Michael Pelletier, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Democracy for the Africa Bureau has told The Independent that President Yoweri Museveni's role in finding African solutions for African problems is becoming globally recognised.
As a result, Pelletier while on a visit in Kampala on March 7 said, the U.S. is increasingly getting persuaded that the international community needs to work more with African leaders like Museveni to find solutions to African problems such as that in the DR Congo.
I think Ugandans have seen suffering, Ugandans have known suffering; they know the cost of instability. And so you know the importance of finding a peaceful solution to that problem. It is an incredibly rich region and millions of people are dying and that is not right," he said.
Pelletier who had visited Uganda for the Apps4Africa closing ceremony was responding to questions from journalists at the American Embassy in Kampala. This was a few weeks after a Malian delegation visited Kampala and sparked speculation that Uganda might contribute troops to battle rebels in that war-torn West African country. If that happens, the UPDF will have expanded its military footprint on the continent to a record 10 countries. Uganda already has soldiers in Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and the Central African Republic (CAR).
Since January 2012, Mali has been wracked by military conflict pitting the government against Islamic secession forces. The Taureg-led rebellion linked to the al Qaeda terrorist organisation had captured most of northern Mali until January this year when French forces intervened and flushed them out.
In a February interview with the BBC, President Museveni hailed the French for rescuing Mali and castigated regional armies for failing to deal with the rebels by themselves.
Mali's Foreign Affairs minister, Tieman Coulibaly visited Museveni in February to update him on the situation and solicit his support in purging the country of the Islamic extremists.
Although officials remain cagey about the details, observers are calculating the implications of Uganda deploying in Mali which is thousands of miles away.
Museveni has played direct and indirect roles in pacifying over nine countries--Rwanda, Burundi, DRC, CAR, Southern Sudan. He has contributed peacekeepers under UN peace missions to Liberia, Darfur, Cote de' Ivore and East Timor. As of September last year, Uganda's peacekeepers under UN totaled 47.
His regional and continental clout is increasingly being felt as he chairs two regional trading blocs; the East African Community (EAC), the Common Market of East and South Africa (COMESA) and a regional security outfit, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR).
Joseph Dube, the Africa coordinator for the International Action Network on Small Arms told The Independent last year that Museveni's regional interventionist stance is typical of countries wishing to exhibit power.
Apart from increasing expenditure on arms, he said, they exhibit power by showing that they are able to defend and engage not only in their backyard but in peace missions on the continent. In 2011, Uganda's military expenditure hit US$1.02 billion.
Museveni is not shy about aspiring to have a big army. He also knows, however, that that has its costs. Military officials unofficially put the UPDF strength at about 55,000 officers and men. It is not clear if that includes the over 6,700 routinely moving in and out of Somalia and the estimated 2000 involved in CAR and the DRC. Usually, some of the men deployed on such mission are called up from the so-called Reserve Force. Led by Maj. Gen Levi Karuhanga, this force alone is said to comprise over 10,000 battle-hardened soldiers-- Karuhanga was the first Commander of Amison.
Based on this arrangement, military experts note, the huge Reserve Force, which is effective the third arm of the UPDF after the land forces and the air force, Museveni needs to keep it busy and productive. Peace missions abroad provide additional pay, war-footing experience, and opportunities for promotions for the troops involved.
While announcing his bid for the Presidency of the United Nations General Assembly for the Session 2014-2015, Foreign Affairs Minister, Sam Kutesa noted that this was part of the country's strategy to "enhance the country's Foreign Policy strategic objectives and visibility".
He also announced how Uganda is competing with Egypt to host the African Union Centre for Post Conflict Reconstruction and Development adding that membership to such bodies provides Uganda with an opportunity to play a constructive role at continental level in conflict prevention, management and resolution.
Commenting on the likelihood of the UPDF being deployed in Mali, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Okello Oryem told The Independent, "The Malian foreign affairs minister was here to solicit President Museveni's support. You know Uganda is now a member the African Union Peace and Security Council and the AU resolved to send peace keepers to Mali."
He added that it was mainly the West African countries that are more likely to contribute troops to Mali. "Uganda can only contribute if it is asked to," Oryem added.
It would, therefore, seem unlikely that the UPDF will be involved in Mali because in West Africa, that country is closer to countries that dwarf Uganda's military muscle.
But Uganda's decisive role in flushing the terrorist group al Shabaab out of Mogadishu in Somalia, might prove attractive for any planners of the Malian intervention because of the common element of Islamic militants with links to al Qaeda. It all underscores President Museveni's influence in pacifying the continent that experts, diplomats, and regional analysts contend has been growing.
Michael Pelletier is the latest in a long list of American diplomats to speak positively on Museveni's role in finding African solutions for African solutions.
His former boss, Hillary Clinton, while serving as the US Secretary of State, during her 10-day Africa tour, hailed Uganda for the role in promoting regional security. US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman had also been in Uganda to among others extend the U.S's appreciation for the peacekeeping efforts.
When Museveni boldly dispatched forces to Somalia in 2007 under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), pundits predicted the project was at the very minimum suicidal. How could an African force expect different results from a country where America, the biggest global military power, had failed?
