A U.N. report leaked last month to Reuters indicated that both Uganda and Rwanda were supporting M23 rebels in the North Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The confidential report stated that while Rwanda’s Defense Minister, James Kabarebe, was actually commanding the rebel group, Uganda was also guilty of supplying arms and soldiers, while providing a safe haven for the political branch of the rebellion to operate inside of Kampala.
Both countries have fervently denied any involvement and Uganda’s Minister of Communications and Information Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, stated that Uganda felt “stabbed in the back” by such accusations in a meeting with the Security Council. Uganda has now threatened to withdraw all troops from regional missions that are backed by both the U.N. and the African Union (A.U.).
While the U.N. should foster some concern over the fact that these supposed “confidential reports” on the rebellion in the eastern DRC continued to be leaked to the media, the more overwhelming challenge is how to diplomatically deal with Uganda by jointly condemning such actions and maintaining crucial support in peacekeeping missions in Somalia, The Central African Republic (CAR) and the DRC. (Ugandan troops have been operating in the the northeastern section of the DRC in conjunction with approximately 100 U.S. soldiers to hunt down Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army or LRA.)
The problem with these allegations is that Uganda supplies essential forces to many peacekeeping missions in the region, most notably to AMISOM — the joint A.U. and U.N. mandated mission to Somalia — which has enjoyed huge success as of late, as an AMISOM coalition, together with Kenyan troops, took the port of Kismayo from the terrorist group al-Shabaab last month, obtaining control over what is believed to be the last al-Shabaab stronghold. Uganda currently supplies over one-third of the approximately 17,000 soldiers operating in Somalia. Withdrawing these units from the fray could have dire consequences in maintaining control of the areas recently seized from al-Shabaab insurgents. The Somali Prime Minister stated that it would be a challenge to hold this domain and that any reduction in troops could hand the advantage to the insurgents. Al-Shabaab has long been known to provide refuge and support to al-Qaeda.
Both missions in which Uganda has played a prominent role as a stabilizing force are vital to maintaining fragile peace on the continent. Somalia — which has long been a lawless haven for terrorists and militants — was able to hold its first presidential elections in decades because of the gains made by AMISOM. The fight against the LRA — which has been ongoing since 1986 — remains important for communities in the DRC, CAR and South Sudan, as Kony’s troops have perpetuated a long and dark history of murder, mutilation, pillaging and kidnapping to any surrounding civilian communities that cross their path. It is believed that the small number of remaining LRA loyalists are now operating on the border of CAR, DRC and South Sudan, ravaging local villages for supplies and forcefully enlisting child soldiers and female slaves to swell their numbers.
If these mandates, in which Uganda has provided important support, are carried out, it would provide closure to two of the longest standing feuds on the continent.
At this point, the United Nations Security Council must walk a fine line. Although the accusations against Uganda, if founded, should be condemned and warrant punishment of some sort, the consequences of cornering Uganda into pulling troops out of crucial conflicts could leave both missions reeling. If the report had not been leaked in the first place, then the U.N. would have ample time to take a diplomatic course in dealing with this challenge. However, since this is not the case, the Security Council may be forced to make a difficult decision regarding Somalia, the LRA and the DRC, one or more of which will certainly falter as a consequence. If this scenario unfolds, then the gains to achieving sustainable peace and stability in the region may come unhinged. Let’s hope, for the sake of the region, that the Ugandan threats are empty and peaceful resolve can be achieved in all of three areas.