You could argue that the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, seeks to replace Muammar Qadhafi as the alpha male of Africa and Meles Zenawi as the pan-African mediator. But those aspirations may have to be put on hold.
In the UN Group of Experts (UN GoE) report that was leaked last month, Uganda and Rwanda were accused of supporting M23, an armed group that has been operating in the eastern Congo since the spring. Although Rwanda’s reputation as the donor darling and example of Singaporean-style economic development has been damaged, it unlike its neighbor, lacks the regional security clout and leverage that Uganda holds.
On Thursday night, Uganda’s Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi announced to the country’s parliament that the Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) would be withdrawing from regional peacekeeping operations to protect the country’s western border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Accusing Western powers of failing to recognize Uganda’s contribution of peace in the region, Mbabazi asked, “Why should we continue involving Uganda where the only reward we get is malignment? Why should the children of Ugandans die and we get malignment as a reward? Why should we invite retaliation by the al-Shabaab by standing with the people of Somalia, only to get malignment by the UN system?” This announcement was the other shoe to drop, following last month’s statements by Uganda’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Okello Oryem that the accusations leveled in the report were “rubbish and absurd,” and that the country was “reassessing all its peacekeeping engagements and operations in the region.” The Ugandan government has now sent an envoy to UN Headquarters to inform them of its ‘irreversible’ decision.
As of late September, Uganda only had 47 personnel assigned to UN peacekeeping operations in Darfur, Côte d’Ivoire, South Sudan, Liberia, and East Timor. Therefore, the brunt of Uganda’s threats would fall upon the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), to which the UPDF contributes approximately 6,500 troops (about a third of AMISOM’s authorized force strength of 17,731). The UPDF also provides the force commander – a position that has been held by a Ugandan since the mission began in 2007. To a lesser extent, these threats could also affect Uganda’s contribution of at least 2,000 troops to the African Union-initiated Regional Task Force to hunt down the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the Central African Republic and DRC.
Aside from its regional military footprint, Uganda has been chairing the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) effort to facilitate a dialogue with the M23 rebels and, if necessary, plan a multinational military intervention in the eastern Congo. The accusations leveled in the UN GoE report certainly hurt Uganda’s credibility as a mediator in this process, but also threaten Museveni’s legacy as the man who brought an element of stability to Somalia in what many believed to be a suicide mission, when other nations refused to commit troops. (By the way, details for an ICGLR intervention force are still being worked out, and I believe a UN mandate would help facilitate financial and logistical support. Without that kind of support, an intervention would be highly unlikely.)
In reality, however, I doubt that Uganda can pull all of its troops out of peacekeeping operations. Quite simply put, it’s going to cost too much. Museveni’s survival is, in part, contingent on maintaining a large military deployed outside the country’s borders in case he needs them for internal security. While 8,000+ UPDF are deployed in support of AU or UN peacekeeping operations, Museveni doesn’t have to worry about paying them. However, if he brings them home, he’ll need to find a way to keep them occupied – and paid – so they stay out of trouble. Unless there’s a war in Uganda (unlikely) to rally the troops around him, he needs to keep them deployed on someone else’s dime. In addition, one of the reasons Uganda is so important for regional security is due to its involvement in peacekeeping operations. If you take that away, you also lose the justification for allocating the same level of security assistance from international partners to train and equip the UPDF in the future. This is income that Museveni would now have to find a way to make up for.
So to be clear, I don’t expect Uganda’s threats to come to anything. It’s just putting the UN and the West on notice to back the (insert expletive here) off over allegations of providing support to M23.
In possibly unrelated news, the United States’ Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman visited Uganda to discuss advancing regional security and to extend U.S. appreciation for Uganda’s peacekeeping efforts. This was the same day the PM made the announcement to withdraw from peacekeeping operations. #Awkward.
On August 7th and 8th, International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) heads of state met to discuss the deployment of an international force to fight the M23 rebel movement that has been active in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) North Kivu region since April of this year. While they did not end up reaching a consensus on an intervention force, I still thought I’d attempt to think through the kind of questions that would need to be answered to establish such a force.
