Conflicts provide opportunity for Western meddling
The United States is using the war in Somalia and other conflicts in East Africa as an opportunity to increase its military presence and involvement within the region, all in the name of “pacifying” and “stabilising” it.
A short while after Uganda announced discovery of oil, the US provided a contingent of 100 commandos to assist Uganda in combating the Lord Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony.
The Lord’s Resistance Army has committed atrocities since the 1980s, leaving tens of thousands displaced not only in northern Uganda, but also in the Central African Republic, the DRC and in southwest of South Sudan.
While some South Sudanese, Ugandans and other East Africans where full of praise for the American “goodwill”, many like Samuel Ssebikari, a second-year Law student at Uganda Christian University, wondered why after over 20 years of LRA rebellion the United States suddenly decided to offer a hand, especially after oil had been discovered in Uganda.
The LRA activities have allowed the US to deploy its spy planes disguised as private passenger planes, based at Entebbe International Airport in Uganda.
The Washington Post reports that the US is outsourcing spy operation aircraft disguised as passenger aircraft from American companies.
The private contractors are given the task to fly aircraft on spy missions to gather intelligence over Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the DRC, all under the dubious claim of fighting terrorism.
At the height of LRA raids against civilians in 2009, a delegation from the South Sudan state of Western Equatoria requested that the government of South Sudan arm civilians against the rebel movement, a request that the government declined.
A joint force from South Sudan, the DRC and Uganda embarked on Operation Thunderbolt against the LRA without Western assistance and it was after this expedition that much of the LRA activities shifted to the Central African Republic.
Generally though, countries in the East African region are reluctant to intervene in any conflict unless they are directly affected.
For instance, Kenya only sent troops to Somalia after al-Shabaab elements had abducted tourists in Kenya hence affecting Kenyan tourism, which is a major contributor to that country’s GDP.
Critics of President Yoweri Museveni, like Andrew Mwenda the managing editor of the Independent magazine in Uganda, says Museveni’s Somalia project seems to have been influenced by a political calculation regarding his relations with America rather than a Pan African agenda.
Museveni critics say Uganda entered the Somalia conflict so that he could remain a darling in Western eyes. As such, these critics say Uganda is fighting a proxy war on behalf of the United States, which suffered defeat in Somalia in the 1990s.
However, on multiple occasions President Museveni has defended Uganda’s involvement in Somalia saying Ugandan troops have been deployed in the interests of regional stability and Pan Africanism.
Despite collaborating with the US military concerning the issue of the Lord’s Resistance Army at home and in Somalia, Museveni in a speech at the 2012 Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Iran criticised Western military intervention in Africa saying:
“At this very moment, the former imperialist countries are exhibiting new ambitions of re-establishing hegemony over the Third Word – Africa, the Middle East, etc.
There are plans of new military bases around the globe. Military bases to fight whom and why?”
Somalia’s northern neighbour Ethiopia has received millions in aid from the US hence has allowed America to establish a base in the south close to Somalia.
The Americans say the bases have been set up to attack al-Shabaab in Somalia and bring stability to the region.
But critics like Glen Ford in his article for Black Agenda Report (“Somalia Recolonised – with African Help) say America simply is in Somalia not because of Al-Shabaab, but because Somalia has plenty of oil. As such, the African countries that collaborate with America in Somalia are simply helping in the recolonisation of Africa.
Late last month the US Africa Command head, General Carter F Ham, was accused of pressuring the ruling TPLF to appoint Dessaelgn Hailemariam as Prime Minister after the death of Meles Zenawi. Naturally, the US Africa Command denies the allegations.
Other than Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Burundi, the rest of East Africa has stayed away from sending troops to Somalia.
In August 2011 South Sudan promised 3 000 troops to contribute to the AU peacekeeping force in Somalia.
However, the country has been suffering from internal upheavals such as the recent Yau Yau rebellion in the northern part of South Sudan as well as some LRA activities in the southwestern parts.
Deng Alor Kuol, South Sudan's former Foreign Affairs Minister, defended Juba’s decision saying South Sudan was prepared to bolster the force as a sign of its commitment to peace in Africa,
• Tendai Mbofana is based in Juba, South Sudan and he wrote this article for The Southern Times.