Uganda's $10 Billion Congo Debt: Let Museveni, Salim Saleh, And Others Who Plundered Pay

Gen. Museveni
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Military commander in chief, Gen. Museveni. Plunder of Congo resulted in $10 billion award in favor of Kinshasa. Photo: Facebook. 

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), has been a playground for many foreign states through the centuries. First, it was Belgium and France that extensively looted the Congo (Adam Hochshild: King Leopold’s Ghost, 1998); then came the United States and Great Britain (Larry Devlin: Chief of Station, Congo, 2007); and eventually African States took turn, collectively or separately, in looting Congo (John Clark: The African Stakes of the Congo War, 2002). Finally Rwanda and Uganda, did not only loot, plunder and pillage DRC, but also committed war crimes leading to the deaths of millions of Congolese (Gerard Prunier: From Genocide to Continental War, 2009). The current DRC case against Uganda is only a very small part of the massive and systemic looting, plunder and pillage of DRC by foreign criminals operating under the guise of State sovereignty and in the name of their respective countries and citizens.

Like most responsible Ugandans, I am interested in finding out who looted, plundered and pillaged Congolese resources in the name of Uganda. I also want to know who will pay the sum of more or less US $10 billion dollars to the DRC. The judgment was the result of a law suit filed against Uganda by DRC at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The reparations of $6 billion to $10 billion was awarded to the DRC by the court in 2005, and the two sides are currently in new discussions according to media reports.

Again, like most Ugandans, I am aware of dictator Gen. Yoweri Museveni’s unlawful activities inside Uganda and in the neighboring countries. Let us briefly review the activities of Ugandan soldiers in the DRC to put matters in better perspectives as we seek to pierce the veil of State sovereignty. In lifting the veil, we shall identify some of the individuals behind Uganda’s criminal enterprise for which the DRC now seeks payment.  

An overview of the ICJ case, in which DRC has sued Uganda for looting and plundering resources, and murdering citizens of the DRC, informs us that the matter is not new. On the contrary, it is not the first time, the DRC has sued Uganda. Nor is it the first time Ugandan soldiers have looted, plundered and pillaged resources in another country or the resources of her citizens within the territory of Uganda. Uganda’s military has a long history of looting civilian and State properties dating back to February 1981.

At the international level, there were two cases before the ICJ in 2000 and 2005. In both cases, the DRC sued Uganda at The Hague and won (ICJ Report 2000 & 2005). The Final Report of the United Nations Panel of Experts (UN Doc.S/2002/1146) and the ICJ Report/Order of July 1, 2000, found Uganda responsible for plundering the resources of the DRC. The Report/Order of July 1, 2000 further found that the now defunct Victoria & Alexander Air, two companies owned by Gen. Salim Saleh, the brother of Gen. Museveni played significant roles in looting the national resources of the DRC. Salim Saleh and his wife, Jovia Saleh, co-owner of Victoria & Alexander Air did not loot the resources on behalf of Ugandans or as representatives of the Republic of Uganda. The looting, plunder and pillage were carried out in their private capacities and for their own enrichment.

Gen. Salim Saleh and his wife, Jovia, looted different types of minerals including gold from the DRC and from Karamoja in Uganda. Indeed, the Final Report of UN Panel of Experts specifically named Gen. Salim Saleh and his wife (UN Doc.S/2002:1146). The UN Report was corroborated by the Gen. Museveni appointed Porter Commission Report (Porter 2002). While the Porter Commission exonerated the Uganda government and the NRA/UPDF of any involvement in the exploitation of DRC natural resources—because the criminal activities were not state-sponsored or directed—Justice Porter’s Report supported the findings of the UN Panel of Experts in relation to acts and omissions of individual senior army officers who, Justice Porter said, “Lied to protect themselves” (Porter 2000:199). 

The Porter Commission recommended criminal investigations into alleged acts committed by Gen. Salim Saleh and other senior Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) officers. In response to the Report, Gen. Salim Saleh threatened to sue the UN over allegations that he plundered DRC’s natural resources. Naturally, Gen. Salim Saleh never carried out his threat as we is well aware of the overwhelming evidence of his guilt. On the contrary, in a letter to Kofi Annan, then UN Secretary-General, dated July 3, 2004 under the heading “Integration of Iture Armed Groups”, Gen. Museveni requested immunity from prosecution of his brother Gen. Salim Saleh, and accomplices Brig. Kale Kayihura, who later became a general, and Gen. James Kazini. 

These three Ugandan army generals were instrumental in the looting, plunder and pillage of the DRC. Gen. Kazini was liquidated in 2009.  Perhaps what is most significant is that after a long and protracted legal process, on the question of Uganda’s responsibility for acts or omissions by its soldiers and the UPDF leadership, the ICJ held that: “…the conduct of the UPDF as a whole is clearly attributed to Uganda, being the conduct of a State organ. The Court thus concludes that Uganda is internationally responsible for violations of International Human Rights Law committed by UPDF and by its members in the territory of the DRC and for failing to comply with its obligations as an Occupying Power in Ituri in respect of violations of International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law in the occupied territory.”(ICJ Report 2005:220) 

