12 November 2012

East Africa: Is Uganda Really Set to Withdraw Troops From Somalia?


Uganda has threatened to withdraw its forces from a number of peacekeeping missions including the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Currently, the country provides the largest contingent to Somalia and has been key to the successes of the mission in its efforts to extend security beyond Mogadishu.

This threat follows allegations of Uganda's support for the M23 rebellion in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which came to light from a leaked version of the United Nations Group of Experts report on the DRC.

Apart from Somalia, Ugandan troops are also active in the Central African Republic (CAR) and DRC where they are involved in efforts aimed at hunting down Joseph Kony of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

After Uganda's threat of its intentions to pull out of Somalia, a number of concerns and questions have been raised. Currently, Somalia is at a crossroad between progress and relapse and an untimely withdrawal from AMISOM without commensurate replacement would threaten the consolidation of the progress made and the execution of the task ahead. The chances that the achievements of the AU mission will be reversed if Uganda withdraws, without replacement, are high.

Another key concern of such a move is its implications for Uganda's record as a key player in the quest for peace in the region and contribution to international peace and security. Apart from the fact that Uganda also gains from troop contributions in the form of military aid, the country has through its commitment to peace in Somalia, earned itself respect, in some circles, as an important peace-broker acting in search of peace in the region motivated by the spirit of African brotherhood. However, the troop pullout pronouncements, have raised questions about the country's role in Somalia being Somali-centred or informed by self-interest and the search for recognition of relevance.

On the other hand, the threat could be, and does appear to be, a political strategy to highlight the contributions Uganda is making to international peace and security without the country actually intending to pull out. It is clear that it will be extremely difficult for the international community to allow such a threat to be followed through since it will come at a cost.

Whilst Uganda might want to lobby to make its intentions known, it is expected that a great deal of diplomatic pressure will be brought to bear to preclude the country's threat to withdraw troops, at least for the moment. Last week's visit to the region by Ambassador Wendy Sherman, Under Secretary for Political Affairs in the United States Department of State, is thus being seen as part of moves to try and dissuade Uganda from recalling its troops, as threatened.

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