General Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, President of the Republic of Uganda
I hesitated to print this article in full because Museveni is, at the least, a disenguous old ex-communist crocodile who glosses over much of his own record over the last forty years. There is no doubt that he is the last man standing in Uganda and that he is nothing if not adaptable to changing circumstances. He is certainly someone who, of all the Ugandan leaders, has tried to represent the "will of the people," such as he sees it and he is the most successful practicioner of what he calls "Protracted People's War" in Africa. For more info on Museveni's life and career see this Wikipedia citation.
Now, please remember that no successful military campaign, and few military strategies, can be repeated exactly in other circumstances, other countries. Uganda's circumstances were certainly different than those of southern Africa. To say that his model could be transferred intact to American circumstances would be woefully wrong. Still, he does enunciate some eternal principles of guerrilla war. For this and this alone, his speech is worth studying. You may find a pdf file of this article here.
Military Review, November-December 2008, pp 4-13
The Strategy of Protracted People's War: Uganda
Remarks by General Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, President of the Republic of Uganda, to students and faculty of the Command and General Staff College, Combined Arms Center, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on 26 September 2008.
The genesis of my coming here was a few months ago. I had come here to attend the graduation of my son, who was a student here. Now, Lieutenant General Caldwell invited me for lunch. When we were having lunch, the audience around the table -- the American audience -- were very curious about Uganda's history. Then I said, "By the way, if you are interested, I could come back to Leavenworth when I come back for the United Nations -- not always to do much useful work there -- but to put in an appearance for whatever it is worth. Now since I come all the way to do not so useful work in the United Nations, I told the general that I could come two more hours here and I would come and share Uganda's history with you.
The reason I also thought about this is the United States and Africa lost time in the 1950s-1960s. Your leaders in the 1950s-1960s did not understand our cause -- did not understand the cause of African nationalism. We therefore, at that time mainly worked with the Russians, the Chinese, and those Eastern peoples. We are not communists, but because you did not come to help, we got help from where it was available. And that's why our armies really did not work with yours for much of the 50s and 60s. It was only recently in the 1970s and 80s that, especially the armies of liberation, those who fought for freedom, did not have initial contact with you.
So, I was conscious of this and when I met the general, I said, "Now this would be a good chance for us to close that gap." Hence, the genesis of this talk. It is partly for you to understand what goes on in the mind of a revolutionary fighter. Secondly, it is for us to close that gap. The relationship with the United States is now very good -- not only with Uganda but with many of the African countries. So the difference of opinion has been cured, but I don't think we have sychronized our histories, especially of the Army. And that's why I am interested in this talk.
Now, the topic I'm going to talk about is "The Strategy of the Protracted People's War." The Protracted People's War is a strategic instrument, and you who study strategy, you know what that means. It is a means that can be used to change a situation completely, from A to Z. However, the Protracted People's War is only possible under certain conditions. It cannot take place under all conditions, and I've been able to think of five conditions that must exist before a Protracted People's War is fought and won.
First: There must be extreme and widespread oppression -- enough to generate desperation and resentment by a wide cross-section of the population. This oppression would not only include denial of political rights, which sometimes is a bit remote in underdeveloped societies, but more especially, it must include land alienation -- taking land from the population; extra-judicial killings; desecration of cultural sites; suppression of a people's culture, including language; and such other extreme measures. This is condition number one. There must be widespread oppression, especially involving taking away of people's land and assaulting their identity.
This was, for instance, the situation in the Sudan. You must have heard of the Sudan. Sudan is a place where Africans live side-by-side with Arabs. I'm sure you know these people. You can tell an Arab from an African. I'm not an Arab. I'm an African. In the case of the Sudan, the black people lived together with the Arabs. However, some of the Arabs wanted to make the Africans (into) Arabs, and that was a very big issue. That has caused all of the problems you must have heard of in the Sudan.
Second condition: It must be clear to many people in the oppressed community that there is no other peaceful option to get them out of their oppression, that armed struggle is the only option. If the people think that they can use elections -- (that) they can use other means to solve that problem -- then it will be very wrong to propose using war. Therefore, the Protracted People's War must be a means of last resort.
