By John Njoroge
Kony war-ravaged region hopes to reap from military training camp that brings the American army and officers from the armies of the five East African Community countries
In the last two month, the local radio stations in Kitgum district have been airing announcements to the effect that between October 16-25 , its residents would have a once in a lifetime opportunity of receiving free medical services thanks to the United States Army. The services would mainly focus on people suffering from HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis and dental related aliments.
In addition, the residents will get free safe-to-drink purified water. The water will be purified from the various water sources around Kitgum thanks to the latest water purification technology from the American government.
Also, three facilities in Kitgum; Kitgum High School, Mucwini Primary School and Kitgum Government Hospital will be renovated.
“It will be wonderful to finally eat in our dinning hall,” says Achil Lambert, a senior six candidate taking science subjects at Kitgum high School, “Although I am completing my studies here, it will be a good development for future generations of students.”
His math and physics teacher, Denis Otim, agrees. “That dinning hall was built in 1967. It gradually fell into disrepair and the school has been unable to repair it. The offer by the US Army and the UPDF to renovate it has been received warmly.”
The offer is part of an exercise code-named “Natural Fire 10″ in which the US Army will hold field training exercises geared towards enhancing the ability of East African forces in responding to crisis and providing relief and humanitarian assistance to civilians when disaster strikes.
Jointly, the forces will practice tasks in convoy operations, crowd control, weapons handling and vehicle checkpoints. It expected that this exercises will take place in smaller versions in Entebbe and Kampala.
About 550 American personnel and 650 troops from the participating nations are expected to participate in the exercise coordinated by the United States Army Africa (USARAF), the army component of the United States Africa Command, commonly known as AFRICOM, which is the US’s unified combat command for Africa.
Established in December 2008, USARAF whose headquarters is in Vicenza Italy is devoted to working with the land forces of the armies of the 53 African countries to promote peace, stability, and security in Africa. USARAF also deploys as a contingency headquarters in times of crisis in Africa.
USARAF’s mandate is a part of the bigger AFRICOM mission, which is to manage the relationship between the U.S military and the armies of the 53 Africa countries. AFRICOM is one of six American regional command headquarters. It works with African nations and African organisations in fostering American policies on security in Africa.
Since Africa is rapidly gaining centrality in US military, economic and strategic considerations, advancing its security and other interests through building the capacities of its armies has become important to America.
AFRICOM’s activities mainly go to secure, politically stable and economically growing nations, although some rogue nations of strategic importance to America are involved.
After the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya, Tanzania and the foiled attempt in Uganda, the US realised the strategic importance in having ally nations in Africa. This led to the immediate drive to form strategic partnerships militarily that gave rise to AFRICOM.
The 2001 attack on America elevated this need even further.
Somalia and Sudan have since been known to be safe havens for Islamic extremist and Jihadist who have openly threatened the security of America. In both Somalia and Sudan, Uganda has been a strategic ally to America in the war against terror by providing troops. It is of great importance to the stability and security of the U.S that these two countries stop being safe havens and launching pads for terrorists.
The Kitgum exercises are, therefore, a message to the world that the US can set up in any part of the world, Africa in particular, and fight terrorism. It is a signal that the US can train and equip regional forces in East Africa and the Horn of Africa and improve the capacities of these countries to protect themselves both internally and externally as long as they resist offers from terrorist funded countries and organisations as an incentive to harbor or support terrorist.
The choice of northern Uganda as the epicenter of this exercise is being related to the 20-year war between the UPDF and the rebel group, the Lords’ Resistance Army (LRA).
Kitgum, which currently has a huge NGO presence, was the worst affected area in northern Uganda during this insurgency.
Okello Oryem Uganda’s minister for International Affairs who hails from northern Uganda, Kitgum in particular, dismisses all these theories.
“This is purely a training exercise for Uganda and its neighbours aimed at improving our capacity to respond to natural deserters in this era of global warming. Some MPs made assumptions and complained of the US Army presence in Kitgum without getting to understand the facts,” he told The Independent.
He says the people of Kitgum will profit from the free medical help and American money spent there.
Already the evidence of change caused by the US Army presence is visible. Sanitation in Kitgum town is improving. The town leadership has recruited additional manpower to collect garbage and clean the streets. The main Gulu Kitgum highway that has been in a sorry state for a long time is now undergoing temporary repairs.
More and more people are putting up sign post in English advertising the services they are offering. Two new hotels, Pstar hotel and Crown Guest House have been opened while others like the Four Seasons Hotel have open new branches in town.
Issues of US foreign policy on security and the improvement of UPDF’s capacity to respond to crisis are not the main concern of these people.
Like the students of Kitgum High School who are to get a better dinning hall and the pupils of Mucwini primary school a new classroom block, the Kitgum business community hopes their lives will get better due to the presence of foreigners.