- What would the mission be? Like the current discussions the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is having about a regional intervention force for Mali, it will be essential for regional stakeholders to articulate what their objectives are and what their concept of operations might be in order to attain said objectives. Will they be focusing on fighting M23, or will they also be addressing instability caused by the Raia Mutomboki? Would this force attempt to address the underlying causes of the ongoing conflict in North Kivu, which could be a long-term commitment that would surpass a purely military intervention? Would this force focus on protecting civilians while allowing the Armed Forces of the DRC (FARDC in French) to deal with rebel groups? Starting to answer these types of mission-oriented questions would be a prerequisite for obtaining African Union (AU) and United Nations (UN) mandates, which could facilitate international support – which gets to my next question.
- Who would pay for this deployment?Troop-contributing countries (I’ll get to who they might be in a minute) would need to determine whether they can afford to pay the salaries of the units they would deploy, the use of (or acquisition of) contingent-owned equipment during the deployment, the transport of military assets to the eastern Congo, and the maintenance of these assets in the field. (I’m sure I forgot something, but you get the picture.) If troop-contributing countries cannot foot the bill, then the AU, UN, European Union (EU), United States would need to be willing and capable of providing financial assistance – either on a bilateral basis or on a multilateral basis – which gets to my next question.
- What framework would be used for an intervention force? The UN already has just under 20,000 military and police personnel as part of the UN Organization and Stabilization Mission in the DRC(MONUSCO), but it is possible that the UN (and the AU for that matter) are overtasked, both globally and in the DRC itself. Therefore, we might be looking at a sub-regional organization taking the lead akin to what ECOWAS is attempting to do in Mali. Unlike the situation in Mali, however, the DRC is not a member of a sub-regional organization that has a functional security component with a precedent for regional military intervention. The DRC is a member of both the Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC in French) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and these sub-regional organizations are supposed to have regional brigades that would fall under the African Standby Force (ASF). However, I don’t know whether the SADC Standby Force Brigade (SADCBRIG) or its CEEAC equivalent, the Central African Multinational Force (FOMAC in French), would be willing and capable of leading an intervention force. Therefore, if there is no sub-regional organization that has an established military component is able to take the lead, then how would this intervention force be comprised?
- Who would the players be? Since we don’t know whether a sub-regional organization or a multilateral coalition of countries would intervene in the DRC, it’s difficult to ascertain which countries could be part of this notional force. But since the ICGLR is talking about such a force, we’ll start with their members: Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, the DRC, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan (not sure if South Sudan is a member), Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. If I were compiling an intervention dream team from these members, I would want Angola, Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda on my team. Why these and not the others? Off the top of my head, these countries have reasonably professional militaries with proven warfighting capabilities, are active in AU and UN peacekeeping operations (with the exception of Angola), and have countries stable enough that deploying soldiers abroad would probably not inhibit their armed forces from addressing other national security threats. That said, many of these countries have baggage in the DRC as a result of their involvement in the 1998-2003 civil war (Angola, Rwanda, and Uganda), or more recently, alleged support for M23 (ahem…Rwanda). Also, would these countries even be interested in intervening? I would say Rwanda would because of the threat it perceives from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR). Angola’s participation would depend on the extent to which its security is affected by events on the opposite side of the Congo, as well as the extent to which the ruling People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA in Portuguese) feels more comfortable keeping the military at home in case there is instability surrounding this month’s elections or to contain additional protests by civil war veterans. And while I don’t think Kenya has baggage in the DRC, I doubt that instability in North Kivu is compelling enough to deploy the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) there when their focus is really on Somalia. Thus, the militaries that might be the most capable of fighting M23 in North Kivu may either fail to be perceived as a neutral force or their countries lack a compelling reason to get involved. As a result, an intervention force might have to look further afield to get troop contributors or make do with less capable forces.
So I guess the bottom line is that I don’t think an intervention force will come to fruition for the eastern Congo due to some of the issues I’ve raised above.
