When UN report on Congo was first leaked in July 2012, Uganda’s support for M23 was largely ignored. So it appeared like Kampala had gotten away with as the world attention was drawn to Rwanda’s involvement and support for M23. Neither did we hear of the role of Kabila in this conflict.
Following the leak, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in August came to Uganda and met president Museveni.
In the wake of the M23 military advances, the AU summit tasked the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) to look at the renewed Congo conflict. President Museveni offered to broker the talks between government and M23 rebels, the offer which President Kabila’s government was against. Nonetheless Uganda hosted three summits.
Three months down the road, it was revealed that Uganda has not been a spectator as M23, a group of former fighters from CNDP- an ethnic Tutsi rebel movement, marched taking over territory with much more advanced arms.
Who are M23?
The report says Bosco Ntaganda, a former Congolese general nicknamed the Terminator, who is wanted by the international criminal court, controls the rebellion on the ground while Sultani Makenga is in charge of operations.
M23 fighters had been folded into the army three years ago but they walked out and started the fresh fighting “to force the government to honor its agreement.”
There are concerns that M23 advancement might not just destabilize only North Kivu province but also the situation in South Kivu. More than 320,000 people displaced from their homes in North Kivu province since the M23 mutiny started in April 2012 according to the UN.
First the Ugandan army dismissed the allegations as baseless. Then yesterday the Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi announced that Uganda would withdraw from all peacekeeping missions in the region.
Many Ugandans took this reaction simply as political posturing. Uganda has the highest number of troops in African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) so it is one mission that could be devastated.
Question what is Uganda to lose if it walks out on years of AU and UN investment in Somalia?
With over 5000 troops in Somalia and some recent gains on ground and in international praise, President Yoweri Museveni increased his importance not only to the region but also to international community. In fact to many Ugandans perceive Museveni’s strengthened regional deployments matter much to international community than internal democratic struggles.
By bringing his troops home, he will loose the regional muscle and more attention would come to internal political situation. This could be a good or bad thing knowing the danger of a redundant military deploying on our western border with DRC.
For the Somalia people this would be devastating but it also provides a lesson to African Union, the danger of trusting one country with peacekeeping in Somalia.
There had already been bickering between Kenya and Uganda as minister in Kenya put the numbers of dead Ugandan soldiers in Somalia since 2007 at 2700. Kenya tried to kick its rival where it hurts. The Ugandan army has been secretive and dishonest about the deaths of soldiers serving under AMISOM so this gave Kenyans a room to speculate.
With this bickering coupled with UN report, the Uganda government felt it could put out a strong statement.
But withdrawing from Somalia would be defeatist and sheer use of Somali people’s security as a bargaining chip for Museveni and his government.
When Uganda’s ambassador to Rwanda Richard Kabonero in a tweet seemed to suggest Uganda has accomplished its Somalia mission: “I dont why people are linking Somalia withdraw to GOE allegations question is did the UPDF accomplish its mission? and its a YES.”
I put it to him that Uganda had not gone to Somalia in order to please the UN – or we were duped? We never even saw our parliament discuss the deployment but we were told it was because a threat to Somalia was also a threat to Ugandans. So wonder I if Uganda withdrawing troops because of a UN report of Congo is supposed to make us more secure?
Here is the statement by Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi which cries foul and lack of recognition of Uganda’s efforts to regional peace. You would think the government were robbed at awards for regional peacemakers!
The announcement to withdraw comes at a time when UN is set to negotiate a renewal of AMISOM mandate in the coming week. Could this be a threat that is supposed to give Museveni’s government an edge to deal with Kenya but also bargain that ‘the malicious accusations’ on Congo be withdrawn?
One Ugandan Enid Edroma had an interesting reaction:
“So Uganda will quit Somalia and DRC because of baseless and malicious allegations…. Clearly Uganda is not Ugandan enough… Who quits because of baseless and malicious allegations?? She, (Uganda that is) should learn from its numerous ministers who do not resign because of baseless and malicious allegations of corruption !!”
For now many think it is just political games but if Museveni went ahead to withdraw the troops, the impact will not only be limited to Somalia. This would be another clear failure of the AU to resolve a conflict. But most likely this is President Museveni knowing he positioned himself strategically in the region and he knows if he quits there’s a price to pay – unfortunately by civillians and somehow i don’t the UN and other international actors allowing this to happen. He’s still their main man on Somalia. Time will tell!