Three: The other crucial factor is the terrain, the terrain of the country. If you are fighting in the urban areas, (that is) the political environment, which somehow is linked with number one -- meaning that you should have either favorable terrain or you should have overwhelming (political) support if it is an urban area.
Number four: External allies for or against the revolutionary cause may also act as catalysts to expedite the liberation process or slow it down. I'm sure you remember the war in Vietnam. The support by the communist bloc for the war of resistance in Vietnam played a crucial role in the victory of Vietnamese nationalism and reunification of Vietnam. The support by the Western countries for the mujahideen in Afghanistan helped to defeat the Soviet occupation in that country.
The rear bases provided by Tanzania and Zambia in the liberation movements in southern Africa enabled our brothers and sisters there to defeat the white racist regimes in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and South Africa. There are some cases, however, where the revolutionary forces received little or no external aid from the outside, but they defeated the repressive forces. The examples of Cuba -- that Castro man who you are struggling with near here -- and Uganda stand out in this connection. In these two situations you did not have significant support from outside, but from within. The revolutionary leadership was able to get enough resources to bring down the dictatorship.
In Uganda, having started with 27 rifles, we received only 92 rifles and 100 land mines from outside between 1981 and 1985. All the other equipment we got from within Uganda at the expense of the enemy regimes which we were fighting. The government forces were our weapons suppliers and quartermasters -- two in one. The regime would import arms and we would capture them. The enemy, therefore, was our weapons procurement agent as far as importing weapons was concerned. But here I was talking about the question of external support. External support is crucial, but not always necessary. If the conditions are right, you can prosecute a revolutionary war even from the internal resources.
Number five: There must be a revolutionary leadership able to do two things: articulate how much better the future will be when the revolutionary forces win, and convince the people by advocacy and actions that it is possible to triumph.
That leadership must convince the people that, first of all, the future will be better and, secondly, it is possible -- it is doable. Because, initially, the people are skeptical; they may be feeling oppressed but they doubt whether that method can work or not. It is up to the leadership to convince them that it is desirable and doable and feasible.
An intellectual leadership is very important to deal with these issues. If you have a mediocre type of leadership, they may not be able to deal with both the theoretical issues of the struggle, as well as the practical issues. In fact this is the problem for many of the resistance movements.
Those are the five conditions that in my view must exist for a revolutionary war to be started, sustained and successfully concluded.
Once you are sure that the objective conditions exist, that on the ground there is oppression, there are what you call subjective factors. Subjective factors mean people's understanding of the realities on the ground, but the people may not grasp that reality. That means there is a discrepancy between the objective conditions on the ground and the subjective factors. So it is up to the leadership to ensure that they wake up the population so that they can see both the desirability and the feasibility of the struggle.
There are some groups, if you remember -- those who are old enough or through your readings -- that emerged in different parts of the world. Some of the groups were in Europe, like for instance the Baader-Meinhof group in Germnay, like the Japanese Red Army. These groups thought they could bring revolution using violence -- but they did not study the objective conditions in Europe. The right conditions did not exist.
Now such groups, we call "adventurists." We call that "adventurism." When you push for a cause and you want to use violence, but conditions do not permit that type of method of solving your problem, the name we give you is that you are an adventurist.
The strategy of a Protracted People's War hinges on two factors. You realize that, strategically, you are strong and the enemy is weak; however, tactically, you are weak and the enemy is strong. If you don't realize that, you are going to make very big mistakes.
That's what Mao Tse-tung meant -- those of you who have heard of a man called Mao. Mao Tse-tung. That's what he said as one of his conditions. He said, "In the long run all imperialists are paper tigers. Strategically, we must despise the enemy; tactically, however, we must take him seriously." That's what he means, in the long run you know that I, (the revolutionary), am stronger than this fellow because my cause is just. The majority of the people support me but they are not organized well enough now, so in the short run I am weak. Therefore, the Protracted People's struggle is this process of gradual mutation in the balance of forces between the protagonists that constitute the Protracted People's War. Initially, in the short run the revolutionary is weak, but in the long run he is strong. Why? Because his cause is just. Therefore, in order for you to allow that evolution to take place -- that evolution of the revolutionary from weakness to actualize your potential strength -- you must design your tactics very, very carefully.
