An anthropologist's take on Uganda and the Great Lakes region...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Museveni's Military Might

In February, a delegation of senior government officials from Mali visited Kampala, leading to speculation that Uganda may soon commit peacekeeping troops to that country. In December, the UN Security Council voted to create a new international peacekeeping force for the country, the African-led International Support Mission for Somalia (AFISMA), and it is now widely anticipated that Uganda may be looking to play a significant role within that. If Kampala does commit, it will give the Ugandan Army (UPDF) a military footprint in West Africa, in addition to its already extensive presence across large parts of the central and eastern continent.

In May last year, the UPDF and the US Army Africa (USARAF) co-hosted the second biennial African Land Forces Summit (ALFS) in Kampala. The stated aim of the meeting – which brought together army top-brass from 36 African nations – was to foster relationships between national armies, with a view to engendering future military co-operation (for example, in relation to regional security threats). However, for many commentators, the stated purpose of the conference was overshadowed by the symbolism of the event, which appeared to confirm Uganda’s rise as one of the pre-eminent military powers in Africa – something which has been very greatly assisted, in recent years, by US backing – at the same time as signalling future threats to the country (as characterized, in particular, by Sudan’s refusal to attend the summit). As such, it also raised important questions about the UPDF’s future role in Uganda’s own domestic political landscape, and about Kampala’s increasing use of its army as a primary tool of foreign policy, especially in the region.

In recent years, both the size of the UPDF, and the complexity of its organizational structure, have grown significantly. Following a mass recruitment of 9,000 new soldiers in late 2009, in August 2011, the army passed out a further 3,300 new troops, bringing the total number of regular forces to over 55,000. In addition, in March 2012, senior officers recalled 1,700 former soldiers, suggesting that, although the UPDF does not officially have a reserve force, it has greater numbers of men at its disposal than even this total would suggest (some estimated put the UPDF's unofficial reserves at around 10,000). Over the same period, President Museveni (who is also commander-in-chief of the UPDF), has undertaken a series of mass promotions among the UPDF officer class. For example, in January 2011, he promoted 208 middle-ranking officers. This was followed, in late September that year, by the promotion of 9 senior colonels to the rank of brigadier – the group included Museveni’s son, Kainerugaba Muhoozi, and also one woman, Proscovia Nalweyiso – and in April 2012, by the advancement of a further 204 middle ranking officers (most of whom moved from the rank of captain, to that of major).

Moreover, all of this also took place against a backdrop of increased military spending in the country. In a series of reports published from late 2011 onwards, a leading arms-control NGO, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), found that between the periods 2002-2006 and 2007-2011, Uganda’s arms imports increased by 300%. During 2006-11, Kampala imported 38,000 small arms and light weapons (nearly 20% of the total across Africa), whilst in 2011, Uganda’s total defence expenditure exceeded US$1 billion – by far the highest in the region. Certainly, these figures were inflated by Museveni’s 2010 decision to purchase 6 Su-30MK combat aircraft from Russia (which, although they are relatively old technology in global terms, will nevertheless eventually give Uganda one of the most advanced airforces in East and North-east Africa). However, recent reports have suggested that the UPDF’s spending is unlikely to stop there. In particular, rumours persist that the army has already bought, or else is about to buy, a range of new armour (although UPDF commanders have refused to comment on subject, arguing that the details of arms procurement are classified).

This rapid expansion of the UPDF since 2009 primarily reflects the growing role that the army now plays in Uganda’s domestic political landscape. With Museveni increasingly isolated within parliament – following a sustained challenge by a group of younger rebel MPs from within his own ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) – both he and the executive have become ever more reliant on the army as a means for quashing dissent. For example, in early September 2009, the president deployed the UPDF throughout Kampala in order to put down Baganda ethno-nationalist riots. In April 2011, the special forces group (SFG, which are headed by Kainerugaba Muhoozi) were similarly used to bring a series of opposition-led riots under control. And throughout early 2012, the UPDF were again active in relation to opposition leader Kizza Besigye’s ‘Walk to Work’ (W2W) campaigns. Elsewhere, Museveni has also become increasingly dependant upon the military as a means for strengthening state control over Uganda’s troubled Karamoja region (in the North-east of the country, and in which the UPDF’s 3rd and 5th divisions are currently based).

