OPINION– The cold war was almost over when the National Resistance Army took power in 1986. From its ashes, a new old ideology was being reborn and its spectre darkened the triumphal atmosphere. The adherents of militant Islam had dreams of empire. They were bound together not by citizenship, but by a common creed and a violent conception of justice and honour.
Militant islamists had their own schools, hospitals and charities, their own courts and systems of trade, their own ways of choosing leaders, their own customs on gender and sexual behaviour, and their own militias.
The focus of militant islamist hatred was America and her allies; their support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine; their military presence on the soil of Muslim nations; and their decadent culture which fostered complacency about all the above.
For its devotees, militant Islam seemed like a cure for a fractured world where the interests of the poor and weak were trampled by American might and greed. For Washington, this movement, responsible for ever-bloodier terrorist attacks against Western and Israeli targets, posed a security conundrum.
The terrorists did not come from a world they knew, in which monolithic enemies with clear ideologies faced each other, with enormous weapons that are seldom used. These new enemies were not represented by states; they were everywhere and nowhere, and their weapons were deadly, portable, and used without hesitation.
In order to confront this new threat, Washington’s security chiefs designated two types of enemy: state sponsors of terror – nations whose governments provided sanctuary to terrorist groups – and failed states.
As in the cold war, proxy armies would be needed. Officially, US policymakers would say Africans needed to fight their own battles; in reality Africans would be fighting American wars. Located between Congo with its enormous mineral wealth and East Africa’s Muslim fringe, predominantly christian Uganda occupied a crucial geostrategic position. Its leader Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was a brilliant military strategist, whose ragtag rebel group had famously toppled Uganda’s much stronger national army.
Ugandan troops have since served as a doorstop against what America saw as potential militant Islamic advances across Africa, with troops at one time or another in Rwanda and Congo where they removed regimes, in Somalia and Central African Republic, and in Sudan which was later divided to bring forth South Sudan. All this was done under massive support of the United States; financial, material or otherwise.
The United States provides over $970 millions to Uganda every year, supporting the military, the education and health sectors and other areas. In turn, Uganda has helped in quelling terrorism. Thousands of Ugandans have even served as guards on American bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Uganda is also home to almost 1.5 million refugees, the largest such number anywhere in the world.
In the simplest terms, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and his armed forces have been the implementors of American foreign policy in East and Central Africa, while America has perpetuated the Museveni Regime for over 35 years.
The only obstacle in this affair is the ever growing concern over the regime’s human rights violations. From torture to state-sponsored terror, to excessive force against protessts, abductions of opposition supporters, and the overall shrinking space for free expression. The West now seems to be stepping up the pressure on Gen Museveni and his men to clean up.
This has been underlined by seizure of property in the US of some regime operatives, and the imposition of visa restrictions for Ugandan individuals found to be responsible for election related violence or undermining the democratic process.
What’s yet to be seen, though, is a systematic change in the American foreign policy in relation to Uganda, especially now that Museveni has started his 6th term in office. Will there be a stop in the funding of Uganda’s military operations? Will the United States slap economic and other sanctions on Uganda?
What then will be the fate of what has largely been Uganda’s implementation of America’s foreign policy in the region, much to the United States’ advantage? Is there a new guarantor of the West’s interests that America is willing to do away with Museveni? Let’s watch the space.
The Writer is Seith Kangume Barigye.A commentator on strategic social and political issues.