The Rise and Fall of the Rwanda-Uganda Alliance (1981-1999)

by Scott McKnight

Abstract

This paper argues that the Rwanda-Uganda alliance began in the early 1980s as a pact of survival between Ugandan rebels and Rwandan exiles then living in Uganda, through the Rwandan and Ugandan military occupation of Congo, and concludes with the alliance’s violent breakup in late 1999. Using different alliance theories, this paper helps explain that the success of the Rwanda-Uganda alliance against the Mobutu regime had generated a “bandwagon” effect in the region. But the speed and success of this war paved over serious disagreements in strategy and clashes of personality within the Rwanda-Uganda alliance. It was not until the second war in Congo that these disagreements came to the surface; the alliance encountered fierce and unexpected resistance from states in the region, which joined together to “balance” and ultimately stymy the Rwanda-Uganda alliance’s second attempt at regime change in Congo. Drawing from interviews with high-ranking Ugandan and Rwandan officials, as well as numerous secondary sources, this paper argues that the Rwanda-Uganda alliance was beset by personality clashes between major players in the alliance, strategic disagreements over the ubiquitous “Congo question,” and zero-sum economic conflicts of interests, exemplified by the fighting between the Rwandan and Ugandan militaries at Kisangani, which marked the end of the alliance.

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Scott Mcknight is a Ph.D. student in International Relations at the University of Toronto. He previously was a lecturer on African politics and international relations at Renmin University of China. He has researched and travelled widely in the regions of central and southern Africa, including four months in 2011 researching this paper.