Enlisting Museveni’s help to solve the refugee crisis is like hiring an arsonist to lead a fire brigade
COMMENT |Helen C. Epstein| When United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres traveled to Uganda in June, his stated mission – to raise billions of dollars for the country’s growing refugee crisis – seemed a noble one. Conflicts in the region have driven more than a million people into Uganda, and the country is feeling the strain.
But what Guterres may not realise, or at least doesn’t publicly acknowledge, is that Uganda’s strongman president, Yoweri Museveni, has instigated or exacerbated many of the conflicts from which the refugees now living in his country have fled. Enlisting Museveni’s help to solve the refugee crisis is like hiring an arsonist to lead a fire brigade.
Roughly half of the refugees now in Uganda are from South Sudan, where a civil war has been raging intermittently since December 2013. The war began when troops under the command of President Salva Kiir began attacking and killing members of the Nuer ethnic group, in the South Sudan capital of Juba. Rebels linked to former Vice President Riek Machar then began attacking members of Kiir’s tribe, the Dinka.
Much of the army sympathised with Machar, but in January 2014, Uganda sent troops into South Sudan to prevent Kiir’s downfall (a claim the Ugandan government initially denied). That intervention greatly prolonged the war, which grows bloodier by the day. In April, Britain’s secretary of state for international development, Priti Patel, equated Kiir’s “scorched earth policy” and tribal targeting to acts of genocide.
Some 38,000 Somalis have sought refuge in Uganda as well, fleeing a war that is also partly of Uganda’s making. In 2007, Uganda supported the disastrous US-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, which nearly flattened the capital Mogadishu, causing more than half of the city’s population to flee.