In the beginning, avoid head-on collision with the enemy forces. Dominate the enemy, but preserve yourself. This is the very important principle of that war: first of all, you survive. Survival, for the insurgent, for the revolutionary, is in itself a success. When he survives, that mere survival is a success and it is part of the primary aims of the revolutionary. Avoid annihiloation. In order to avoid annihilation, you must make sure to fight battles you are absolutely sure about. Otherwise, avoid the enemy. If you read Mao Tse-tung you will see that when the enemy advances, we retreat; when he retreats, we advance, like that. Therefore, in the initial stages, the revolutionary must avoid head-on collision, must attack targets which are weak. I will talk about that in a minute.
But the revolutionary war itself has four phases. Phase one is political agitation and clandestine operations. Hitting here, hitting there, targeting intelligence staff of the other side -- that is phase number one. Phase number one is to prepare the people and shake up the system.
Phase two is guerrilla warfare. In guerrilla warfare you form groups which attack those soft targets -- police stations, policemen on duty, blowing up infrastructure. The African revolutionary wars are different from the Middle Eastern revolutionary wars. This is something you should know and bear in mind. And that's why we won and the groups in the Middle East have taken a very long time to achieve their aims. Because in Africa -- you remember one of the conditions I mentioned -- there must be a revolutionary leadership. A revolutionary is like a holy man, but using guns. If you can imaging Jesus wielding a gun, that is a revolutionary.
You must never do anything wrong. Therefore, when you select targets, you must select them very carefully. First of all, you must never attack noncombatants. Never, never, never, never! You would never have heard that Museveni attacked noncombatants, or that Mandela blew up people drinking in a bar. Why do you bother with people in a bar? People in a bar are not political, they are just merrymakers. Why do you target them? Targeting people in a bar is bankrupt. (Hijacking) aircraft is rubbish. The police station, the policeman on duty, (are the targets) Not (the policeman) off duty, no. The target must be armed, soft but armed. Infrastructure -- if you blow up a transmitting station, there's no humanitarian consideration. You just blow it up. This is the difference between the revolutionary warfare in Africa, which we fought, and what goes on in the Middle East. So, in the guerrilla phase, you aim at soft targets. That is the second phase.
The third phase is what you call mobile warfare. That is when you are able to operate like a battalion or brigade size unit and go and attack, mainly in the rear of the enemy. In our case, when we started operations we concentrated them in one area called the "Luwero Triangle." This Luwero Triangle has 3,600 square miles of land, and it was a forested area. That's where we concentrated all our operations. Then the regimes collected their soldiers and flooded them into that area to crush us. By doing so, they removed troops from their rear, and by this time we had gained strength, so we attacked into their rear to capture weapons and so on. So that is phase three.
Now the final phase is conventional warfare. I normally hear people talking of guerrilla warfare as if it is a parallel form of warfare. No, guerrilla warfare is a phase. But in the end, for the cause to win, you must fight conventional warfare. Unless, of course, you weaken the other side through guerrilla warfare and then the other side negotiates, and you get a political settlement. There is also that possibility, when the other side does not wait for the conclusion of the whole affair militarily. But if you are to win, you must eventually fight conventional warfare.
During phase one, when the revolutionary stages an agitation (and conducts) clandestine operations, then training starts -- military training. The leaders select some people who are very reliable and start training them. The whole population may not be aware that training is going on because you select the most advanced, the ones who are most committed. And this training has four components: ideological, organizational, military and political. A revolutionary is first and foremost ideological; military is second. When he is committed, it will be easy for him to undertake any assignment. That ideological training is most important, even more important than the military. The military is a means in the hands of the vision of the revolutionary.
