The Prime Minister of Uganda, Amama Mbabazi (a high school alumni of mine…but that’s a story for another day) last week read the United Nations the Riot Act, asking why “should we (the Ugandan Government) 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 reaction came in the wake of the leak of the final report by Steve Hege and the rest of the ‘experts’ comprising the UN Group of Experts on DRC. The report accuses Uganda (and Rwanda, of course) of supporting M23 in the form of direct troop reinforcement in DRC territory, weapon deliveries, technical assistance, joint planning, political advice and facilitation of external relations. The team also claim that units of the UPDF and the Rwanda Defence Forces jointly supported M23 in a series of attacks in July, 2012 to take over major towns in Rutshuru.
The Ugandans were particularly aggrieved by the fact that the Group of Experts (GoE) choose not to
speak to them and get their side of the story, a discourtesy that Rwanda only knew too well. While Rwanda’s hands were effectively tied by the UN Security Council nomination, and therefore couldn’t counter the charges as robustly as it probably wished, Uganda had no such qualms. Taking a page from Rwanda’s playbook (Rwanda threatened to recall its troops from Darfur, Haiti and Sierra Leone unless the UN Mapping Report, which effectively accused Rwanda of committing genocide in the DRC in the 90’s), it played its trump card. It’s vowed to withdraw its 5,700 troops presently stationed in Mogadishu and its environs.
This decisive action caught the UN napping (nothing new there). Backpedaling furiously, the UN official who received Uganda’s official letter of protest, India’s Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, threw Hege and his team under the bus, saying that the “views expressed by the independent experts do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations”.
Instead of understanding the very real frustrations that Uganda (and Rwanda) feels, especially since it’s the head mediator in the ongoing ICGLR diplomatic initatives, certain observers have sought to downplay the hurtfulness of the GoE report and the seriousness of the situation.
Simon Allison, a journalist with the South Africa based magazine Daily Maverick, calls the threat a piece of political theatre. He theorises that, “Uganda is asking the international community to choose between exposing the roots of the conflict in the eastern DRC and maintaining Somalia’s tenuous hold on stability. There’s no doubt that Somalia will win this particular trade-off, especially given America’s heavy investment in a successful outcome there. It seems less likely, however, that Uganda’s involvement in the DRC will be forgotten. If anything, the heavy-handedness of its response – coupled with the evidence in the controversial UN report – suggests that there is some truth to the accusations”.
First of all, anyone who thinks Uganda (or Rwanda for that matter) is at the root of the conflict in the DRC needs to read a few history books. Secondly, to call Uganda’s response ‘heavy-handed’ is a misread of the situation. The Ugandan army, the UPDF, has lost between 83- 2,700+ soldiers in the line of battle depending on your news source, while similar numbers have been injured. Their five-year commitment to Somalia is not to be trifled with. Instead of attempting to blackmail Uganda (it’s a sovereign nation with its own foreign policy) through guilt, perhaps we would be better served to ask ourselves, ‘Why is Uganda so aggrieved by the GoE report that it is willing to leave the guiltless Somali people high and dry?
I doubt that it is because there is truth to the GoE report. If the Report was so wrong about Rwanda, I cannot believe that the Ugandan section is miraculously accurate. I believe that Uganda is tired of being treated like a second-class country. For too long, the international community treated developing nations with arrogance and unfairness. How can they, on one hand, call us peace-builders and essential members of the international community, and then on the other hand, use unaccountable mechanisms to keep us in their pocket. We are left with no choice to push back, in any way we can. Uganda has no need to explain itself; it did what any self-respecting country would do. Just because it’s poor, doesn’t mean it is without any recourse.