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.

The cost of decentralization in Uganda

This quote from The Independent says it all:

……. In 2010 Bushenyi district was split into five districts. In the 2009/10 financial year, the old Bushenyi had a budget of Shs 1.64 billion for UPE and Primary healthcare (non-wage) of which Shs214 million was for administrative costs.

When it was split, the mother Bushenyi got Shs482 million. Of this, administrative costs were Shs241 million (due to wage increases). Mitooma district got Shs365 million of which administrative costs were Shs201 million; then Rubirizi got Shs198 million of which administrative costs were Shs136 million; Sheema got Shs403 million with administrative costs of  Shs160 million; and Buhweju got Shs175 million of which Shs 126 million went to administrative expenses.

The total central government grant to the “region” of the old Bushenyi remained the same. But the administrative costs now grew from Shs241 million to Shs865 million – that is money diverted from providing public goods and services to citizens to paying the salaries of elites – civil servants and politicians – in these areas.

Theoretically, in an electoral democracy like ours, voters should reject this arrangement in favour of services. Yet a study by the London School of Economics found that whenever a district is created, Museveni’s support increases by 3% in the mother district and 5% in the new.

More on this here.

It’s clear that Museveni’s preferred method of keeping Ugandans (and especially the political elite) happy is not sustainable in the long run. Mr. Museveni does not operate outside the laws of economics, and soon enough he will hit the glass wall of finite resources. Uganda’s rising patronage inflation might soon explode into patronage hyper-inflation (I think most reasonable people would find it insane to have over 70 ministers).

In addition, a crazy number of MPs are broke (the president recently had to step in to stop them from selling their debt to a Chinese firm), and might demand for even thicker brown envelopes or sacks of cash in order to continue playing ball with State House.

The oil in Bunyoro will definitely buy President Museveni time. But for how long, and at what cost?

Going back to pre-2001 “no party” authoritarianism would be a very costly option. The horrors of pre-Museveni Uganda are slowly being archived by time; and can no longer sell among Uganda’s younger generation who might prefer to think of Uganda’s future potential rather than what Museveni saved them from.

All this makes for interesting politics in Uganda ahead of the 2016 elections.

H/T Andrew Mwenda

Petro-Politics in East Africa

Is LAPSSET under threat? May be.

The Economist reports:

The Lamu pipeline makes the most economic sense for all involved. But failure to work together may doom it. National and personal interests trump regional co-operation and commercial logic. In Uganda Mr Museveni is keen to settle his legacy as the champion of a strong nation, building vast refineries and spiting the tiresome Kenyans. South Sudan is fixated on warding off the north at the expense—it seems—of almost everything else. Ethiopia sees a chance to steal Kenya’s thunder, too. “It’s every guy for himself,” says an oil executive wryly. “And I thought the private sector is rough.” Pipeline politics makes a mockery of the East African Community, a bloc dedicated to regional co-operation. All but one of the countries are members or aspire to join.

Of late, a new momentum behind the oil push is being felt. The Ugandan government is in final production talks with three oil companies. Executives from Tullow, Total and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (better known as CNOOC), as well as local civil servants, conferred with Mr Museveni at his farm near the Rwandan border in late April. In June South Sudan will finish a feasibility study for the Ethiopian pipeline to Djibouti, after which it has said it will make a decision on export routes. “Everything is up in the air,” says a diplomat. Kenyan and Ethiopian officials, as well as oil-company representatives, have been scurrying to Juba to make their case. Pagan Amun, who leads South Sudan’s talks with the north, is said to be keen to ditch the Lamu pipeline.

My guess is that Nairobi, for historical reasons, will prevail in Juba. Plus Juba and Addis are not the best of buddies, despite recent warm relations. Mengistu was a key ally and supplier of SPLM before he was overthrown by Meles and his army. The departure of Meles may have made things a little better. Time will tell. Uganda will most likely construct a mini-refinery as it is not integral to the implementation of LAPSSET.

Museveni: UN missions stifling state capacity development in Africa

The Daily Nation reports:

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has said UN peacekeeping missions [especially in the DRC] are derailing efforts by African governments to end conflicts.

He criticised the UN system of peacekeeping saying: “External support by the UN makes governments lazy and they don’ t focus on internal reconciliation.”

