Why President is coiling away from fighting regional wars
At the height of 2012, Uganda had a military footprint in about ten countries and was being described as the region’s police.
In four of these, it was fighting the Al Shabaab in Somalia, the Lords’ Resistance Army (LRA) and Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) in DR Congo and Central African Republic (CAR) and the rebels in South Sudan.
Some of this confidence, experts said, was a result of a combination of the combat experience of its soldiers and high level hardware. The previous year, Uganda had just acquired six fighter jets from Russia, which pushed the country’s military spending to US$1.02 billion.
That single acquisition of 6 Su-30MK Russian jets did not only elevate the country’s air force to one of the most advanced combat aircraft squadrons in East and Central Africa, it increased Uganda’s military expenditure by 300 % dwarfing Africa’s 9% and the world’s 24 % expenditure on arms, said a 2011 report by the global security analyst, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
But things have since taken a very different twist. Some experts are expressing surprise that Uganda’s defence spending is now amongst the lowest in the region as shown by SIPRI’s latest report. That is not the only major break from the past. Uganda is also slowly pulling out of regional wars. Uganda has already withdrawn troops from DR Congo, South Sudan, CAR and Defence officials are increasingly talking about pulling out of Somalia.
Early this year, Uganda also recalled some of its soldiers from CAR, where they had been deployed as part of The African Union-Led Regional Task Force.
Uganda already pulled out of South Sudan in 2015 when, on top of having to shoulder the costs of the war, it also faced regional and international pressure to pull out and accusations that it was taking sides in the war or propping up Salva Kiir’s government.
Without international backing and financing, Uganda resorted to supplementary budgets to the Defense ministry to support the mission, until the weight became unbearable.
Experts say that faced with an ever skyrocketing public debt and challenges in financing major infrastructure projects, President Museveni has no option but to cut defence spending and by extension abandon some of these regional missions.
Uganda needs more than $20 billion to construct roads, a railway line and infrastructure like an airport in the oil region, a network of crude and finished products, pipelines and an oil refinery—all needed to enable oil production.
Because the country has also already borrowed heavily to bankroll mega hydro power dam projects, every year Uganda needs close to a billion dollars as interest payments for these loans.
In another sign of focusing on domestic issues more, Defence officials are now planning to gradually increase the salaries of soldiers until they come in line with the salaries of teachers and medical workers.
Matters are not helped by aid cuts and frustration from donors, who have been the mainstay of Uganda’s regional military ventures.