November 4, 2012

Uganda Plays Major Bluff On UN, AU, US

Leaks and international blocs have a natural way of combusting, Thursday's developments in Uganda and Somalia being a typical example.

Following the discloser of a UN report that accuses Uganda of supporting the March 23 Movement, a military faction now at war with the Congolese government, Ugandan officials have threatened to pull roughly 6,000 troops out of Somalia and other neighboring states. Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi announced his decision to Parliament, describing the allegations as "baseless, unfair and malicious."

“Where is the evidence? Is it acceptable that an organ of the UN should falsely and carelessly accuse a member of the UN in this way, using either amateurs or malicious actors dressed up as experts?”

Mbabazi explains an alternative that, if roughly true, helps to understand Kampala's indignation. He claims that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the DRC's President Joseph Kabila and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region first requested assistance from Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni. Museveni organized four dialogue rounds and funded three in Kampala, a process supported by the UN and African Union. Mbabazi also attempted to clear the air over several cases of defected and refugee soldiers, saying that most were transported back to the DRC and a few remain imprisoned in Uganda. Whatever happened during the last seven months of M23‘s revolt, an emboldened Kampala has targeted "some actors in the UN system" that "do not understand that there can be principled actors in Africa, not looking for gold and other minerals, like the imperialists who invaded Africa, did."

Accordingly, Mbazai informed parliament on Thursday night, “We have now decided, after due consultations with our brothers in the AU and the region, to completely withdraw from these regional peace efforts; that is to say DRC, Somalia and others. It is no longer plausible for Uganda to assist and get malignment as the reward.”

Reporting from Kampala, the BBC's Catherine Byaruhanga says that Uganda's prime minister and security minister, Muruli Mukasa, have both called the decision "irreversible." This situation clearly poses a real challenge to the AU's mission in Somalia (AMISOM), however the threat of withdrawal doesn't appear to go beyond a high-stakes bluff. Rather, Kampala wants to clear its name in the DRC and seems to be angling for even greater influence with select Western capitals. Museveni currently enjoys the protection granted by spearheading AMISOM's ongoing military campaign, a deal similar to U.S.-Ethiopian relations. Ugandan troops are also cooperating with upwards of 100 Special Forces personnel searching for Joseph Kony around the Great Lakes Region.

Mbabazi himself clarified that Kampala would consider reversing its decision on two conditions. 1: “The UN must sort out the malignments against Uganda by bringing out the truth about Uganda’s role in the current regional efforts." 2: “Our African brothers in the region should quickly pronounce themselves on these malignments against Uganda.”

Somali and African officials express doubt in a full-scale withdraw. Still, one of the last problems that Somalia needs is friction between Uganda and the UN. No military interruption would be as devastating. The loss would certainly halt AMSIOM's momentum and threaten every territorial gain made over the last two years; beyond providing the most combat troops, Uganda also supplies AMISOM with air power and has fielded all of its leading commanders. AMISOM would implode without a replacement force of equal capabilities. This possibility is one of a few that gives al-Shabaab a genuine opportunity to reestablish itself in Somalia's west and south, and could threaten Mogadishu itself.

A back-room apology may soon go public with these interests on the line.

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