Understanding Uganda’s Military Adventurism Under Museveni

On January 15th 2014 President Yoweri Museveni finally admitted that Uganda People’s Defence Force troops are engaging in combat operations within South Sudan. Right after the political fallout in Juba and escalation of hostilities between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and those behind his former deputy Riek Machar, Mr. Museveni threatened Machar with military action if he did not come to the table to negotiate with Kiir. Museveni’s military involvement in the conflict has caused concern in Nairobi and other capitals in the region. For one, Uganda’s military intervention in the conflict may yet jeopardize the ceasefire agreement that was signed on January 23, 2014 in Addis Ababa. The regional body IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) is supposed to be a neutral arbiter and monitor in the conflict. Museveni’s clear leanings towards the government in Juba may bring to question IGAD’s neutrality in the mediation effort.

For historical reasons (see below) Khartoum fears Kampala’s military involvement in South Sudan. But this time the situation is slightly different, and a little more complex. Bashir has already shown his hand in support of Juba against Machar, possibly for two reasons: (i) Khartoum needs Juba’s help in weakening the rebellion by the rump SPLA (SPLA-North) that is still active in Blue Nile and South Kordofan, regions that border South Sudan; and (ii) Bashir needs to keep the oil flowing in order to ward off internal turmoil within Sudan due to rapidly deteriorating economic conditions (see here). Kiir’s willingness to throw SPLA-N under the bus comes as no surprise since it is an offshoot of the “Garang Boys” (mostly PhDs) who occupied a special place, unlike Kiir and others, in John Garang’s SPLA. SPLM-N’s leader Malik Aggar, shared Garang’s vision of one united reformed Sudan, as opposed to secession by the South. At the same time, however, Khartoum does not want a super strong South Sudan free of rebels. Total cessation of conflict in South Sudan would rob Khartoum of proxies to keep Juba in check. Uganda’s involvement could tip the balance in Juba’s favor vis-à-vis potential Bashir allies.

Meanwhile in Nairobi and Addis Ababa concern is growing over Uganda’s claim that the IGAD should foot the bill of UPDF’s adventures in South Sudan. Both Ethiopia and Kenya prefer settling the conflict at the negotiating table, partly because both have their security forces stretched by domestic armed groups and bandits and the war in Somalia. Kenya has said categorically that it will not send troops to South Sudan, even under IGAD. The wariness in Nairobi and Addis to send troops or cash for a military cause in South Sudan contrasts sharply with Kampala’s choice of military action from the moment the current flare up started in Juba. This despite the fact that Uganda also has troops serving in Somalia.

Which raises the question: What explains Uganda’s international military adventurism under Museveni? The answer lies in the confluence of history, international geopolitics, and Uganda’s internal politics.

Uganda is one of the more militarized states in Africa, with the military having direct representation in parliament (10 seats). It is also interventionist, with a history of combat engagement and support for rebel groups in six neighboring states – Burundi, the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Somalia, and South Sudan. More recently, the nation has been a key advocate for greater integration within the East African Community (EAC). Indeed, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni fancies himself as a possible head of an EAC political federation should it ever materialize. Uganda is also a key player in the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC), a proposed standby force with capacity to rapidly deploy troops to trouble spots in Africa (other key supporters include South Africa, Chad, and Tanzania).

Museveni and his kagogo (little) soldiers

Museveni and his kadogo (little) soldiers

President Yoweri Museveni’s military adventurism and internationalist outlook have deep roots. As a young student in Tanzania, Museveni was involved in exile organizations opposed to Iddi Amin. Indeed, Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA), started off as the Popular Resistance Army (PRA) in Tanzania (As testament to its Tanzanian roots, NRA borrowed the idea of political commissars from the Tanzanian military to educate civilians in “liberated” Luweero Triangle). In Tanzania and even after returning to Uganda Museveni made regional connections that he maintained even after he ascended to power in 1986 – including Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Sudan’s John Garang’, and leaders of Mozambique’s FRELIMO. Before rebelling against Kigali, Kagame was Museveni’s Chief of Military Intelligence. Museveni supported Garang’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