“The mistake is internal actors with no correct vision and the UN which does not focus on internal capacity building but instead focusing on peace keeping all the time. Without the internal solutions, you can’t have peace, ” Mr Museveni said in a statement on Thursday.

Some Congolese and experts on the DRC may disagree with Museveni’s analysis but it has some truth to it. As I pointed out in an African Arguments post several months ago, there is no short cut to fixing the Congo. State capacity development must be THE overriding concern (for more on this see here and here).

Also, The International Crisis Group has a nice piece on the recent takeover of the mining town of Lubumbashi by Mai-Mai fighters. The writer notes:

Since President Joseph Kabila’s controversial election victory in November 2011, government control over DRC territory has been in drastic decline. Beyond the fall of Goma to the M23 rebellion, Kinshasa has failed to repel the activities of various other armed groups: the Mai-Mai Morgan in Province Orientale, the Ituri Resistance Patriotic Front (FRPI) and the Mai-Mai Yakutumba in South Kivu, Rayia Mutomboki in North and South Kivu, as well as the Mai-Mai Gédéon in Katanga. (On the eastern Congo armed groups, see the October 2012 briefing Eastern Congo: Why Stabilisation Failed. On the Katanga armed groups, see the report Katanga: The Congo’s Forgotten Crisis.)

More on the DRC

CFR has a nice interview with Jason Stearns, DRC expert and author of Dancing in the Glory of Monsters. Jason in part notes that:

This crisis has brought about a shift in international donor policy for the region, in particular criticism and financial sanctions against Rwanda, which is something that’s new. However, using aid as leverage only makes sense in the context of a larger political process. Bashing Rwanda just for the sake of bashing Rwanda is not a solution. There needs to be a comprehensive political process into which that kind of pressure can be funneled and channeled. But there is no such process at the moment. What you have are talks mediated by a regional body—the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR)—that has the irony of being presided over by Uganda, which is itself playing a role in the conflict by supporting the M23. These talks have been largely limited to an evaluation of the March 23, 2009 peace deal, and the potential formation of a regional military force to deal with the FDLR and M23. But the causes of the crisis run much deeper and involve the failure of local governance, the weakness of the Congolese army, and the persistent meddling of neighboring countries in Congolese affairs.

This is precisely what informs my contention that there is too much focus on the international dimension of the conflict at the expense of the kinds of reforms that Congo needs in order to improve state capacity in Sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country.

You can’t do business, implement a human rights regime, or even pretend to have democratic governance in a stateless environment (Unless, of course, you live in a state of nature in which everyone has capacity to defend themselves against aggression by others).

Some, including very serious and influential people, think that the solution to Congo’s weakness is to plea with its neighbors not to prey on it. I disagree. I believe that the best solution ought to be the strengthening of Congo so it can deter its neighbors. The international community just wasted a good opportunity to force a cornered Kabila to agree on a peace deal that is self-enforcing, i.e., that reflects the power balance in eastern Congo.

As things stand the continuation of the power vacuum in the Kivus will continue to attract rebels, foreign-sponsored or not.

More on this here.

Also here is a  glimpse of some of the actions by Kabila and his Kinshasa cabal which make it extremely unlikely that the situation in Congo will improve under his rule.

Is this the beginning of the Third Congo War?

Yesterday Goma fell to the M23, a rebel group in eastern DRC with alleged links to both Rwanda and Uganda. The fall of Goma increases the likelihood of an all out war in eastern Congo that might quickly degenerate into a regional war – just like the Second Congo War was (for more on why peace failed see this ICG report).

I am on record as lacking any sympathies for the Kinshasa regime under Joseph Kabila (see here, here, and here). The horrendous situation in eastern DRC is as much his fault as it is of the alleged meddlers from Kampala and Kigali. The fact that the international community has taken to viewing the conflict as primarily regional is a mistake as it masks Kabila’s own failings in improving governance in the eastern DRC . It also gives him a chance to continue free riding on MONUSCO’s presence in the region.

