President Barack Obama’s decision to send 100 troops into Northern Uganda to help fight the Lord’s Resistance Army has sparked major debate, with contributions coming from sources as diverse as journalist John Pilger, actress Mia Farrow, and even shock jock Rush Limbaugh – not the typical African policy experts. It is being touted by many as an altruistic humanitarian intervention in response to pressure from human rights groups. While the move is commendable, describing it as a humanitarian intervention is a bit generous. This deployment is purely about U.S. strategic interests; an intervention in Uganda based only on the interests of its citizens would look drastically different.
Upon closer review, serious questions could be raised about U.S. intentions. Most notably, why now? The Ugandan government has been asking for help with battling the rebels for at least 20 years, but it has received little assistance. Furthermore, after decades of fighting, the LRA is clearly on its last leg – the LRA crisis tracker reports that the group is currently only about 250 strong.
Secondly, given the size of the American force and the fact that it is intended only to play an advisory role, it is difficult to view this as a “humanitarian intervention.” This new directive does little more than take an activity currently handled by the U.S. Africa Command and transfer it to a new, more high-profile fighting force.
The U.S. is “rebranding” its involvement in Uganda this way in order to cozy up to the Ugandan government as they pursue the usual U.S. strategic objectives: Countering Chinese expansion on the continent, securing access to newly discovered Ugandan oil, and continuing the global war on terror. It is worth noting that previous U.S. military intervention in Uganda aimed at eradicating the LRA was disastrous – that botched attempt resulted in the loss of over 900 innocent lives.
If the U.S. does in fact want to improve the humanitarian situation in Uganda, there are other, more logical, ways to achieve this. The biggest obstacle to the strengthening of Ugandan democracy is not Joseph Kony or the dying LRA, but rather, Ugandan president and close U.S. ally Yoweri Museveni.
American diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks cite his “autocratic tendencies” and his administration’s “pervasive corruption” as threats to the Ugandan success story. Over the last few years, his army has been found liable for human rights violations in the Congo by the International Court of Justice and is currently under investigation for further war crimes reportedly committed in Northern Uganda.
In May, he responded to the peaceful “Walk to Work” protests about rising food prices with a violent crackdown which left many injured, including popular opposition leader Kizza Besigye, whose violent arrest was captured, uploaded on YouTube, and viewed by thousands. Museveni, however, continues to receive millions of dollars in U.S. aid and military assistance.
It is obvious that the U.S. is trying to further increase its influence in Uganda and the region; however, this need not necessarily be a purely selfish endeavor. In addition to ‘fighting’ the LRA, the U.S. can improve the lives of Ugandan citizens and increase stability in the Great Lakes region by using its influence on Museveni. The U.S. could encourage Museveni to reign in the Ugandan People’s Defense Force, allow greater freedom of the press and civil society, reduce the Ugandan presence in the Congo (which exacerbates the world’s worst humanitarian disaster), and guarantee the protection of opposition and minority groups, especially the gay community which has recently come under severe attack from his government. That would be the real humanitarian intervention.
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