Once in power, Museveni styled himself as the guarantor of peace and stability in Uganda. Many (both at home and abroad) evaluated his performance relative to the disastrous years under Amin and the ensuing civil war. The resulting peace dividend (albeit restricted to the south of the country) was marked by relative macro-economic stability, with growth averaging about 6% for much of the 1990s. This made Museveni a darling of Western donors and international financial institutions. However, Museveni’s record with regard to democracy and human rights remained dubious. This put him in awkward position vis-à-vis the West, especially since the 1990s was the zenith of Western promotion of liberal democracy.

To this Museveni reacted cleverly, and worked hard to position Uganda as a strategic player in the wider region’s geopolitics. In order to maintain his international stature and secure his position domestically, Museveni labored to bolster Uganda’s relevance to the West.

Museveni enters Kampala (Source)

Museveni enters Kampala (Source)

Beginning in the early 1990s, Uganda got militarily involved in a number of neighboring states. Support for Garang’s SPLA drew the ire of Khartoum, which in turn supported the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda. Subsequently, the Ugandan military conducted raids against LRA bases in Sudan while also offering combat assistance to the SPLA. For instance, the 1997 battle at Yei featured Ugandan soldiers alongside the SPLA against the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). It is around this time that the seed was planted for future military involvement abroad at the turn of the century (this time in Somalia under the Western-funded AU mission, AMISOM, to help stabilize the country). After US President Bill Clinton designated Sudan as a state sponsor of terror, Uganda positioned itself as an ally in the frontline of “Global War on Terror.” Kampala served as an intermediary for US aid to SPLA, thereby further strengthening US-Uganda military ties. It is telling that in 2003 Uganda was among only a handful of African states that supported the US-led Iraq War. About 20,000 Ugandans worked in US military bases in Iraq (this was also an excellent job creation tool; and a way of earning Forex).

So far Uganda’s most complex military adventure was in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). A mix of strategic geopolitical positioning, the need to secure markets for Ugandan goods, private greed and domestic politics drove Uganda’s invasion of the DRC. The first Congo War (1996-97) was swift, aimed at helping Laurent Kabila oust Mobutu Seseseko (Rwanda and Angola also helped). Soon after Uganda and Rwanda fell out with Kabila, occasioning the Second Congo war (1998-2003), which involved four other African states. It is then that the façade of intervention for regional stability completely broke down. Ugandan and Rwandan commanders exploited existing and new cross-border smuggling and semi-legitimate trade networks to orchestrate massive pillaging of natural resources in eastern DRC (Competition between the two militaries later intensified, resulting in the “Kisangani Wars.”)

For instance, in the year 2000 despite only producing 0.00441 tonnes of gold, Uganda exported 11 tonnes. A UN report indicates that well-connected generals (including Museveni’s half-brother) created entities headquartered in Kampala to facilitate the illicit trade. It’s important to note that Museveni’s tolerance of the semi-autonomous activities by his generals was strategic (it generated revenue through Kampala-based entities and kept the generals happy) and did not lead to fracturing within the military. Indeed, many of those involved were later promoted.

Museveni meets Somali President, Shayk Sharif Ahmed in Mogadishu in 2010

 

Incidentally, the present involvement in South Sudan also reflects the multifaceted logic of Ugandan international military adventurism. Historical alliances with the SPLA against the LRA and SAF make Kampala and Juba natural bedfellows. But the intervention is also about securing markets for Ugandan goods. According to figures from the Bank of Uganda, in 2012 the country’s exports to South Sudan totaled an estimated USD 1.3 billion. About 150,000 Ugandan traders operate across the border, not to mention countless more primary producers in agriculture who benefit from cross-border trade with their northern neighbor.

