uganda following a meeting they held in Libya in the early 1980s under Gaddafi’s chairmanship.
“When I met Gaddafi, he asked me ‘can you manage a war alone’? I said ‘I can’t because there are different organisations that should act together for victory,’” he said.
As those belligerent groups intensified the fight, Gen Tito Okello Lutwa overthrew the Milton Obote government upon which UNRF I was absorbed in the junta, with its vice chairman Amin Onzi representing the rebel group in the military commission. The regime lasted for six months before NRA leader Museveni who in a calculated move opted for peace talks in Nairobi, deposed Lutwa.
Gen Moses Ali in last evening’s interview intimated that the NRA victory was made possible in part due to a December 1985 meeting in Tripoli during which Gaddafi, to whom he and Museveni and others had committed to work together, asked them to withdraw from the key Katonga Bridge and “it gave NRA and Museveni opportunity to cross to Kampala”.
We were unable to reach Mr Museveni who was yesterday held up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the African Union summit to elect a new chairperson while the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party’s vice chairman Moses Kigongo, described in the dossier as a person of “unquestioned loyalty”, was unavailable to comment.
The CIA is America’s foreign intelligence gathering arm, which relies principally on human intelligence and other methods, and its predictions in the de-classified intelligence show a paradigm of correct assessments and misses.