UNLESS the unrestricted supply of light arms entering Uganda from Somalia is stopped, the ancient problem of armed traditional cattle raiders will remain permanent in East Africa.
It will mean that the current disarmament exercise will also continue forever, as the gunmen disarmed yesterday acquire new weapons the following morning.
This illegal and unlimited proliferation of small arms and their ammunition is one of the reasons why the Uganda Peopleâ€™s Defence Forces (UPDF) must get into Somalia and help restore law and order in that failed state.
Barre took the Peace
President Siad Barre had very little to commend him as a leader. However, many Somalis wonder whether they did not jump out of the frying pan into the fire when that dictator was overthrown. From a relative peace with very few fundamental rights, Somalis suddenly got every deadly right and lost all the peace!
Somaliaâ€™s next door neighbours began paying the price in floods of refugees, including some armed to the teeth. The influx spilled over and Uganda too got her share of being â€˜too nearâ€™.
Black Hawk Syndrome
Some Ugandans are opposed to our troops going to Somalia, despite the fact that the UPDFâ€™s mandate has been internationally endorsed. Among the reasons they cite is that our soldiers may die in the pursuit of what they consider unworthy. They remember the withdrawal of US forces after Somali gunmen had seized and murdered several of them in 1993.
That is when the US lost hope in its â€˜Operation Restore Hopeâ€™. Sadly, few Ugandans remember anything about this except the scenes of horror, as crazed militiamen desecrated the bodies of the slain US Rangers. Hardly any remember the images of starvation, including one in which a patient vulture waited to eat a Somali baby and its mother. Few remember the scenes of tearful relief from ordinary Somalis, as US soldiers handed over kits of badly needed food and fresh water.
UPDFâ€™s peace missionaries
The American expedition was replaced by the UN Mission to Somalia, in which our army was to play a part. Our force was placed under the command of Lt. Gen.
Edward Wamala Katumba now the Commander of Land Forces.
The National Resistance Army, from which the UPDF emerged, had completed a successful tour of duty in deadly Liberia.
Apart from the many unpredictable rebel groups and the remains of the former national army, Liberia suffered from several bandit gangs. These gun slingers spiced up their brutality with acts of cannibalism, but the Ugandan force, under Brig. Ivan Koreta and Lt. Col. Levi Karuhanga accomplished its mission without mishap.
Against saving Somalia
We do not remember any public opposition to the expeditions to Liberia and Somali, but we know that our army was far less equipped for such tasks than it is now. One reason for opposing the Somali expedition is that it seems to lack the direct backing of the super powers, especially the US. Although US involvement does not seem apparent, it is an established fact.
Political manouvring has also reared its ugly head, with hitherto respected leaders with a commendable grasp of military strategy and the geopolitics of the region, also screaming that the UPDF cannot step anywhere outside Uganda until Kony ceases to be the menace to peace that he is. Some of these politicians were in top government positions when we went to Liberia, prepared for Somalia and then patrolled the Congo to neutralise the grand rebel alliance that was threatening our flanks from there.
One MP has said he opposes the Somali expedition because he does not know the intimate details of how the UPDF will be commanded, supplied with food and transported back in case of casualties.
One almost prays for a time when service in the armed forces will be a cardinal requirement for aspiring MPs because some of these issues would not waste valuable time.
We recall that as Col. Aronda prepared to move troops into Sudan for the successful â€˜Operation Iron Fistâ€™, one MP from Acholi used his freedom of speech to advertise the estimated number of UPDF troops and equipment he had seen around Aswa Ranch. He even said that an invasion of the Sudan in pursuit of the LRA was very likely. Some of these are the MPs who must be informed of UPDFâ€™s foreign missions before hand for parliament to decide whether the country should be protected before disaster strikes home!
We appeal to Ugandans not to hide behind the facade of sympathy for the UPDF to frustrate the Somalia expedition. Should they succeed in thwarting it, they will only have brought the deaths they fear closer to home.
Brothers since Mutesa I
The Somalis and Somalia are neither foreign nor far. So vibrant is the Somali community here that we have elected and appointed them to positions of responsibility.
Among the examples of Uganda-Somalia solidarity is Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebiâ€™s deputy treasurer (Enkuluze), Owekitiibwa Umar Mandela. Mandelaâ€™s name is also indelibly stamped on the sports legacy of this country as treasurer of mighty Villa SC. In entrusting Mandela with Bugandaâ€™s cash, Kabaka Mutebi was falling back on the view of his ancestors, who made friends with potentially dangerous neighbours and fought those who rejected friendship.