Now during much of these phases, the revolutionary has always used the principle of "need to know." You don't broadcast information to everybody. You only give somebody what he needs to know in order to do his work. And you avoid bureaucracy. Recently I laughed (when) I was in Uganda and I saw on TV that there's a group in Colombia, they call them "something-something." Now that group had computers and they had information in the computers -- those are amateurs. Information must be in the revoltionary's head, not on any piece of paper, especially future plans. If you (the revolutionary) attack and capture the materials -- yes, you can record it -- but also the enemy knows because the enemy knows what he lost. You can record that you captured so much ammunition, that one you can record. But plans, plans, plans -- should never be on paper, should never be anywhere. So when I heard of that group in Colombia, I think those people (the Colombian military) are lucky to have such a group to fight.
During all these phases, (from) the phase of guerrilla warfare (through) the phase of mobile warfare, you should never attack the enemy who is entrenched, who is in the trenches or who is prepared. You should attack the enemy on the move. Always lure out the enemy, get him out of his camp to come and look for you. That's when you wait for him. He's slightly more vulnerable than when he is camped.
Earlier, I talked about the revolutionary's ability to survive constituting a form of victory, but that's not enough. If you survive without growing, then you are not succeeding. Survival must also involve growing: growing in terms of numbers, in terms of more cells, in terms of equipment, in terms of accoutrement. If you are just there surviving, then you are a bandit. So (if you are) fighting the revolutionary and manage to stop him from growing, then you can regard it as a victory on your side.
I had talked about the targets in the other phases. Attack police stations, attack policemen on duty because they are not in great numbers; blow up infrastructure -- railways, power lines, waterworks; attack intelligence staff; scare away government administrators -- don't kill civilians! Civilians should not be killed if they are not armed -- even if they are for the government -- you scare them away, (tell them) "Don't come back here. If we find you here again, you'll see." The fellow will just run away. You don't have to kill. And that, by the way, is also part of building the prestige of the revolutionary movement. Because the word goes around, "These people are not killers! They could have killed me. They captured me. I was in their control but they told me to go away." Very big, very big -- you are now like Jesus, but armed -- armed Jesus. Just scare them away. You come and arrest him. "You, fellow, we told you to go away." Because, what is your interest? You want these people, these administrators, to leave the area so that the government has no control there. That's what you are interested in. You are not interested in killing them, just scare them away.
Ambush army vehicles so that they are forced into convoys -- that's very crucial. You ambush vehicles so they stop moving as single vehicles, (because) when they form a convoy, that's very good because they are slowed down. They are no longer so fast.
During phases two and three, guerrilla warfare and mobile warfare, we fight battles which we call "battles of quick decision." You should always fight battles of quick decision. In guerrilla warfare, don't fight for more than 20 minutes. When you reach the phase of mobile warfare, you can fight, like, for three hours, depending on what sort of enemy you are dealing with. Because if you linger around there, then the enemy will bring reinforcements and you will be overwhelmed. So you must attack, then go away quickly. You (cause) damage, (then) get out of harm's way. We, therefore, talk of fighting battles of quick decision in a protracted war. The war is protracted, but the battles are short.
For the revolutionary warrior, war is a very clear business. Don't fight a battle from where you expect to expend more ammunition than you will get from the captured equipment. So, it's a business. The profitability ratio must be very high. You expend 10,000 rounds, you must expect to get about 30,000 - 40,000 rounds of ammunition. If you expend 10,000 rounds (and) you get 5,000 rounds, that's a loss and you should never fight such battles because you are getting weaker. If you squander your resources, you are making a very big mistake.
Now, eventually, in mobile warfare, we opened a second front in the Rwenzori Mountains. And eventually, we launched a strategic counteroffensive and from that time we were fighting conventional war.
Command, Control and Communication
As we were fighting, we evolved two types of forces. (One) we called "zonal forces." In this phase of guerrilla warfare you don't communicate much. You meet as leaders and you agree, "We are going to do this and we shall do it like this." Then you disperse to your different areas. When you disperse, you don't communicate again. Each leader attacks in the agreed way. But you don't communicate, you don't report back, "You know today we did this . . ." No, no, no, no! The enemy will be the one reporting on his radio. BBC, they will be reporting for you. You don't have to talk about it, you just do. That's very important. It avoids leakage, it avoids interception by the other side. Because if there is too much traffic -- radio, telephone -- that is very dangerous for the revolutionary side.
