Academics, UPDF discuss Uganda’s presence in Somalia

A decade after Uganda sent troops to Somalia under the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM), questions are still being raised in regard to Uganda’s presence in the horn of Africa country.

At a symposium organised by Human Rights and Peace Centre (HURIPEC) at Makerere University’s School of Law auditorium, academics, security experts and army officials counted the cost of Uganda’s role in conflict torn country.

Somalia has been at war since 1991 following the fall of Siadi Barre’s who ruled the country since 1969.

Earlier efforts to pacify the country collapsed in 1994, a year after Somali militants groups downed two US fighter jets, killing 18 US marines and a Malaysian soldier.

Upon the 2007 UN security council approval of an 8,000 African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, Uganda became one of the first countries to deploy troops in the war-torn country which to some critics of President Yoweri Museveni’s government meant sacrificing Uganda’s democratic credentials.

“Our presence in Somalia entrenched the dictatorship in Uganda; we sacrificed democracy with our presence in Somalia because our being there is keeping donors’ eyes away from undemocratic tendencies here,” said David Pulkol, a former spy chief under the External Security Organisation (ESO).

Pulkol recounted his time in office as ESO Director General and how he set up meetings for Museveni and US spy chiefs to convince them to back Uganda’s role in Somalia.

Security expert David Pulkol presenting a paper during the symposium


“We went to Somalia to shape the way Western donors see us. This government has survived longer because of the positive perception of donors and that’s counter productive,” Pulkol said.

He watered down a claim by the government that UPDF’s presence in Somalia was in the spirit of Pan-Africanism.

“If were in Somalia for Pan African reasons, why are other countries not sending troops, ten years later? Are we monopolizing the mission?” Pulkol wondered.

Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, Ethiopia and Djibouti make up the 22,000 AMISOM force deployed mostly in Southern Somalia where the conflict is currently concetrated.

Dr Sallie Simba, a research partner at the Centre for Basic Research argued that the solution to the Somalia conflict lies with the Somalis, adding that the UPDF needs to be more concerned about winning the hearts of the Somalis than discussing its military might.

The deputy UPDF political commissar Col Bahoko Barigye who commanded the UPDF forces in Somalia expressed sadness that some people discuss the Somalia question “as if they are happy with the plight of the Somalis.”

He said, there is need to understand the mandate of AMISOM, and also examine what is likely to happen once AMISOM pulls out.

“It’s only a stupid African who will look at that long Somali coastline and not pick interest in what is happening in Somalia,” Barigye said.

Former UPDF spokesman Col Paddy Ankunda who represented the Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) Gen David Muhoozi described the AMISOM mission as a success.
“There was a lot of pessimism around the AMISOM mission, but, today, 11 years later, there’s a government… we deployed to give hope to a country that had been abandoned,” Ankunda said.

He said, scholars need to examine the issue of Islamic fundamentalism in the Somali conflict as well as the issue of clans which has complicated the war.

Maj Okwir Rwaboni however disagreed saying that the players in the Somali conflict had failed to appreciate the origins of the clan issue in the conflict.

“The issue of clans has never been the prob of Somalia, it’s rather a manifestation of the failure to control resources. The clans are about who controls the fishing, the minerals, the oil and waters,” Rabwoni said.