Ugandan sells arms in Congo 


In a memorandum released in August, the United Nations Security Council asked the government of Uganda to take action against a Ugandan businessman suspected of smuggling arms and other military materials to Congo.

 James Nyakuni, the proprietor of GAAGAA coaches and other real estate businesses, has been implicated by the UN as one of the individuals who continue to smuggle arms and ammunition to Congo and fuelling war in that country. Nyakuni’s coaches ply the north-western route from Kampala to Arua and Nebbi bordering with Congo. The UN has asked the Ugandan government to freeze his assets and slap a travel ban on him pending thorough investigations into the matter.

The UN report prepared by the Group of Experts on Congo on behalf of the UN Security Council remarkably notes that Nyakuni had a trade partnership with a commander Jerome Kakwavu who was the chief of a rebel outfit in Congo.

The partnership entailed, among others, the trade in weapons and other military materials.

The group argues that arms are transported from Uganda to Congo in unchecked vehicles which belong to Nyakuni and that he also deals in smuggling of other goods on the Uganda- Congo border, including gold.

Commander Jerome Kakwavu Bukande who was President of the Congolese People’s Armed Forces (FAPC), a rebel group in Congo, has since been arrested and held in Kinshasa central prison awaiting judicial proceedings together with some of his commanders.

We were able to reach Nyakuni by phone but efforts to get a comment on the accusations were futile as he preferred not to talk about them.

When Uganda Police officials were asked why they have taken no action against this individual as requested by the United Nations, they were all unwilling to comment, saying that it is a “high profile case which can only be commented on by the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Major General Kale Kayihura.”

When contacted, Kayihura promised to talk about this issue, but on the day of appointment, his aide said that the IGP was too busy. It was however later established that Kayihura had ordered an investigation into this matter after receiving a brief from one of his lieutenants.

“Police is aware and we are investigating,” the officer who preferred to remain anonymous said.

Paragraph 15 of UN Security Council Resolution 1596 of 2005 states: “All States shall, during the period of enforcement of the measures, immediately freeze the funds, other financial assets and economic resources which are on their territories from the date of adoption of this resolution, which are owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by persons designated by the Committee, or that held by entities owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by any persons acting on their behalf or at their direction, as designated by the Committee, and decides further that all States shall ensure that no funds, financial assets or economic resources are made available by their nationals or by any persons within their territories, to or for the benefit of such persons or entities.”

Uganda is currently holding the Presidency of the United Nations Security Council with Ruhakana Rugunda at the helm.

On the same list are two other Ugandan business entities, Machanga Limited and Uganda Commercial Impex which were accused of dealing in the illegal gold trade from Congo, but it was later established that these two businesses no longer operate because their trading licenses were withdrawn by the Ugandan government.

Other prominent individuals who were on the same list as Nyakuni – most of them from the DRC or Rwanda – have since been arrested and are facing charges for war-mongering. Thomas Lubanga was arrested in Kinshasa, Congo in 2005 and was transferred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, Netherlands in March 2006. Lubanga is being tried for war crimes including trafficking of arms in violation of the arms embargo in Congo and for recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts in Ituri, where his armed group was operating.

Laurent Nkunda is also among those named by the Security Council who have been arrested. Nkunda, who headed a ferocious rebel outfit called the National Congress for the People’s Defence (CNDP) in Congo was arrested in Rwanda in January 2009 and is believed to be kept under seclusion by the Rwandan government awaiting trial. Nkunda was an officer of the Rwandan Pariotic Front (RPF) between 1992 and 1998 when he defected to become one of the senior officers of the Rally for Congolese Democracy-Goma (RCD-G) between 1998 and 2006. It was in 2006 that he started the CNDP.

Also on the list are Dr. Ignace Murwanashyaka who was President of the Nyamulenge rebel out fit in Congo fighting to topple the Rwandan government called Forces Democratiques pour la Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) but was arrested by the German Federal Police in November 2009 and handed over to the ICC. The FDLR rebels still control much of the mining areas in Eastern Congo from which they derive the resources that keep their rebellion going.

Murwanashyaka was a resident in Germany and it was from there that he gave orders to his troops to carry out different operations including the massacre in Busurungi in May 2009. From Germany, he also coordinated the transfer of arms and ammunitions to FDLR units, and managed large sums of money which had been raised through the illicit sale of Congolese natural resources in the areas under FDLR control. Apart from arms trafficking in violation of the arms embargo, he is also charged for recruitment and use of children in armed conflict by the FDLR in Eastern Congo.

FDLR’s Executive Secretary and Vice President of the military high command, Callixte Mbarushimana, is another individual on the list who was recently arrested in France in October 2010. Mbarushimana is charged for war crimes and crimes against humanity and remains in French custody awaiting extradition to the ICC.

International human rights watchdog Amnesty International has on several occasions accused the Ugandan government of not doing enough to stop illegal arms from entering Congo. They, for instance, have argued that militia groups in Congo’s Ituri region are benefitting from arms from Uganda. They accuse Uganda of not posting qualified customs officials at strategic border posts to check the influx of arms from Uganda into Congo.

Ugandan military officials have also been accused by the same international body of supporting some rebel groups in Congo which control and exploit gold mining in Ituri region.

As a result, Amnesty International has called upon the government of Uganda to investigate, punish and prevent illegal arms transfers into the Democratic Republic of Congo, to cooperate fully with the UN and to ensure that the Ugandan borders are effectively monitored.

However, in an interview the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) spokesperson Major Felix Kulaigye denied such allegations leveled against the Ugandan army.

“That is absolute rubbish. We no longer have any presence in Eastern Congo, do we control those rebels by remote?” he angrily asked, adding that people who publish such reports against the army have nothing better to do and are just trying to keep themselves busy.

Who is James Nyakuni?

James Nyakuni is one businessman who spends most of his time in Arua and travels to Kampala rarely. He is listed online as one of the wealthiest Ugandans in the Young Entrepreneurs’ category.

His was a humble beginning, starting with brick-making and construction after dropping out of Primary School.

He then started a stall in Arua town dealing in bicycle spare parts, but it was his venture into fuel and cigarettes’ trade that opened up his fortunes. With cigarettes, he opened up more business across the border into North-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Together with another Ugandan businessman Francis Mugabe, Nyakuni thrived in the cigarettes’ business.

He then diversified into the realestate and transportation sectors, where he set up the GAAGAA coaches which operate on the north-western route, and also boasts of prime properties in Arua and Kampala.

In 2007, Nyakuni was on the list of the most-wanted people by the government of DRC because of his support to the Congolese People’s Armed Forces (FAPC) rebels in the Ituri region and was implicated again the same year in the UN Panel of Experts’ Report on the looting of Congo’s natural resources.

By Edward Ronald Sekyewa