The above account explains Museveni’s efforts in the recent past to build an image as the regional powerbroker: heading peace talks between the DRC, Rwanda and eastern DRC rebels; intervening in Somalia to prop up the government in Mogadishu; and in the latest episode siding militarily with President Salva Kiir in South Sudan’s domestic political cum military conflict. Domestically, Museveni’s grip on power is as strong as ever. Recent reshuffles in the military removed powerful Historicals (the original “bush war heroes”) thereby leaving Museveni (and his son) firmly in control of Uganda’s armed forces. There is no end in sight for Uganda’s international military adventurism.

In many ways Uganda’s international adventurism has been a case of agency in tight corners. The country is a landlocked; has neighbors with sparsely governed borderlands that provide rear-bases for Ugandan armed groups; and Kampala needs Western aid to maintain the regime, a situation that necessitates acts of geopolitical positioning – especially with regard to the “Global War on Terror” and maintenance of regional peace and stability. Furthermore, oil discovery along the conflict-prone DRC border on Lake Albert and the need for pipelines to the sea to export Ugandan oil will necessitate even greater regional involvement. So while Uganda’s present outward adventurism is primarily because of Museveni’s peculiar personal history, it is correct to say that even after Museveni (still far into the future) the country will continue to be forced to look beyond its borders for economic opportunities, security, and regional stature.

No, the West should not have governed South Sudan

In light of the ongoing civil war in South Sudan, Chris Blattman posed the question of whether the West should have governed South Sudan. My simple answer is that neotrusteeship would not have helped much with regard to long-term institutional stability in South Sudan, for the following reasons:

  • Neotrusteeship would still entail the same logic of old-style colonialism, only with a shorter time horizon. Whichever entity was designated as the ruler of Sudan – be it the UN, the State Department or the Foreign Office – would be working on a fixed timeline, with an exit strategy in mind. As Fearon and Laitin (gated) aptly noted: “In sharp contrast to classical imperialists, neotrustees want to withdraw as fast as possible. References to “exit strategy” have led the policy discourse and debate surrounding international and U.S. operations in the Balkans, East Timor, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, and now Iraq.” Assuming that South Sudanese elite are rational, they would play the game, if forced to, and bid their time until the overlords left and then they would get down to the business of settling their grievances. The building of institutions, unlike learning a language or programing, is not something that you are taught and then left on your own to practice. Institutions only work if they reflect the de facto balance of power, something that trusteeship would necessarily not provide. And what would be the time horizon? How long would it take to build good institutions? As Fearon and Laitin note, “….due to the sources of the civil wars that lead to collapsed states, successful exit from neotrusteeship will be extremely difficult in most cases. We have stressed the need to develop local tax-collecting capability as an incentive to move the country from international welfare toward self-governance and, in some cases, the notion of transfer not to full sovereignty but rather as a state embedded in and monitored by international institutions.” 
  • The proposed exit strategy would probably be elections. Such elections would most likely favor those that played the game well under neotrusteeship, possibly the favored choice of the Western administrators [to pay back Western tax dollars, time and connections, etc with contracts and influence in the post-trusteeship era]. But this is not the way to do it. Electoral democracy would then necessarily be used by disgruntled elites who were not given a seat at the table to correct the ills of the era of neotrusteeship. Depending on the outcomes, failure at the ballot would probably lead to armed conflict.
  • Also, the period 1952-1957 was not a benelovent neotrusteeship but the last mile of British Colonialism in Ghana. I would have liked to hear more discussion of post-1957 Ghana by Pascal Zachary and how it is a good lesson on the virtues of neotrusteeship. Are we to forget what Nkrumah did right after ascending to the Political Kingdom and all that happened in Ghana between 1957 and 1981 when Jerry Rawlings finally brought order to the political process with an iron fist?
  • Lastly, a Western-run neotrusteeship would fly in the face of current IR norms and the structural reality of the present international system. I think the myth of the benevolent disinterested Western institution-builder [known in an earlier time as a civilizer] should be put to rest. China and Russia [and probably the African Union] would oppose such a move and work to make it fail. So even if it were workable in theory, something that I highly doubt, reality would render the point moot.