That is why when AMISOM, to which Uganda contributes over 6,700 troops, pounded the Islamist extremists, al Shabaab out of their hideouts, pacifying Mogadishu and large swaths of Somalia, they became the signature flagship of the African solutions for African problems narrative that is gaining more momentum.
Uganda also contributes the bulk of the 2,000 troops to the African Union Task Force to hunt down the Lord's Resistance Army in the Central Africa Republic (CAR) and the DRC. Since Islamist extremists seized a huge part of northern Mali last year spawning mayhem and attempting to impose strict Sharia law on the citizens, Mali became Africa's biggest crisis. Then France intervened militarily to block the extremists from advancing further south and recapturing some of the areas from the rebels.
But with the French forces leaving, the AU has been pre-occupied with how to resolve that situation militarily. The UN Security Council on December 20 last year, through Resolution 2085, authourised the deployment of an African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA). The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has since committed a few thousand soldiers but has not deployed.
The mission that has attracted forces from Chad, Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Burundi and Sierra Leone among others is already behind schedule as it was supposed to kick off in September 2012.
When the French bypassed the indecisive ECOWAS force, which was stalling mainly because the international community is reluctant to fund it, the view is emerging that ECOWAS state armies lack training and resolve to fight compared to their well-armed and determined Islamists adversary.
Nigeria, which is supposed to lead AFISMA, is struggling to deal with Boko Haram--another al Qaeda Islamist-linked group operating in its backyard.
The UPDF might be from a smaller and poorer country compared to some of the ECOWAS members but its success in Somalia has showed that it has a tough kick when it puts boots on the ground.
"Mali appreciates our successful missions in Somalia, Central African Republic, Burundi and others. They want our support because of that regional influence," is how State Minister Oryem put it.
The Mali mission, reports indicate, requires air power including 10 helicopters, four airplanes for logistics and reconnaissance, an 8000-strong force and about a billion US dollars. Already, the mission has attracted about US$ 500 million in pledges from the US, Japan, France, and Germany among others.
The logistics side of military intervention is usually shrouded in secrecy. In Somalia, Uganda has been cashing in on the Contingent Owned Equipment (COE) or reimbursement for the equipment used in the missions and other costs of troops and self-sustainment. The country did not deploy soldiers only but also some of its tanks, other heavy guns and had deployed choppers too but they crushed en route to Somalia last year.
Informed estimates indicate the UPDF takes up about a third of the over US$400 million AMISON budget. Peacekeeping missions like these have heavy budgets. According to a book, Crafting an African Security Strategy: Addressing Peace and Conflict in the 21st Century, By Hane Besada, in 2007, the AU received 400 million Euros for peacekeeping and capacity building efforts and this was renewed with another 300 million Euros in 2008.
In Uganda's case, its involvement in Somalia has also led to increased goodwill from donors who currently fund about 18 percent of Uganda's defense budget. Apart from the lot the US, the Chinese Defence Minister Liang Guangile paid Uganda a five-day visit holding meetings with the UPDF top brass, the Prime Minister and President Museveni before he pledged more than US$2.3 million to support the UPDF.
Uganda is also the sole partner of the European Union Training Mission in Somalia (EUTM-Somalia), a mission that has trained about 3000 Somali forces at Bihanga in western Uganda. This comes with a lot of benefits. And when he paid a visit to Russia, he was honored with "the highest public award order of valour, honour and glory as one of the eminent military-political leaders of Africa".
Table showing Uganda's contribution to UN Peace keeping Missions:
Mission Country Description No. of Staff
UNAMID Dafur Experts on Mission 11
UNMIL Liberia Individual Police 14
UNMISS South Sudan Individual Police 12
UNMIT East Timo Individual Police 13
UNOCI Cote d'ivoire Experts on Mission Contigent Troop 7
Total Staff 47
Money and pips aside, when an investigative report by the UN Group of Experts accused Uganda and Rwanda of allegedly backing the M23 rebel fighter in the DRC, the US, Britain and other donors moved swiftly to cut aid to Rwanda but were reluctant to act on Uganda.
Part of the explanation is that Uganda pulled its regional security clout and threatened to pull out of all peacekeeping missions.
Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi while addressing parliament at the time rhetorically asked: "Why should we continue involving Uganda where the only reward we get is to be maligned? Why should the children of Ugandans die and we get maligned as a reward? Why should we invite retaliation by the al-Shabaab by standing with the people of Somalia, only to get maligned by the UN system?"
He added: "Since there are actors in the UN who are not able to understand that there can be principled actors in Africa and who think that all actors are looking for minerals like the imperialists did, we have now decided, after due consultations with our African brothers in the AU and ICGLR, to completely withdraw from regional peace efforts."
Uganda also dispatched former UN ambassador, Ruhakana Ruganda to carry the notice to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
For now, Army Spokesperson, Felix Kulayigye told The Independent, the UPDF deploying in Mali is not on the cards but even if it happens, it will be after a lot of discussions. But the same Kulayigye previously told The Independent that UPDF is keen on becoming the "leading contributors to peace in the region and the continent".
Uganda's contribution to AU Peace keeping Missions:
Mission Country Force strength
AMISOM Somalia 6700
AU force to hunt for Kony DRC & CAR 2000
Total Force 8700