By Henry Mukasa
American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed concern over conflicts in the Great Lakes region, terror unleashed by the Lord’s Resistance Army in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Central African Republic (CAR), as well as Uganda’s rising HIV infection rates.
Clinton called for increased efforts from Uganda and the international community to fight these problems. Uganda’s adult HIV prevalence has shot up from 6.4% to 7.3% in just one year whereas the LRA has killed 1,197 civilians and abducted another 2,534 in DRC and CAR since 2009. The most recent LRA attack was last Tuesday in Pasi, DRC, where they abducted nine civilians including a 12-year-old girl, shot a catechist in the leg and looted goods.
Other major conflicts in the region are in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where fighting between M23 rebels and the government has forced thousands of refugees to flee into Uganda, and Somalia.
While meeting President Yoweri Museveni at State House Entebbe, Clinton praised Uganda for her efforts towards addressing regional security problems especially Somalia. According to a statement from State House, Clinton asked the President to continue looking for lasting solutions to regional issues such as the LRA conflict, DRC crisis and and the threat of armed conflicts involving South Sudan.
Later Clinton, Clinton visited the Special Forces Group (SFG) training grounds in Kasenyi near Entebbe, where she said LRA leader Joseph Kony must be caught at all costs. “I told the President earlier, we have to get the equipment and resources that will help to get rid of the world this terrible man (Kony),” Clinton said.
At Kasenyi, Clinton watched a demonstration of a drone used to spy on enemy forces. The drone, drones, technically known as the RQ-11B Raven, was donated to the Ugandan army by the American government. It can scan a radius of 10kms but cannot penetrate dense vegetation.
“We have to figure out one that can go through thick vegetation to get Kony,” Clinton remarked. The US gave UPDF 12 Ravens worth $600,000 for use by troops deployed in AMISOM operations in Mogadishu, Somalia. The US also helps train UPDF soldiers hunting Kony and recently President Barack Obama sent 100 Special Forces to help coordinate intelligence.
Clinton spoke highly of the UPDF and its lead role in the pacification of Somalia and the hunt for LRA in Central African Republic (CAR). “We are grateful to the excellent work of the UPDF. It’s a highly disciplined and very accomplished force. We have seen the results of that in Somalia and hunt for LRA.”
The Secretary of State said the US was also grateful for the cooperation with Uganda and the opportunity to work with UPDF. “What I appreciate about Uganda forces, you are will to learn. Some Governments or militaries think they know answers to everything,” she commented.
During the State House meeting, Museveni briefed Clinton on Uganda’s economic development and cited the building of infrastructure like roads and completion of Bujagali hydro-power as milestones. The President said that that there are still other remaining development challenges, such as attracting investors and marketing Uganda’s potential abroad.
Clinton commended Museveni for the progress that Uganda has so far attained in the socio-economic arena and promised the US support to assist Uganda transformation her society.
Clinton arrived quietly in the country on Thursday night and camped at Serena Hotel in Kampala. She left early on the morning of Friday for Juba, South Sudan where he held talks with President Salva Kiir.
She returned to Uganda in the afternoon and was received at Entebbe International Airport by the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, Henry Okello Oryem and the US Chargé d'Affaires, Virginia M. Blaser.
US’s top diplomat then headed to State House Entebbe for closed talks with President Museveni. At Kasenyi Clinton also held closed talks with State minister for Defense, Gen. Jeje Odongo, the commander of the Air Force, Brig. Moses Rwakitarate and the commander of the Special Forces Group, Lt. Col. Sabiiti Magyenyi Muzeeyi.
While visiting the Mbuya-based Reach Out Mbuya project for HIV/AIDS, Mrs Clinton said she was deeply concerned about the rising HIV trends in Uganda and urged that everything be done to reverse the raising infections.
She said that the Uganda government and the donors including the USA must keep up the funding commitments to ensure that the disease is reversed and production of an HIV free generation.
“I am here because I am worried that new HIV infections are on the raise. I have discussed this with President Yoweri Museveni. Uganda is the only country in Sub-Saharan Africa where HIV is raising, “Clinton said at Reach Out Mbuya Parish HIV/AIDS Initiative (ROM), a catholic church HIV/AIDS clinic.
Recent studies showed that the HIV infections which had been brought down and stagnated at 6.4% have risen again to 7.3%.
“I have pledged to your president that we review our strategy to emphasise what works like the prevention of mother o child transmission of HIV. We have given an additional US$25m for this and I hope that no new babies will be born with HIV,” she said.
She praised the Mbuya ROM, and said that it should be a clinical model for Uganda and Africa because it offers a lot of community support. The ROM Director, Dr. Stella Alamo Talisuna, says that the clinic was that serves a clientele of over 5,000 poorest of the community was the only one in Uganda that had eliminated the mother to child transmission of HIV through ensuring adherence to Anti Retroviral Therapy.
The Clinic also treats the first person in the world to receive ART under the US President’s emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). John Robert Engole was started on ART in 2004 when he was near death, but has recovered, joined University and now holds a Bachelors degree in education.