In my view the talk about neotrusteeship as the solution to weak state institutions is an attempt to avoid the ugly face of the state-building process. No one likes paying taxes to another dude who uses it to buy a private jet. Throughout human history states have been imposed on people against their will, most of the time with force. The challenge in South Sudan is not that the leaders had not learned how to govern efficiently, and therefore all we need to do is train them for a few years, but rather that Kir did not have the capacity and full control over the army to credibly deter Machar and his allies from attempting to take power by force.

Put differently, state-building is not value-neutral because it requires the threat or actual use of force, which implies the taking of sides. The logics of local insatiability and time inconsistent preferences dictate that chaps will always want to reorganize existing institutional arrangements. The only thing that prevents them from doing so – from Denmark to CAR – is the difference in the costs of doing so. Even in democracies, people are restricted on how often they can throw out their elected leaders, with a credible threat of the use of force in place to make sure that people obey and accept the outcome of elections [PLEASE read Terry Moe on power and political institutions]. Democratic state-building (the means most preferred on account of our 21st century sensibilities) in the context of weak or severely truncated coercive capacity is very hard.

Seen this way, neotrusteeship can only be useful in the short-term to prevent mass atrocities, the creation of safe heavens for transnational terror networks, and provide an environment for a less violent process of institutional development. But it certainly cannot generate the state institutions required for long-term political stability.

I definitely appreciate the need for international assistance in the process of building institutions in young states. But with regard to strategies of long-term state-building I tend to lean more toward Jeremy Weinstein’s idea of “autonomous recovery” which stresses the need to identity and understand

 “internal processes of change that give rise to successful state-building, the conditions under which these internal mechanisms are likely to work, and the lessons international actors can draw from autonomous recovery for efforts to bring conflict to an end. Although it may be difficult to accept, one of the key lessons is that sometimes it makes sense not to intervene, or to intervene actively on behalf of one side.

To echo Weinstein:

……….. The durable resolution of the world’s civil wars will depend to a large degree on how  quickly international actors incorporate the lessons of history into current strategies. To reconstitute states with governments capable of projecting power, the international community must be prepared to identify and recognize legitimate and effective governance (in whatever form it takes). And if the political change that war produces is to survive the end of the fighting, international actors must develop new approaches to both support and constrain the winners as they consolidate power in the aftermath of conflict.

The EAC needs a defense pact

UPDATE: The Government of South Sudan has barred people of Somali origin from entering the country by road for “security reasons.” This wrongheaded move has created an awkward situation since not all people of Somali origin are from Somalia. In Kenya, for instance, a good chunk of the long haul transport sector is run by Kenyans of Somali origin.

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The Ugandan government recently went on a $1 billion shopping spree for six fighter jets. The deal, which almost broke the bank, made a significant dent on Uganda’s forex reserves. Many, while acknowledging the risks that might have motivated the purchase, have questioned the wisdom of spending that much money on six jets.

For those not in the know, the key motivation for Museveni’s purchase was a desire to project military power in the region for two key reasons:

Firstly, in order to create a market for Ugandan light industries – cooking oil, soap, etc – Kampala has had to project military power to help in the pacification of pockets of eastern DRC and northern Uganda/South Sudan. These markets are crucial because they create jobs in Uganda, allowing Museveni some room as he continues to preside over Uganda’s decline into a dysfunctional police state.

The second reason was Museveni’s desire for military grandeur in the region. Kigali and Khartoum are not in the best of terms with Kampala. Museveni is probably suspicious of a potential Odinga presidency in Kenya. For these reasons, the Ugandan military establishment – the real rulers of Uganda – might have wanted to ensure that non of their neighbors are in a position to bully them in the near future.