Sadly, the international community appears set to waste this latest crisis by issuing statements and imposing sanctions which will only tackle the symptoms rather than the real problems behind the conflict. As the ICG argues:

If international donors and African mediators persist in managing the crisis rather than solving it, it will be impossible to avoid such repetitive cycles of rebellions in the Kivus and the risk of large-scale violence will remain. Instead, to finally resolve this conflict, it is essential that Rwanda ends its involvement in Congolese affairs and that the reconstruction plan and the political agreements signed in the Kivus are properly implemented.
For these things to happen Western donors should maintain aid suspension against Rwanda until the release of the next report of the UN group of experts, in addition to issuing a clear warning to the Congolese authorities that they will not provide funding for stabilisation and institutional support until the government improves political dialogue and governance in both the administration and in the army in the east, as recommended by Crisis Group on several previous occasions.
Over at Congo Siasa, the DRC expert Jason Stearns offers some preliminary thoughts on M23′s endgame:
In the past, I have speculated that it will be difficult for the M23 to conquer and hold territory, mostly due to their lack of manpower, which started off at around 400-700 and is probably around 1,500-2,500 now. They have been able to rely on Rwandan (and, to a lesser degree, Ugandan) firepower for operations close to the border (in particular Bunagana and Rutshuru, allegedly also this recent offensive), the farther into the interior they get, they harder it will be to mask outside involvement.
Alliances with other groups­­––Sheka, Raia Mutomboki, FDC, etc.––have acted as force multipliers, but have been very fickle, as the surrender of Col Albert Kahasha last week proved. From this perspective, the M23 strategy could well be more to nettle the government, underscore its ineptitude, and hope that it will collapse from within.
However, the recent offensive on Goma has made me consider another, bolder alternative. If the rebels take Goma, thereby humiliating the UN and the Congolese army, they will present the international community with a fait accompli. Yes, it will shine a sharp light on Rwandan involvement, but Kigali has been undeterred by donor pressure thus far, and has been emboldened by its seat on the Security Council. Also, as the looting by the Congolese army and their distribution of weapons to youths in Goma has shown, the battle for Goma is as much of a PR disaster for Kinshasa as for Kigali.

Uganda is Not Spain

The Ugandan cyberspace went abuzz (see this, this, and this, for instance) following Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy’s quip a few days ago that Spain is not Uganda. Many commentators lamented at the implicit disdain that the Spanish Premier had for Uganda. Few, however, paused to consider why it is that Uganda is the country that first came to mind when Mr. Rajoy needed a representative state that did not have its sh*t together.

One exception is Daniel K. Kalinaki of the Uganda Monitor who tries to grapple with some of the difficult questions that many have skirted when reacting to Mr. Rajoy’s unfortunate comments:

“As far as making comparisons between the sizes of the two economies and their place in the world, Rajoy was speaking the truth, brutal as it might sound to our patriotic ears. The world would notice if Spain became bankrupt because of the size of its economy, which is several times bigger than ours, and its more central place in the international economy.

……..I am concerned about the ill-advised rants by foreign leaders such as Rajoy. I am concerned about the snide references, from James Bond movies to American TV series, of Uganda as a war-plagued basket case. I am also concerned about the misrepresentation by opportunistic do-gooders like Jason Blair and his Invisible Children.

………… We gloss over newspaper stories that speak to the modern-day horrors of parents tying their ill children to trees because there is no proper medical care available for them from a government that spends Shs350 billion a year in sending its officials and cronies to foreign hospitals. Where is the outrage over that?

……. I am proud to defend my country when our honour and genuine achievements are disparaged, but I am unable to find it within myself to ride the bandwagon of empty, predictable navel-gazing, played to a cyber gallery, while ignoring the potholed boulevard of our broken dreams.”

More on this here.

Africa’s Singapore or Uganda waiting to happen?

Yet Rwanda has one huge advantage: the rule of law. No African country has done more to curb corruption. Ministers have been jailed for it. Transparency International, a watchdog, reckons Rwanda is less graft-ridden than Greece or Italy (though companies owned by the ruling party play an outsized role in the economy). “I have never paid a bribe and I don’t know anyone who has had to pay a bribe,” says Josh Ruxin, one of the owners of Heaven, a restaurant in Kigali, the capital.

The country is blessedly free of red tape, too. It ranks 45th in the World Bank’s index of the ease of doing business, above any African nation bar South Africa and Mauritius. Registering a firm takes three days and is dirt cheap. Property rights are strengthening, as well—the government is giving peasants formal title to their land.

That is the Economist on Rwanda. I remain cautiously optimistic about Kagame’s brand of effective authoritarianism. I just hope that he will not be tempted to degenerate into the Musevenis of this world.