Debating Sending Ugandan Troops to Somalia

My friend and colleague, Peter Quaranto, coordinator of Uganda-CAN, responds to my post supporting the decision to send Ugandan troops to help lead a peace keeping force in Somalia:

"I think you're right that a stable Somalia is good for the region, but I disagree with the rest of your analysis. The decision in Kampala to send peacekeepers seems to me less about achieving stability and more about geopolitics, especially US-driven geopolitics. The US is interested less in a stable Somalia and more in a Somalia in which political power is not consolidated by Islamists unfavorable to US interests.

Further, the peacekeeping mission as currently designed has a nearly impossible task and will likely face guerrilla tactics of the Courts who see them as invaders and foot soldiers for US-Ethiopian interests. Unless EU recommendations for an open, transparent political process are incorporated, I think the PKO is likely to fail. Kampala is eager to play a role to solidify its relationship with Ethiopia and the US (and as a growing regional leader), not primarily for the good of Somalia.

Finally, I agree with you that the 'military solution' has failed northern Uganda, but what about the UPDF being deployed to provide security for IDPs to begin to return home? The reason IDPs are remaining in the camps is that they don't trust the GoU to protect them (for good reason given the history). What sort of gesture is it to northerners when Museveni is sending peacekeepers across the continent but seems unwilling to fully commit necessary UPDF needed to secure the north?"

First, I agree with Peter that geopolitical posturing was a major part of the Ugandan decision to send troops to Somalia. In the month leading up to the decision, the Uganda Minister of Foreign Affairs met with Secretary of State Rice in Washington and President Museveni received a call from President Bush. However, a realist foreign policy approach can have several merits. In this case, its clear that an unstable Mogadishu will help continue the steady flow of small arms to the conflict areas in East Africa.

The more frightening theory says the Bush administration looked the other way on northern Uganda in order to give incentive to the Ugandan Government to help in Somalia. If this is the case (and it is only one theory, the State Department has been mute on this point), I am deeply distressed and disappointed because the Americans could have made a serious impact on the stalled northern Uganda peace talks in Juba.

I disagree with Peter that the peacekeeping mission is designed as a nearly impossible task. A coalition of African nations will surely be met with more civilian support in Mogadishu compared to the Ethiopians, who are seen as imperialist, Christian crusaders. Yet I do believe that the AU force will fail if it begins with inadequate troop levels. The force, which now has contributions from Uganda, Malawi, Nigeria, Ghana and Burundi, is still only at half its UN-mandated 8,000 troop level. We all know what happens when a counter insurgency force does not have enough troops to keep the peace. One analyst even said it out loud: "We have a Baghdad in Somalia, and it's only the beginning."

Regarding Peter's last point, I continue to argue that the UPDF should be fazed out of the picture in northern Uganda. The relationship between the UPDF and the people of northern Uganda is not going to be fixed over night. In the short term, I believe the emphasis should be on the Uganda Police to fulfill their duty to ensure domestic security in northern Uganda, encouraging the region to return to normal livelihood. At this point, an increased UPDF presence will decrease, not increase, the prospects for peace.

Note: This week Peter moderated a Washington Post Global Blog on Achieving Peace in Uganda. Debates like this are crucial because none of the NGO reports or books out there really address the situation as it has developed in the last six months. Good work, Peter.

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