While most of Museveni’s militarism is inspired by a mentality from a bygone era, I find Kampala’s fears against Khartoum as legitimate grounds for a regional defense pact. It is an open secret that Khartoum will try as much as it can to destabilize the new government of South Sudan (and by extension the wider region). And they have a few options:

  • They can foment civil war within South Sudan – there are a lot of disgruntled armed bands within South Sudan who might decide to take their chances with Khartoum; Remember that even Riek Machar, the current vice president of South Sudan, formed a Khartoum-backed splinter group (SPLA-Nasir) that fought Garang’ back in the early 1990s.
  • They can use armed groups in the wider central African region – including Kony’s LRA and the plethora of roving bandits in eastern DRC to engineer insecurity in South Sudan. Khartoum has used the LRA against SPLM in the past.
  • They can invade in an all out war. This option is the riskiest because of its potential to generate international opprobrium. But remember that Ethiopia and its secessionist former province Eritrea fought a bloody war that generated nothing but “stern” warnings from the UN and the wider international community. The US even armed Ethiopia because it needed Addis Ababa to fight its war in Somalia.
  • Lastly, they can use non-conventional tactics. Terrorism is slowly growing in the wider east African region. So far Eritrea has been the biggest state sponsor of terror in the region – mostly aimed at Ethiopia in the Ogaden, Oromo land and Somalia. The involvement of Ugandan and Burundian troops in Somalia has created even more enemies for these groups. There is no reason to believe that Khartoum would not use these same groups to destabilize South Sudan, if for nothing then as a survival tactic for a beleaguered Bashir administration that will forever be blamed for having lost the South’s oil.

Needless to say, an unstable South Sudan is bad for the region. Period.

The proliferation of small arms is already a major problem in the areas bordering the Ilemi triangle and eastern Uganda. That instead of sticks pastoralists have to roam around with AK-47’s says it all. More conflict in South Sudan will only make a really bad situation even worse. The potential for proxy wars within the region would also be an unnecessary drain on limited resources. Because of various interests in Juba, an aggression by Khartoum against South Sudan will definitely be met with reaction in one form or another from Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda.The conflict will definitely be regionalized. Lastly, Eritrea’s bad habit of supporting terrorists should not be permitted to catch on. Khartoum must know that if it tries this dirty tactic it will be met by more than just resolutions from the AU, IGAD or the UN.

Which is why I think that the EAC should have a robust defense pact. War should have to be a last resort. But that does not mean that the East African Community should not prepare for such an eventuality, if it arise.

That way, no single country will be burdened with the task of buying all the necessary hardware needed to keep Khartoum deterred.

Such a plan would face significant challenges, of course – key among them the fact that the region’s armies are non-professionalized. A functional defense pact would require near total civilian control of the army. Only Kenya and Tanzania come close to this in the EAC. Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda are dominated by their respective armies. Burundi can’t even win against rebels within its territory and remains a militarized tin pot dictatorship. And Ethiopia, if it were to join, is still dominated by the remnants of the rebellion that ousted Mengistu.

These challenges aside, it might be worth a try. Such a pact might even help professionalize and de-politicize the officer corp in the region’s armed forces.

And the biggest winner if this were to happen is MORE regional trade.

development in southern sudan

Blattman stresses the importance of security, stability and predictability over other forms of intervention.

States, like people, have attention problems, only more extreme. The new government may only accomplish one or two big things in their first five years. If, fifty years hence, we want the poor of South Sudan to prosper, paradoxically the last thing we need to do is push for the Millennium Development Goals today.

give every incentive for elites, especially the ones apt to war, to invest in fixed assets whose value depends on stability and growth. Make them entrepreneurs. Oil rigs don’t count. Property in Juba does. So do plantations and small factories, even if they need subsidies to operate at first. This is hard, and will require attention and dedication.

With these accomplished, I’d next aim for economic growth. Which may or may not involve pro-poor transfers. Given the choice between three big resource firms and 1000 microenterprises, I’d choose the firms. (And remember: I work on fostering post-conflict microenterprises for a living.)

My two cents on this:

This is absolutely right. But with the caveat that the security hawks should be watched. They tend to overstay their welcome. Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia needed security more than a decade ago. Now their saviors, Kagame, Museveni and Zenawi, respectively, are quickly turning into latter day Bokassas.

south sudan and the challenges of self-rule

The BBC reports that at least 100 people have been killed in clashes between the South Sudan government and soldiers loyal to a renegade rebel, George Athor, in Jonglei State.