However, it is in relation to Uganda’s nascent oil sector that the president has become most reliant upon the army. From the time that significant oil deposits were discovered in the Lake Albert basin (from 2006 onwards), Museveni and his inner-circle have attempted to control the nascent oil fields by effectively militarizing the entire region in which they are located. Thus, following a series of cross-border skirmishes between the UPDF and the Congolese Army (FARDC), in 2009, Kampala announced construction of a new army base in Kyangwali Sub-county, Hoima District – which when complete, will be one of the biggest military installations in the country. In early 2010, Museveni then handed over security for all of the oil fields to his son’s SFG, whose duties include policing the ‘special permits’ which are now required for anyone – including elected officials – to access local populations. Moreover, the UPDF’s role in the oil sector is likely to expand once production begins in earnest, in a few years' time.

Yet even if Uganda’s current military expansion is driven primarily by domestic concerns, it would not have been possible were it not for Kampala’s commitment to ongoing military operations in Somalia. From the time the current African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) began, in January 2007 – with backing from the UN Security Council – Uganda has provided the lion’s share of troops for the mission, as well as much of its command-and-control structures. Indeed, following al-Shabaab’s bombings in Kampala in July 2010, Uganda has recently increased its overall commitment to the mission, to 8,000 troops.

The key point though is that prior to the UPDF becoming involved in Somalia, Uganda’s overall military expenditure was effectively capped by the donor community. Throughout the late 1990s, and early 2000s, the World Bank and Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID), in particular, put sustained pressure on Museveni and his executive to limit defence spending as a percentage of their overall budget – even in the context of (then) expanding military operations against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in the north of the country. However, following the creation of the AMISOM mission, any such spending limits have effectively been lifted, with the US, the UK and the EU all contributing to the costs of the intervention. The US, in particular, has already spent US $550 million on military training and equipment for the Somalia force, and much of this has gone directly to Uganda. For example, since 2007, American military contractors have operated a training camp for Somalia-bound UPDF troops at Kakola (about 50 miles northeast of Kampala), which in May 2012 passed out 3,500 men. In addition, since 2007, Uganda has received other forms of military support from the US besides (i.e. over and above that which they have received specifically for AMISOM). Most notably, in October 2011, President Obama deployed 100 US Army Special Forces (Green Berets) to assist in the UPDF in their hunt for LRA leader Joseph Kony.

Moreover, all of this has also given Museveni renewed confidence in using the army as a primary means for achieving various of Uganda’s other foreign policy objectives across the region. For example, it has resulted in the Ugandan president reinvigorating the UPDF’s operations in North-eastern Congo and the Southern Central African Republic (CAR) to capture Kony and his men. These operations had been ‘running out of steam’ a little, especially in light of more pressing domestic concerns. However, in the context of Uganda’s renewed military strength – and again, with additional US support – in March last year the UPDF announced that it would form the majority of a new brigade-strong AU force against the LRA. Moreover, following its creation, the new structure almost immediately proved a success, when in May, a UPDF patrol captured a senior LRA commander, Caesar Acellam, near to the DRC-CAR border.
Recent months have also seen a ratcheting-up of the Ugandan government’s rhetoric regarding the current conflict between South Sudan and Sudan. Having supported the Southern People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) from the mid-1980s onwards, Uganda remains a staunch ally of (the now independent) South Sudan, and could thus be expected to be draw into the conflict on Juba’s side. Moreover, this possibility became increasingly real last year, when the Sudanese Ambassador to Uganda Amb Hussein Awadi claimed that Kampala had been providing covert support to rebel groups in Darfur. Reflecting Uganda's new military strength, Kampala's response to these claims has been notably robust. Thus, following the Sudanese Ambassador’s comments, Security Minister Wilson Mukasa refuted the allegations, but also said that Uganda was well capable of repelling a Sudanese attack, and thus had nothing to fear from such an eventuality. Kampala has also been similarly blasé about the possibility of future armed conflict with Egypt over ongoing disputes over ownership and control of water in the River Nile. Indeed, at the time he announced the purchase of the Su-30MK aircraft to his cabinet, Museveni claimed that the new jets would ensure victory over Egypt in the event of any such war.
President Museveni is likely to become increasingly reliant on the UPDF as a tool for quelling domestic opposition in the months and years ahead. He is also likely to deepen their engagement in various theatres of conflict throughout the region, and across the continent. Kenya remains Uganda’s primary ally, and relations between Kigali and Kampala are at an all time high. Therefore armed conflict with either of those states is highly unlikely in the foreseeable future. However, the UPDF’s engagement in North-eastern Congo is likely to continue, and to expand, for many months to come, whilst the potential for renewed conflict with Sudan grows all the time.

1 comment:

  1. Uganda will continue to prevail over all African nations and more so with the help of museveni because he got the experience in war fairs . big up the president for your continous support and protection you have provided to the war torn nations. thnx so much