Over the past few months, there has been a steady escalation in the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan. Earlier this week, regional media sources reported that Uganda would support Juba in the case of a full-scale war with Khartoum. What are some potential reasons for Uganda’s to get involved in this conflict?
Historical Ties, Historical Proxy Wars
Uganda and the Southern People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the ruling party in South Sudan, have historical ties due to Uganda’s support of the Southern People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) during the second civil war (1983-2005). In addition to providing financial and military support, Ugandan troops were directly involved in operations alongside the SPLA. Uganda also served as a vital sanctuary and rear base after 1991, when the SPLA was expelled from western Ethiopia after the fall of Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Derg regime.
In retribution for Uganda’s support for the SPLA, the Sudanese government supported the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) as a proxy to destabilize northern Uganda and weaken the SPLA. Having been expelled from Uganda between 2005 and 2006, the LRA has since been operating in remote areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic, and South Sudan. Ugandan intelligence suggests that Khartoum has recently made contact with the LRA in order to use the group as a proxy in the event of renewed hostilities with Juba.
Trade and Economic Opportunity
Uganda has substantial commercial interests in South Sudan that could atrophy if South Sudan were attacked. South Sudan is Uganda’s biggest trading partner, although this relationship is disproportionately skewed in favor of Uganda. In 2008, South Sudan’s formal imports from Uganda were $246 million, while informal imports were estimated to be as much as $389 million. Furthermore, approximately one million Ugandans reside in South Sudan, not only capitalizing on the country’s postwar economic opportunities, but also escaping the dearth of such opportunities in Uganda. This is possibly the largest group of foreign nationals in South Sudan.
Influx of Refugees
Although a conflict between Sudan and South Sudan would take place far from the Ugandan border, Uganda might be reluctant to play host to another generation of South Sudanese refugees. By the time Sudan’s civil war ended, over 200,000 Sudanese refugees were in Uganda; many of these have since been repatriated. However, renewed instability in South Sudan could add to the recent influx of refugees from North Kivu province in the DRC. Earlier this month, former rebel leader General Bosco Ntaganda and soldiers loyal to him defected from the Congolese armed forces and Congolese President Joseph Kabila subsequently called for his arrest. Ntaganda had been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2006, but had been integrated into the Congolese military in a 2009 peace deal, as he was believed to be critical to the peace process as well as to regional stability. More than 3,000 residents of North Kivu have fled to Uganda since the beginning of the year as a result of instability in the province, and Uganda is already struggling to manage this most recent influx along its border with the Congo.
Security…and Regime Longevity
Finally, Uganda’s involvement in a conflict between Sudan and South Sudan would ensure its own security. Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the DRC have formed a Regional Task Force (RTF) to capture LRA leader Joseph Kony, whose movement originated in northern Uganda. If South Sudan is preoccupied by fighting along its border with Sudan, Uganda might be concerned that Juba might not be able to fulfill its commitment to the RTF.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni also sees himself as a regional patriarch, and demonstrates this, in part, by deploying the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) abroad. In addition to being part of the RTF to capture Joseph Kony, Uganda is the largest troop contributor to the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). Uganda is keen to remain a key player in the realm of regional security, which would necessitate its involvement in a full-scale war between Sudan and South Sudan.
Although he tends to prefer his military deployed abroad to ensure that it is not a nuisance at home, Museveni simultaneously tends to like his military large and reasonably capable in case he needs to call upon them to restore order in Uganda itself. Museveni’s heavy-handed crackdown on last year’s “Walk to Work” movement to protest high fuel prices was one example of the growing pressures for Museveni to step down after 25 years (at the time) in power. (For analysis of Museveni’s political challenges and prospects for Uganda’s future, see International Crisis Group’s report Uganda: No Resolution to Growing Tensions released earlier this month). Furthermore, a recent news report on Uganda’s increase in defense expenditures suggests that the types of equipment Uganda is acquiring might be more useful for securing regime longevity and sowing fear in the population than for addressing the country’s actual security threats.
The bottom line is that Uganda has a wide range of legitimate interests in South Sudan, but in my opinion, the most compelling reason is that a new war is a new shiny object for Museveni’s military.