12 December 2012

Uganda: Why Museveni Visited Russia

President Museveni has been in Russia on a four-day working visit.

On Monday, he was given Russia's highest public award for being one of the eminent military-political leaders in Africa. Yesterday, Museveni was expected to meet Russian president Vladimir Putin to seal a number of business deals.

So, why did Museveni visit the Kremlin at the time when he had just appointed Brig Paul Lokech, a fast-rising army officer, as envoy to Moscow? Edris Kiggundu and Emma Mutaizibwa explore the question.

Diplomatic ties

At the peak of the Cold War, Uganda enjoyed a healthy relationship with the Soviet Union (now Russia). Although President Museveni has since become a darling of the West, especially America and Europe, he keeps a very good relationship with rising powers such as Russia and China in a delicate diplomatic balancing act that he has mastered over the last 26 years. Museveni is now in Moscow, partly to cement this diplomatic relationship.

Arms trade

Russia has of late become Uganda's most significant partner in the arms trade. Last year, the army purchased six fighter jets from Russia at $744m. The deal raised controversy, given the large sums involved and the fact that the money was obtained from Bank of Uganda without proper approval. Before this visit, there were reports that Uganda could secure more jets from Russia.

Speaking in Moscow on Monday, Museveni said Uganda is working towards building its own arms industry and that Russia is willing to support it. Museveni recently appointed Brigadier Paul Lokech, a fast-rising army officer who helped pacify volatile Mogadishu, as military attaché to Uganda's embassy in Moscow. This could be a strong indication that Uganda is intent on strengthening this military cooperation with the Kremlin.

According to Russian news agency, Ria Novotsi, President Vladimir Putin met his Ugandan counterpart yesterday to discuss trade and economic cooperation, the Kremlin press office reported.

Oil deals

Russia is one of the largest producers of oil in the world while Uganda is still struggling to have hers exploited. Since Uganda discovered oil, it has become a magnet for foreign investors. A statement posted on the official website of the Office of the President of Russia on Monday said the two leaders would hold one-on-one talks that would centre on trade, oil and other issues.

"The parties will explore opportunities for expanding bilateral cooperation in trade, economy, oil, gas and electricity sectors, as well as other areas," the statement said.

The oil deposits in the Albertine graben region are estimated to be about 3.5 billion barrels. Uganda is desperate for partners to help it build a refinery, which Western funders might be reluctant to do given the doubts over its viability. On the other hand, Russia's largest independent crude producer LUKoil has expressed interest in oil and gas exploration, production and refining in Uganda.

Get back at the West

Frustrated with what he sees as the arrogance and know-it-all attitude of Western countries, Museveni has found satisfaction in the ability of Russia and China (both permanent members of the UN security council) to provide some checks to America and Europe's excesses.

He prefers their non-interventionist approach to the West's interference. Museveni is using the trip to Moscow to emphasize the point that he has wide options. His language told it all as he blasted the Western countries, accusing them of arrogance and imperialist tendencies while dealing with the developing world.

Citing last year's attack on Libya that toppled his friend Col Muammar Gaddafi, Museveni said Africa was taken by surprise as it did not expect such brazen actions.

"It is unfortunate that the Soviet Union had problems when we needed each other most. However, Russia has recovered. Let us resume where we left off. We salute the stand of Russia and China in opposing hegemony and imperialist practices. Progressive forces in Africa, working with Russia, China, Brazil, etc., have the capacity to contribute to world peace," Museveni said.

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