Uganda Or Somalia? Get Your Story Straight, America
by Mark P. Fancher
April 20, 2012
The U.S. and Uganda are playing a cynical game of musical chairs in Africa. The Americans send Green Berets to Uganda, ostensibly to help the beleaguered Ugandan military hunt down Joseph Kony’s LRA guerillas, while the Ugandans send thousands of soldiers to Somalia to prop up the U.S.-backed government in Mogadishu. "The U.S. has no real interest in the LRA, but is drawn instead to oil fields in Uganda and South Sudan."
"U.S. Marines have been in Uganda training Ugandan soldiers – not to participate in the search for the LRA – but to instead prepare for deployment to Somalia."
At times, even apologists for the U.S. military presence in Africa must find it difficult to offer a rationale for these missions with a straight face. Several months ago, President Obama authorized the deployment of U.S. troops to Uganda and the surrounding region, presumably to pursue the now-famous Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). It was suggested that U.S. involvement was important because Uganda’s military had failed over the course of more than two decades, to capture the elusive leader of a group accused of mass killings, kidnappings, maiming and other crimes.
If the danger posed by the LRA is so grave that it compels a war-weary U.S. to, yet again, send its soldiers into harm’s way on foreign soil, one would think that Uganda’s military must be dedicating its full attention and resources to the hunt for the Kony organization. Think again. Instead, a substantial number of Ugandan troops have been deployed to Somalia as part of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).
AMISOM is a UN-approved peace-keeping mission intended to stabilize war-torn Somalia. Although it is not exclusively a military operation, armed troops are its primary feature. During the latter part of 2011, the operation involved almost 10,000 soldiers, with the majority of them coming from Uganda and Burundi.
"One would think that Uganda’s military must be dedicating its full attention and resources to the hunt for the Kony organization."
In recent months, U.S. Marines have been in Uganda training Ugandan soldiers – not to participate in the search for the LRA – but to instead prepare for deployment to Somalia. According to a U.S. embassy report, Ugandan troops were being trained to serve as "counter-terrorism engineer companies" to be used "to support infantry battalions." The report quoted Major Charles Baker as saying: "The genesis of this mission was operations in Mogadishu, Somalia, where African Union peacekeepers experienced [explosive devices] and other complex obstacles, which exposed them to ambushes by al-Shabaab." The trainees were also being supplied with combat engineer tool kits, mine detectors and armored bulldozers.
Ugandan involvement has not been limited to grunt soldier patrols. In February, Okello Oryem, Uganda’s Minister of State for Foreign and International Affairs, paid a high level visit to the African Union’s Deputy Special Representative for Somalia. While there, Oryem proclaimed: "The Government of Uganda remains committed to maintaining its troops in Somalia as long as it takes."
The unwavering commitment of the Ugandan government to address the "crisis" in Somalia appears to be matched only by the unwavering commitment of the U.S. government to address the "crisis" in Uganda. General Carter F. Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), said the U.S. military’s role in the war against the LRA is "best done through support, advising and assistance, rather than U.S. military personnel in the lead actually conducting the operations to try to find Kony and capture him." The presence of significant contingents of Ugandan troops in Somalia begs an obvious question. Who is left in Uganda for U.S. troops to assist?
"The Government of Uganda remains committed to maintaining its troops in Somalia as long as it takes."
The incongruity of the two countries’ missions only fuels suspicions that the U.S. has no real interest in the LRA, but is drawn instead to oil fields in Uganda and South Sudan. There is also a growing belief that the U.S. perceived an urgent need for a military presence in the region only after China began to assist the Ugandan government with oil production. These suspicions have only been reinforced by an insistence by many in northern Uganda that Joseph Kony left the country several years ago.
Whatever true motivations the U.S. may have for deploying troops to Africa, the mission will remain the cause of considerable head-scratching bewilderment for those who try to connect the dots from Uganda to Somalia.
Mark P. Fancher is a lawyer who writes frequently on the U.S. military presence in Africa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.