By Andrew M. Mwenda
Since Uganda was bombed on 7/11, Al-Shabaab ‘terrorist’ group in Somali claimed responsibility. There has been a lot of tough talk in Kampala. President Yoweri Museveni has promised to hit back at Al-Shabaab by increasing our troops in that country. Many Ugandans support the government in its posturing for a ‘surge.’
Yet the surge will increase rather than reduce the problem of the fragmentation of the state in Somalia. It will also increase the financial and human cost on the state of Uganda. No amount of UPDF presence in Somalia will bring peace to that country. Only Somalis can. Ugandas troops can only assist in peace-building if there are strong internal forces with a strong vested interest in peace. Somalia needs a warlord able to mobilise resources and build a military capability to take effective control of the entire country.
The crisis of the state in Somalia, though initially created by internal factors, has been worsened by international interference in its domestic politics. Indeed, it is part of the wider African dilemma. Although our problems and the demands for a solution are locally generated, the solution is never informed by the factors that gave birth to the crisis. Always, it is drawn from a textbook theory based on a context of other nations.
It is this attempt to impose outside solutions on Africas internal problems that has bedeviled our continent. In the case of Somalia, the biggest threat to the evolution of an effective state has been the United States. US involvement in Somalia began with the 1991 intervention that was largely a humanitarian gesture.
However, when America shifted its mandate from humanitarian intervention to peace enforcement, it got entangled in a war with Mohammed Aideed. This led to the death of 18 Americans in the famous ‘black hawk down’ battle in Mogadishu that caused a US withdrawal. Had America allowed Aideed, who had the best chance of capturing the whole country militarily, to take control of Somalia, it is highly likely that a more stable and effective state would have emerged in that country.
The American position was reinforced by the international humanitarian groups and their ill-informed and misguided African chorus singers. They looked at that countrys problem from a purely humanitarian perspective and missed the vital importance of effective military control of Somalia as the only foundation for a stable future. Instead, they supported the ascendance to power of civilian groups claiming to be democratic but which were opportunistic and incapable of holding the country together.
I harbour a fundamental disagreement with democracy and human rights groups in Africa. Democracy exists in stable and effective states, not in anarchy. Yet we are continuously told that only a democratic order built around a consensus would bring a stable peace in Somalia. It is an obvious fallacy to argue that liberal democracy gives birth to liberal democracy. What Somalia needs is a military strongman with the organisational ability to marshal resources and bribe, coerce and cajole other military and civilian groups together as Yoweri Museveni did in Uganda in 1986.
The result of this foreign interference with a naÃ¯ve notion of democracy has been to stifle the evolution of a militarily strong organisation that could establish order in the country. This state of affairs favoured weak and incompetent warlords who now began to control small pockets of the country from whence they could rip a small fortune. However, nothing short of death can stop human initiative. In the mid 2000s, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) grew and spread rapidly, establishing order over large parts of the country. It organised around a unifying ideology of Islam and began implementing Sharia law.
However, post 9/11 America was scared of anything Islamic and thus saw the ICU as an enemy. It financed Ethiopia to dislodge them from power. From the ashes of their defeat emerged the Al-Shabaab with largely terrorist intentions rather than a desire to build a strong state. America should have worked with ICU to create a stable state in Somalia by using financial incentives to stop it from becoming an auxiliary to Al-Qaeda.
America was unwilling to send in troops to hold the peace because it was not politically sellable. It subcontracted that role to Uganda and Burundi. Museveni, seeing an opportunity to be central to US geo-strategic interests in the region offered to send in troops. I am reluctant to believe that Museveni was driven by a desire for peace n Somalia. This is because it is Museveni who convinced me that such ill advised foreign military interventions, however well intentioned, tend to create more problems than they solve.
In 2002, Museveni even gave me a speech he delivered at the Victoria Summit in Zimbabwe in August 1998 about Uganda and Rwandas role in the removal of Mobutu of Zaire. I was struck by how profound his insights on the subject were. He argued that external actors tend to distort local politics by creating artificial winners and artificial losers. Because the winner is supported by foreign forces, he lacks incentives to seek internal political integration ‘ hoping to rely on foreign allies to consolidate his/her position domestically.
Therefore, failure of the evolution of an effective state in Somali, and the rise of Al-Shabaab, are more a byproduct of nature of international intervention than domestic warlord politics. It is also difficult to see the strategic gains for Uganda in this intervention. However, it is strategically important for Museveni. Ugandan troop presence in Somalia helps improve his standing in Washington DC, a factor that is vital for his domestic politics.
In fact, when he came to power, US President Barack Obama showed a cold attitude to Museveni; quietly despising him for clinging to power and presiding over a corrupt system. Now, with Ugandans paying with blood for American geo-strategic interests in this region, Museveni is indispensable to Obamas plans for this region. Because the gains from Somalia are personal to Museveni rather than national to Uganda, I think we should pull out our troops; not because we are afraid of Al-Shabaab, but because we are not doing Somalis any good.