Somalia, Museveni and militarising the region

Published on Pambazuka News, Interview with Prof. Mahmood Mamdani, May 3, 2012.

Everybody knows the solution in Somalia is political not military. Even if there is a military victory in Somalia, it will not be sustainable without a political solution … //

… THE INDEPENDENT: What are the implications for Uganda’s involvement in Somalia?  

  • MAHMOOD MAMDANI: I think the Congo war introduced some element of jealousy in the Ugandans. They envied the military capacity of Angolans and Zimbabweans. Uganda wanted to be the Angola of this part of the world but did not have the means, which for Angola came from oil. Uganda solved the problem by finding an ally in the US. Thus was born the Somalia project. I think Uganda’s military presence in the region is pegged on that. Somalia is Uganda’s claim that we have a solution for your security concerns in the region. It fits very nicely with the American claim that the primary problem of Africa is not development, nor democracy, nor even the lack of human rights, but security.

THE INDEPENDENT: Do you think the East African Community countries will be able to secure political federation by 2014 as projected?

  • MAHMOOD MAMDANI: No it’s not possible. I think you have to look at the 1970s to understand why the community collapsed. It’s not true that the arrival of Amin led to the collapse of the community. Problems began very soon after independence. Kenya had been the headquarters of the Community during the colonial period. The common services were centralised in Kenya; the Common Market had a Kenyan flavour. So Tanzania, joined by Uganda then, asked for a decentralisation of industries. Thus was born the 1964 Kampala agreement whereby each country was allocated a specific industry producing for the region. But there was no way of punishing a country for flouting the rules. Tanzania began the Tanzam (Tanzania-Zambia) railway financed by the Chinese. To finance the local cost of the Railway, there was an agreement allowing Chinese goods preferential access to the Tanzanian market, even if this flouted common market rules. It began a tit for tat, and partners became competitors, then rivals. Tanzania under Nyerere was beginning to move southwards. The challenge for EAC is that Tanzania is not willing to enter into federation because it does not think its interests will be achieved. The Tanzanians have legitimate political concerns. Uganda and Kenya have to come up with assurances. It may be better to think of a confederation as a first step to a federation.

THE INDEPENDENT: What do you think of Rwanda and Burundi presence in the EAC?

  • MAHMOOD MAMDANI: I think it is a good thing for them and for us. It would be great for Rwanda because it has been unable to come up with a solution to the political trauma after the genocide. You cannot ban the Hutus and Tutsis from organising themselves in a situation where Hutu and Tutsi have operated as mobilising identities for political parties. You can only do this as part of a power-sharing project. I think Nyerere understood this. So did Museveni if you judge from his willingness to follow Nyerere’s leadership in Burundi. If Rwanda was accepted in a much larger community where the competition is no longer between Hutu and Tutsi, they will both be minorities in a larger East Africa. The larger the group, the more the necessity for alliances. In this world you cannot exist alone.

THE INDEPENDENT: South Sudan is on tension with Khartoum. What are the implications on Uganda and EAC if the two countries fight? Don’t you think Uganda would be dragged into the war?

  • MAHMOOD MAMDANI: It will not just be dragged into the war; Uganda is likely to see it as a continuation of the war of liberation. The problem between the two Sudans is more serious than the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia. We need to look at the background to understand the reasons for the current fighting. Garang had this idea of New Sudan. He understood that for South Sudan to win the fight for independence he had to find allies. He found these in Darfur and South Kordofan. The people in these border regions were mainly opposed to the independence of South Sudan; they thought it a betrayal to the larger cause of a New Sudan.
  • Immediately after independence SPLA was divided; one group saying Sudan is a foreign state and it is not our business now, the other group was saying no; we have a political commitment to support our allies in South Kordofan. The big fight in South Kordofan is about the SPLA; they have forces fighting alongside militias in South Kordofan against the Sudan army, and Sudan is saying this is an invasion. It is a serious conflict. In the Mbeki mediation, South Sudan wanted to focus on oil first but Sudan was calling for a focus on border demarcation so they can patrol the border against SPLA infiltration. South Sudan refused.


  • MAHMOOD MAMDANI: Because they had soldiers on the other side of the border; that would mean withdrawing from South Kordofan, Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile. These are part of Sudan.

THE INDEPENDENT: Kenya has found oil, Uganda has oil and Tanzania has gas. What do you think will be the implications of this on the politics and economies of these countries?

  • MAHMOOD MAMDANI: It is going to be a big challenge especially in Uganda where the entry of oil money coincides with the politics of succession. All the factions, even inside the NRM, all are preparing for succession and all are aware that the inflow of oil is likely to coincide with succession. So we will have the toughest challenge because we will be making a transition to an oil economy alongside a political transition. I think Kenya is in a better situation because in spite of the levels of corruption there, Kenyans have shown an internal capacity for political reform; just look at their ability to reform the Constitution and tame the power of the executive. The problem in Kenya is the ICC process which has introduced an external element. The ICC has no political accountability inside the country; its political accountability is to the UN Security Council.

THE INDEPENDENT: What do you think are the risks of the ICC indictment and prosecution to Kenya?

  • MAHMOOD MAMDANI: We know the violence in the Rift Valley was tied to social issues like right of land ownership. One side says land is a tribal right. The other side says land is marketable and can be bought and sold by any Kenyan. Thus it is the right of a citizen. This is the same notion that is playing out in Darfur: who owns the land, is it tribal or national? The problem is you cannot solve the social question in the courts. You cannot even solve the political problem in the courts. The ICC will try individuals, and leave Kenya to solve the political and social problems. Will the selective trial of particular politicians, and not others, make the political problem worse?

THE INDEPENDENT: What social and economic implications will oil discovery in the region have on the fast tracking of EAC integration?

  • MAHMOOD MAMDANI: The weaker the institutions the bigger the challenges; the fast tracking of the EAC is more of a media gimmick. No one wants to be against the EAC in public. So there is no public debate, which is for the worse.

THE INDEPENDENT: Rwanda and Uganda have been at each other’s throat but they seem to have fairly improved their relations. Do you think it will last?

  • MAHMOOD MAMDANI: Museveni has always had a good sense of knowing which way the wind is blowing and he can change in response to the change in wind. Some conclude from this that he has no principles; others say that he is pragmatic. He changes with the demands of the circumstances. I think Museveni has demonstrated a remarkable ability to see things from a medium term perspective and to act in an interest larger than just individual.

THE INDEPENDENT: So what wind did he see? …

(full interview text).

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