Saturday, September 12, 2009

Riots a dangerous distraction

The rioting that has rocked Kampala is sad, not only for the needless loss of life, but because it is a dangerous distraction for a country that is in midst of two critical wars beyond its borders.

The last thing Uganda needs right now is a war inside its border or its capital.

One is the only recently acknowledged war against the Lord's Resistance Army which has moved from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the Central African Republic.

The second is in Somalia where the Ugandan army is the main component of the African Union's peace keeping mission and is the only thing that is keeping the Somalia's Transitional Federal Government from being wiped out by Muslim extremists of the al-Shabab and Hizbul Islami groups.

While Uganda certainly is the "pearl" of Africa in many ways, the recent riots have exposed the Achilles heel of the continent: ethnic conflict.

As noted scholars have said and as Africans confess, ethnic conflict is the basis of every major war and conflict on the continent. Rather than countries going to war to assert dominance, or ideologies clashing, Africa is continually mired in ethnic-based warfare that has no regard for political boundaries.

Look at the Rwandan genocide, the on-going conflict in Darfur, and the post election violence in western Kenya in 2008.

In Uganda, now, we have the Buganda tribe, the country's largest, clashing with the government forces directed by President Yoweri Museveni, who is part of a neighboring ethnic group from southwestern Uganda.

Museveni's excessive response to the Buganda's desire to conduct rallies was clearly uncalled for, but it also raises questions about the Bugandan motives.

There is historical precedent here. When Uganda first became independent in 1962, the constitution made the Bugandan king, the "kibaka," the constitutional president, while the prime minister was elected and ran the country. It was a variation of England's constitutional monarchy in which the prime minister is elected, but formally appointed by the ruling monarch.

The Ugandan experiment soon failed when the Bugandan king had a shoot-out with the late president Milton Obote and eventually fled the country, dying in exile in England.

When Museveni took power in 1986, he recognized the Bugandan king and "kingdom" but did not grant the king any power other than ceremonial.

When I lived in Uganda in 2005 and 2006, similar clashes occurred because the Bugandans, unfortunately, believe they have been robbed of their right to rule.

As difficult as it may be, most African countries will be unable to progress politically and economically unless they can transcend ethnic jealousies and begin to function as states.

The riots, meanwhile, are particularly troubling for Uganda which currently is fighting two wars.

The Ugandan mission in Somalia is critically important. Uganda is supported and supplied by the US and others in the international community who want to keep Somalia from becoming a safe haven for Muslim extremists.

The significance of this grows daily as Pakistan and the US put pressure on the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and their allies, forcing them out of Pakistan's lawless northwest province.

Increasing numbers of these fundamentalist fighters are fleeing to Somalia, bringing weapons and money that fuel a likely take-over of war-torn Somalia.

An extremist takeover in Somalia would have disastrous consequences for East Africa, the entire continent, and the world at large. The extremists are looking for their next new safe haven, and Somalia has been selected.

Uganda and the international community need to focus efforts on containing the terrorist threat in Somalia, as well as tracking down Joseph Kony and his militia.

Riots in Kampala, meanwhile, are a dangerous and needless diversion.

1 comment:

Hoyawolf said...

Peter, Excellent analysis and insight to the secondary effects of ongoing ethnic conflicts many people in the West, particularly the US, do not appreciate.

I agree, the international Al Qaaeda led jihadist insurgency has chosen Somalia as a potential base for operations. They have had a long term East African presence and with the stigma of Somalia there is a good chance that there will not be any intervention against them there directly by the West - especially given the recent experience with failed states in Afghanistan.