As European civilisation marched onto Uganda, the Wazungu found the Somali to be some of the best scouts and soldiers on the sub-continent.
That is why Lord Frederick Lugard records that his entry into Uganda would have been more difficult and dangerous were it not for the services of his chief scout, a Somali named Doualla. Doualla and other Somali troops were to play a key role in the battles which later raged between Lugardâ€™s forces and those opposed to British rule.
Baganda commanders like Sir Apollo Kaggwa and Chev. Stanislaus Mugwanya enjoyed fighting the formidable Omukama Kabalega, with these Somalis on their side.
There has been talk about the UPDF going abroad to plunder and return with foreigners as wives. These have been cited as reasons for opposing the expedition to Somalia, but they do not hold much water.
First, plundering is an offence that can be dealt with administratively. This plundering of Congo has received wider coverage in Uganda, by Ugandans, to the surprise of the Congolese who should be angrier if they were robbed. Even if we concede the alleged plundering as fact, we should remember that the ADF threat from Congo, which made the Kichwamba massacre of nearly 100 students possible, was neutralised.
We do not go for expeditions to get wives but to make friends.
Civilised people know that since time began, the army has remained the advance guard of diplomatic relations among people. The law does not permit our young soldiers to marry until they have served for years and attained the relative age of 22. These unmarried comrades form the bulk of the army and some of them could later become â€˜ambassadorsâ€™ to those countries where we set foot by becoming in-laws.
Mutesa I and Mwangaâ€™s expeditions abroad brought in comely damsels from as far away as Unyamwezi in Tanzania and from the Manyema in Congo. The products of those liaisons are now bona-fide Ugandans.
Many years later the Vietnam war, which ended so disastrously for the Americans, would see hundreds of thousands of GIs returning home with slant-eyed wives and children. It would be wishful thinking to hold that the mixing of American and Vietnamese blood has weakened George Bush.
Any married soldier would be taking an unnecessary risk to get married again on duty anywhere and this is also purely administrative. I am one of thousands who served in the DR Congo but did not return with wives! That crime is known as bigamy.
Konyâ€™s continued menace should not blind Ugandans to their other international obligations. We are not an island and even the USA, which once prided itself in being too far way from the enemy, revised that attitude after 9-11. The worldâ€™s powers have applauded Ugandaâ€™s willingness to advance into Somalia for peace as others dither.
Meanwhile, some are telling us to defeat Kony first. Great Britain has been fighting and talking to the Irish Republican Army since 1905. It did not prevent Britain from fighting two world wars and several other battles, including one with Argentina in 1982. Spain has been talking and fighting the Basque (ETA) for over 50 years and Italy still suffers hiccups from the Red Brigade, a rebel outfit of the same age.
Greece continues to meet international military obligations as it waits for the next terror attack from its own 40-year old rebellion. Mighty India and Pakistan deploy troops on peace missions as other troops prepare to kill each other in Kashmir, an old international trouble spot.
Ethiopia has played its part, but being a close neighbour, it has a long history of intimate involvement in Somaliaâ€™s troubles, including a long, bitter war in the 70s. The UPDFâ€™s advantage and probability of greater acceptance is that Uganda is a distant neighbour.
Those waiting for Europe and the USA to nod â€˜YESâ€™ must realise that for all their goodwill, Europeans and Americans are not Africans and that they have teething problems currently. And most of them simply donâ€™t mind what happens in this dark continent. No one knows this better than Gen. Romeo Dallaire, who commanded the botched UN Mission to Rwanda. At the height of the troubles, he probably became the first General to command just four companies; the whole world allowed him only 400 UN troops!
The man pleaded for 5000 troops (a brigade) to halt the genocide but USA steered the world body away from making the correct decision. That cost Africa about 1,000,000 souls. See how Gen. Dallaire analyses the US departure from African troubles.
â€œThe American disaster in Mogadishu significantly changed the will of the Western world to commit itself to the betterment of the developing world. 18 American soldiers were killed. They were professional soldiers who knew that every day when they woke up, they risked their lives. It was part of their way of life, their professional commitment. But after 18 military deaths in Somalia, the imperial power turned tail and ran...â€
Somalia: For our sake
Let it be repeated that unless this gun corridor is sealed off, there will never be a permanent solution for the Karamoja problem. The only viable means of ending this menace is by ensuring that Somalia has a robust and authoritative government in place. Everyone has realised that the warring clans are not about to resurrect a vibrant Somalia and the next practical solution is for the neighbours to help what remains of Somalia to turn over a new leaf.
The writer is the
Lawless Somalia will keep Karamoja armed forever