Why Uganda? Why Now?
November 7, 2011
So, I’ve been working on revising a paper about US relations with the ICC for the past week or so, and I find myself revisiting the issue of Obama sending 100 troops to Uganda to help hunt down the LRA. I went to a professor of mine to talk ICC, and we ended up debating the deployment quite a bit, discussing the reasons for sending troops to Uganda now.
I wrote a pretty jumbled analysis of the decision already, but I concentrated on whether or not it was a good idea and if it would work. I barely scratched the surface of why. But it’s definitely worth asking. The LRA have been committing atrocities pretty much from its inception in the late 1980s. The ICC issued indictments for Joseph Kony & Co. in 2005. The LRA were driven out of Uganda in 2006, and civilians have been leaving displacement camps for home ever since. Why is the US sending military advisers there now?
It’s definitely true that there is broad grassroots support for this type of action. Between Invisible Children and Resolve, there are tens of thousands of supporters who have been writing letters and attending local lobbying meetings pressing the issue. I was among over a thousand people who went to DC in the summer of 2009 after the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act was introduced, lobbying for its passage. Ultimately the bill passed with more support than any Africa-related issue in US history (allegedly). But that’s only part of the story. The law passed last May, and the White House’s strategy was released last November. Why did it take nearly a year for (part of) the strategy to be implemented?
Some suspect that this is America’s pushback to Sudan’s power in the region. The US pushed Sudan to oust Osama bin Laden back in the day, and Bush was a huge supporter of South Sudanese autonomy and later a critic of Khartoum’s actions in Darfur. Obama has been similarly vocal about both issues. So, it’s pretty clear that the US has staked out its position against the Sudanese government. While it’s true that the LRA enjoyed Sudanese material and financial support as well as safe haven in the past, it seems that such a relationship hasn’t existed for years. Because of this, I don’t think that the deployment of 100 troops in neighboring states is quite the statement to Sudan that others say it is.
One idea that is gaining some traction is that the US is rewarding Uganda for its actions in Somalia. Uganda has been one of the primary military participants in AMISOM, the multilateral effort to fight al Shabaab. Uganda has also suffered from this engagement at home with the World Cup bombings in 2010 being linked to al Shabaab. The US hasn’t been publicly involved in fighting in Somalia since the debacle almost two decades ago, but it has been a longtime supporter of the mission. Indeed, several members of Congress at the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the deployment in Uganda made mention of Uganda’s work in Somalia. But I wonder if this really makes sense, but that stems mostly from my skepticism that Museveni cares that much about the LRA since he never really cared in the past unless it helped his image during election season.
One thing that I haven’t heard many say, and I think it’s worth addressing, is the state of US-ICC relations. The Bush administration was staunchly opposed to the International Criminal Court, and even undertook a campaign of isolating the Court in hopes of destroying it. That is, until Colin Powell called the crisis in Darfur genocide. That began a slow and gradual detente as the US abstained in the Security Council vote to send the Sudan situation to the ICC and then provided logistical support to the Ugandan military in catching Kony. The Obama administration has been more involved with the ICC than its predecessor, and even voted in the Security Council to refer the Libyan situation to the ICC. It seems like assisting in the apprehension of the ICC’s first indicted criminals falls neatly into this trend of easing the tensions between the United States and the International Criminal Court.