This latest clash does not come as a surprise. Most analysts predict a high likelihood of civil war in post-independence South Sudan. Conflict will most likely come from two sources: Khartoum funding local dissident groups in order to check Juba and internal ethnic rivalry over government positions and the sharing of oil wealth.

Civil war in South Sudan may prove to be deadlier than the 2 decade war against Khartoum. Civilianization of the two decade war placed guns in the hands of most able bodied young men (In the South cattle herders tend to their animals with AK’s in hand). The prospect of Khartoum supporting secessionist movements along its border with the South is not pure fantasy.

The spotlight is on the political elite in the South. Will they hammer out a power and resource sharing deal or will despotism yet again kill the independence dreams of an African nation? I can’t stop thinking that John Garang’ de Mabior died too soon.

southern sudanese independence: cause for cautious optimism

That Southern Sudan ought to be an independent state should have been apparent as early as 1956. The Anglo-Egyptian condominium that ran the Sudanese colony ensured a legacy of division between the North and South. The idea of two Sudans, already etched in people’s minds at independence, was further buttressed by years of what some have called “internal colonialism.” The marginalization of the South precipitated the two civil wars (57-72 and 83-05). 2 million people died and millions more were displaced from their homes.

Challenges abound for the new nation. The lack of basic institutions of state is hard to miss. Poverty and illiteracy are endemic. Corruption and ethnic favoritism remain to be serious threats to post-independence stability. To compound these problems, the North still refuses to recognize boundaries along oil-rich borderlands. Both sides are arming in case of a flare up.

The challenges aside, there is cause for optimism. Investors from Kenya and Uganda have been trooping into Juba since the signing of the CPA in 2005. Kenyan banks are now a familiar presence in Juba. Kenya also plans to build a new port in Lamu and link it to the oil fields of Southern Sudan. Juba will be a natural new member of the East African Community. Because the regional economies stand to lose in case of a return to conflict, I am cautiously optimistic that Southern Sudan will prove the naysayers wrong.

Southern Sudan is not the Belgian Congo circa 1960.

quick hits

Below are some links that I liked:

Sudan: It was never going to be easy to go separate ways.

Understanding the Mozambican riots.

Jammeh, the delusional Gambian president, is completely out of his mind.

Easterly on Zoellick and being kicked out of the BANK.

Bureaucracy gone mad, why does the UN have some of these agencies?

Documenting America’s non-existent class system.

Because of qualifying exams this weekend, I shall be away till some time after Monday.

southern sudan

As the January 9th, 2011 referendum draws closer the international community is getting concerned about the consequences of Southern Sudanese independence. Many fear that the north, led by the strongman Omar al-Bashir, will not honor the CPA and let the Southerners go. Southern stability is also a concern. Once in the early 1990s the SPLA/M split along ethnic lines (Machar, the leader of the splinter SPLA-Nasir, eventually came back to the fold). Recent skirmishes in the South are testament to the fact that ethnicized civil war may yet visit an independent Southern Sudan.

Check out this post on FP.

In other news, the Continental club of ineffectual autocrats African Union is meeting in Uganda. More on this soon.

foreshadowing post-independence southern Sudan

It is an open secret that Southern Sudan will likely descend into civil war once it secedes from Khartoum. Reports of a mutiny against Southern Sudanese government troops after last week’s election may foreshadow what is to come after Juba achieves full autonomy. Divisions within the South are not new. In 1991 Riek Machar led a rebellion of Nuer officers against the Dinka-dominated SPLM/A. In the end John Garang’ and SPLM/A prevailed after SPLM-Nasir (Machar’s faction) was accused of being stooges of the regime in Khartoum. The same divisions may plague post-independence Southern Sudan – there are already widespread grumbling about Dinka domination of state affairs in Juba. Khartoum is almost likely to play a role in destabilizing the South. The Southern referendum on secession will be held on January 9th 2011.