AFRICOM and Uganda’s Dance With Death

Right after Uganda’s horrendous and deadly twin bombings killed 74 people, President Barack Obama spoke with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to express his sadness and to offer condolences for the loss of life. But another key part of the conversation dealt with the Somalia-based militia, the al-Shabab, and AFRICOM. Washington considers the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab (which claimed responsibility for the worst attack in Uganda in twelve years) a terrorist group. And even while the press was busy announcing the attacks were proof of al-Qaeda’s and al-Shabab’s militant-like expansion into Africa, nothing was mentioned about AFRICOM and its attempt to dominate the African continent. But as it often happens, the US offers condolences and expresses sadness, and then it slowly turns and transforms suffering and tragedies into military campaigns.

AFRICOM, or US African Command, was established in 2008. It is a unified Pentagon command center in Africa and is presented as a humanitarian guard in the global war on terror. AFRICOM was also heralded as a mission to professionalize indigenous militaries and to ensure stability, security, and to protect human rights. (1) However, its real, hidden objective, backed by US corporations and the Pentagon’s military-industrial complex, is to penetrate Africa and to militarily control Africa’s vital oil and mineral resources. More than 1,500 military officers from Africa have completed programs at US military schools and military bases. Still, Washington is selling and supplying millions of dollars worth of advanced weapons systems to several African nations. Some warn AFRICOM is actually identifying and developing African governments to function as US surrogates.(2)

Although most African nations have resisted AFRICOM’s overtures, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Liberia, and, of course, Uganda, have opened their borders to US military aid, armed personnel, and corporate security forces. These nations have either suffered military or economic crises. Is Uganda’s embrace with AFRICOM a dance with death too? Uganda has now found itself embroiled in the US’s Global War On Terror, which has lasted for almost a decade. Since Uganda supplies troops and arms for Mogadishu’s African Union – which is working with AFRICOM and whose soldiers have been trained at American military bases – it has now become a victim of the two-decades-old US-Somali Civil War. Will there be more bombings, more killings, and more bloodshed-not to mention the US-led AFRICOM’s bungled raid against a Ugandan rebel group that killed 900 civilians?

After having been colonized by the British East Africa Company and then dominated by a foreign imperial army, Uganda finally won independence in 1962. It was not long, though, before Uganda’s economic and political divisions from the colonial period emerged to tear the nation apart. Will Ugandans allow AFRICOM to do the same, especially as AFRICOM has already used Ugandan territory to launch several military operations in the surrounding regions? Uganda may want to rethink its dance with AFRICOM, its pact with the US-led global war on terror, and its entanglement with the US-Somalia Civil War. Uganda is a rich and culturally diverse nation filled with many ethnic and religious groups. Currently, it is experiencing a rejuvenated economy and a democratic political system that is receptive to the participation of all ethnic groups. Therefore, does Uganda really need AFRICOM?

Perhaps the answer lies in a proverb from the Baganda People: That which becomes bad at the outset of its growth is almost impossible to straighten at a later stage.(3) Uganda has driven out one empire and its imperial army. It has ended the reign of a ruthless dictator and has had to overcome a long guerilla war. Just like most African nations which are still ravaged from past centuries of imperialism and economic exploitation, at this moment in time Uganda is experiencing decolonization. By embracing AFRICOM, will Uganda have to someday experience deAFRICOMization? Ugandans must understand that where there are US military forces and AFRICOM fighting a disingenuous war on terror, al-Qaeda and al-Shabab will be there too. Can Uganda really afford another dance with death?

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(1) Phillips, Peter and Andrew Roth. Censored 2009, The Top 25 Censored Stories of 2007-2008. New York, New York: Seven Stories Press, 2008., p. 133.

(2) Ibid., p. 134.

(3) Gall, Timothy L. (Editor) Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life, Volume 1-Africa. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Publishers, 1998., p. 449.