Top officers in the UPDF who were responsible for planning—from the beginning—to perform illegal business in the DRC included Gen. Salim Saleh, Gen. Kazini, Gen. Kayihura and Col. Peter Kerim, amongst others. The Court concluded that it is difficult to believe that Gen. Kazini, then in-charge of the UPDF operations in the DRC, was not profiting for himself from the looting, plundering and pillage operations.  By requesting immunity for Generals Kanzini, Saleh, and Kayihura, from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Gen. Museveni was indicating his approval of the criminal acts committed by his senior UPDF officers. In my considered opinion, the only reasonable inference, based on actions taken by Gen. Museveni to protect these senior UPDF officers from criminal prosecution is that Museveni knew, or should have known, that Generals Saleh, Kayihura, Kazini, Kerim, and other UPDF officers had committed criminal acts in the DRC. Further, that Gen. Museveni having had knowledge of the criminal activities of the UPDF officers, then failing to prevent or punish the officers may be construed as aiding and abetting the criminal acts. Ugandan citizens should not therefore be responsible for the criminal acts of these individuals committed in the DRC; acts which were not in the interests of the Republic of Uganda. 

It is pertinent to emphasize that the UPDF is not paid by Uganda tax-payers to commit crimes on behalf of the country whether at home or abroad. Each individual must bear his own cross. Uganda’s fund, in the Consolidated Fund, should not be used to pay for criminal activities carried out unlawfully, even if the acts were presented as having been committed in the name of the sovereign state of Uganda.

The fact that the NRA/UPDF over the years have looted, plundered and pillaged resources in Uganda without paying for it does not make it legal for Uganda tax-payers to assume responsibility and pay for criminal acts committed in the Congo or elsewhere, including looting, plunder and pillaged conducted within Uganda’s territory. The Republic of Uganda is required to ensure that individual UPDF officers who committed the crimes in their personal capacities pay the sum of $10 billion dollars or thereabouts through their personal resources. 

The NRA/UPDF has a bad record when it comes to looting personal and State properties. The NRA/UPDF, for example, between 1981 and 1986, looted, plundered and pillaged resources, including cattle and foodstuff, in Luwero but never compensated the victims. In 1981, Col. Samson Mande commanded the NRA armed robbery on Kabale Branch of the Uganda Commercial Bank. Col Mande also led NRA fighters to raid police stations, ambushed buses carrying civilians, and attacked government installations. Mande and his gang operated in the areas of Mukono until December 1981, and thereafter commenced a series of attacks at Matugga on Gulu-Kampala road where hundreds of civilians were murdered and their properties looted. The NRA was the National Resistance Army commanded by Museveni that was adopted as the national army when he shot his way into power.  

In and around Kampala city, Museveni ordered Matayo Kyaligonza to attack civilians and civilian targets. One of the critical civilian targets destroyed was Mpoma Earth Satellite at Kololo Hills. The attack was conducted by Col. Patrick Lumumba and Col. Mande under the command of Matayo Kyaligonza.

Kyaligonza’s killer machines were later re-named Black Bombers. The Black Bomber’s primary objective was to terrorize Kampala. The Black Bomber created alternative facts that are now presented as evidence of insecurity in Uganda during 1981-1986 periods. All the NRA/UPDF victims in and around Kampala were never compensated.

On November 10, 1985 the NRA hijacked a Uganda Airline domestic flight with 49 passengers on board and forced the plane to fly to rebel-controlled territory in Western Uganda. Four West Germans were among the passengers and crew aboard the Fokker Friendship. The twin engine propeller-driven plane was on a scheduled one-hour flight from Entebbe International airport near Kampala to Arua, in north-western Uganda near  DRC border, when it was hijacked. Ten hours after the hijack, a man purporting to be a spokesman of the NRA in Uganda called the Nairobi Bureau of BBC to claim responsibility for the hijacking. The caller said the plane was diverted to Kasese in South Western Uganda because the Military Government of Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa—which had overthrown President Milton Obote’s government—had been using the flights to deploy troops in Kampala. The NRA never compensated the passengers or Uganda Airlines. Instead, Gen. Museveni dissolved Uganda Airlines, looted the resources and handed the property over to Sam Kutesa, who is now Foreign Minister. Kutesa took over the handling services at Entebbe International Airport and created Entebbe Handling Services (Enhas). Kutesa never disclosed his ownership of Enhas when he bid for and was awarded a United Nations contract, which was clearly a conflict of interest given that he held the foreign ministry portfolio. He fraudulently earned about $30 million in billings to the UN. Incidentally, former employees of the Uganda Airlines were never compensated and the looted properties never recovered when a new company, named Uganda Airlines, was incorporated.

Since 1986, the NRA/UPDF have looted, plundered and pillaged resources from Central, Eastern and Northern Uganda. Cattle and all manner of domestic animals were looted and plundered without compensation. Forests, including protected trees are cut down by the NRA/UPDF and cheaply sold for making charcoal without compensation.  

Under Public International law, the sovereign State of Uganda has the responsibility to pay to DRC the $10 billion or whatever amount that is subsequently determined by the Court or through arbitration. However, it is my submission that once the $10 billion or thereabout, is paid, the Uganda government must ensure that the specific and identifiable individuals who looted, plundered, and pillaged DRC pay or reimburse the Uganda Treasury. 

The people of Uganda must resist these extreme abuses of power by those in position of authority. Ugandans must stand up and refuse to take responsibility for criminal acts of few individuals who are publicly known and commanded by Gen. Museveni. 

Gen. Museveni, Gen. Saleh and other UPDF senior officers and NRM functionaries who looted, plundered and pillaged the DRC must take personal responsibility for their actions and pay the bills including the legal costs of the law suits.

Dr. Obote Odora is a lawyer and Consultant.


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