Then the second type of forces are what we call "mobile forces." These are under the control of the top leadership, especially in the third phase, and these are the ones that get central directions to go and attack this one, attack that. Otherwise, the zonal forces are dispersed. You agree on the targets, you go and act separately, and then you can convene, like after one year, to see what has been achieved and the way forward.
For security, we never discussed in houses -- wouldn't sit in a house like this and start discussing plans -- never. Always discuss in an open field. Therefore, for command, some of the command is dispersed, some is concentrated. Communication is by courier. You avoid using your radios, telephones and so on.
As I told you, a revolutionary warrior is like Jesus. You must not drink alcohol, you must not mistreat civilians, you must not take liberties with women, and, as Mao Tse-tung said, "You should never take a single needle or thread from the people without paying for it." And in case one of our soldiers commits a mistake, especially killing people, he must be punished where the mistake was committed, in front of the people. If you take him away to punish him somewhere else, you are in trouble with the population, especially a population which is not educated. Because they will not know whether you punished him or not, they will think that you just covered him up. So that discipline is very crucial for the revolutionary cause to succeed.
Since the Vietnam war, there has been a lot of technological improvement in the weapons -- the smart bombs, better observation, overhead imaging, thermal imaging, acoustic ways of getting information. Now, does technology make it impossible for a side that is weaker technologically but correct in terms of justice to wage a resistance? My answer is, "No." (The weaker side) needs some change in the tactics. For instance, if (the technically superior side) can detect through remote means people who are hiding in the forest, the revolutionary warrior can still find a solution to that. What would be the solution? Be with people where the people are -- especially in the other phases. Be with the people so that it will not be easy for (the technologically superior side) to know who is an insurgent and who is not an insurgent.
In conclusion, I think it is still the old story. The real answer to a revolutionary war is political reform so that you deny the other side the reasons for getting support from the people. I think this is the real strategic answer to a revolutionary challenge. Thank you very. much.
Question and Answer Session
MBV Note: Most of the Q&A involved topics dealing with Uganda's place in modern African military and political affairs, Museveni's opinion of the role of China in Africa, etc. These are the questions that dealt with the subject of his talk.
Third question: Mr. President, your last comments lead me to a question. What do you see is the role of faith and religion in the protracted war?
Museveni: Maybe what I did not clarify is that for revolutionary warfare to succeed, it must be ideologically correct. And what does that mean? It means you must be fighting for just aims. I talked about it, but indirectly. Now if you fight for religion, per se, I don't think you will be fulfilling that condition, because you find sometimes some of the old religious beliefs. In older religions you find that, for instance, the role of women is handled differently. In fact in some of the religions, women are suppressed. Now, if you set out with that ideology of -- the English word is atavism -- atavism means when you want to go back and live like the people lived in the olden days -- I don't think you will go far, especially if you are dealing with people who know what they are doing, because they can mobilize the sections you are neglecting against you and you may not win. So, sectarianism, in my opinion, is not one of the conditions that can be covered under revolutionary warfare. Revolutionary warfare is a war of liberation liberating the broadest possible sections of the population. Now, if you are not liberating women, and women always form 51 percent of the population in all countries, whom are you liberating? I think those are some of the adventurists. Some of the efforts I would classify as adventurist, or even reactionary adventurist, or even reactionary.
Question five: Sir, after you won your insurgency, how did you ensure long-term peace amongst the people? How did you reconcile the people?
Museveni: Those that you call "insurgents," in Uganda we call "terrorists." We call them terrorists because they were proxies of Sudan. You know we had a problem with the Sudan government. As I told you earlier there was this problem of Africans and Arabs in Sudan. Now the Sudanese suspected that, one day, we may side with our black brothers in their internal conflict. They, therefore, wanted to get rid of us, and we were not very interested in being got rid of. So we had to fight. And now that the issue of Sudan is over, we don't have any other political reason inside Uganda that could cause a sustained war. But secondly, our army was also growing at that time. It was still a one-service army, just with infantry. Now we are a bi-service force, we have all the means to guarantee peace in the country and there is total peace in the country.