About me.

Andrew M. Mwenda is the founding Managing Editor of The Independent, Uganda’s premier current affairs newsmagazine. One of Foreign Policy magazine 's top 100 Global Thinkers, TED Speaker and Foreign aid Critic

Sunday, August 1, 2010


I read with particular keenness President Yoweri Museveni’s article on July 25 where he defended Ugandan troop presence in Somalia. I use the words “particular keenness” because I highly respect Museveni’s analysis of security issues. While his article is strong and persuasive, I was not convinced about intervention in Somalia.

First, the president makes clear that he has not made research on Somalia even though it is in relation to the collapse of Siad Barre. Yet to have successful military intervention in a country, it is critical to first understand its internal dynamics. It is risky to come with a set of assumptions and try to super-impose them on them a particular situation or context. This is not just a political imperative; it is also a military one.

President Museveni should have learnt this from his reading of the US experience in Vietnam. However powerful a nation’s military can be, it cannot win a war in a country, however poor, unless it does the following: understand local dynamics, have clear objectives, set a timeframe for achieving them, create an exit strategy and secure political support at home. These lessons constitute the [Collin] Powell Doctrine that was successful in Gulf War one; lessons that George Bush Jr. ignored at great peril.

The president did not answer critical questions like: What are our objectives in Somalia? What are the key success indicators? What is the timeframe of our intervention? What is our exit strategy? Without answers to these questions, I am inclined to believe that we have deployed blindly into a troubled country, a factor that is likely to vitiate against success.

President Museveni should be a student of his own history and that of Uganda before he labels all insurgents in Somalia names. Just imagine if, in 1986, the international community had branded him a communist and the US decided to use African troops to prop the Okello-Okello regime. That regime may have had intelligent people in its ranks but it lacked the internal coherence to sustain a viable government. In other words, OAU forces would have come to Uganda to block a more meaningful resolution of the crisis of the state in our country. That is what Uganda is doing in Somalia.

Sadly, the president presents the emergence of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in American language as a group that sought to create an “Islamic fundamentalist state” governed by Sharia law. What is wrong with this? Saudi Arabia is an Islamic fundamentalist state governed by Sharia law but Uganda has diplomatic relations with it. What is so abhorrent in Somalia’s Islamic fundamentalist orientation and use of Sharia law that is intolerable to America and Uganda? Besides, the primary objective in Somalia should be to get a group that can exercise effective military control over the country before we begin to talk of its religious or ideological leanings.

I am inclined to believe that President Museveni is either misled or is posturing to Washington DC or both to take his current position. There is no way a coterie of corrupt and opportunistic civilians without basic military knowhow can establish security in Somalia even if propped by Uganda and the AU. President Museveni, more than any other African I know understands well how foreign interventions, however well intentioned, are incapable of establishing a stable peace, leave alone a functional state.

President Museveni writes about the Tanzanian invasion of Uganda to liberate us from Idi Amin’s murderous tyranny – a very good thing. However, the removal of Amin did not create stability but state collapse in spite of the presence of the Tanzanian People’s Defence Forces troops on our soil. Ugandan exiles had misadvised President Julius Nyerere that resolving the post Amin situation required a democracy built on a consensus and coalition of different political groups. Yet democracy cannot exist where there is no centralised control of coercion.

Museveni made a counter proposal to Nyerere: That the emerging coalition should be based on military organisation and capability, not on opportunistic politics. He was ironically supported by Milton Obote. Their disagreement was on the composition of this military coalition: Museveni wanted one based on 50:50 between his group and Obote’s while the UPC leader wanted an 80:20 in his favour. We can moralize about this; but that is how states are made – those with the capacity to monopolize the legitimate use of violence are the ones who build states.

In the maneuverings that took place in Tanzania, Museveni and Obote lost. That is how Yusuf Lule and the UNLF, completely lacking in military knowledge came to power. They immediately began squabbling and were unable to get anything sustainable done. Uganda instead became extremely unstable as the state lost the ability to ensure personal security. It was not until the Tanzanians withdrew and Obote and Museveni faced each other militarily in Luwero that the better organized group captured power and reestablish security and order that we all enjoy today.

Isn’t it ironic that of all African leaders, it is President Museveni trying to impose a solution on Somalia when he was a victim of Nyerere’s well intentioned but failed effort to build a stable Uganda? Isn’t it also ironic that it is President Museveni of all people who is labeling Somalis fighting for their country as mere stooges of the Middle East, especially so because he himself had been labeled a communist and a Marxist by the very people who do not see initiative in the struggles taking place in Somalia?

The ICU had made clear its desire to cooperate with the US using its spokesman in Nairobi. Had it been allowed it to consolidate, the US could have leveraged technical and financial aid to moderate the extremist aspects of the government – just like it used the same tactics to dissuade Museveni from his Marxist economic policies of barter trade and state control of the commanding heights of the economy.

It is wrong for President Museveni to see in every initiative by the Somalis the hand of “ideologies” from the “Middle East” – whatever that means. The people of the Middle East are our allies, not enemies. Our friendship with America should not destroy this.


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