“National security then is the ability to preserve the nation’s physical integrity and territory; to maintain its economic relations with the rest of the world on reasonable terms; to preserve its nature, institution, and governance from disruption from outside; and to control its borders.”
-Harold Brown, US Secretary of Defense 1977-1981
On October 14th President Obama announced via letter to Congress the deployment of combat-equipped military advisors to Uganda ostensibly to help eliminate the notorious rebel group Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) led by Joseph Kony. Although these troops are going to be combat-ready they are not supposed to engage enemy forces unless previously engaged, meaning the executive will be able to sidestep the War Powers Act once the purely-ceremonial 90 days are up. As Obama puts it:
“For more than two decades, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has murdered, raped, and kidnapped tens of thousands of men, women, and children in central Africa. The LRA continues to commit atrocities across the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and South Sudan that have a disproportionate impact on regional security.”
There is not one perfect definition of ‘national security,’ but Brown gives a solid one. National security is, first and foremost, the protection of the territorial integrity of a nation with regard to potentially disruptive outside influences. Obama believes this troop deployment “is in the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.” I am inclined to hear his definition of ‘national security’ and ‘foreign policy interest,’ but his lack of specificity is important.
For a moment let’s cast aside the idea that inserting into Uganda a baseline of around 100 US special forces troops (presumably JSOC troops under AFRICOM) to ‘help’ combat a machete-wielding rebel gang “furthers US national security interests.” After all, it’s not as if at any moment the LRA could turn up raping and pillaging their way through main-street USA. Likewise, the troop deployment didn’t stem from Obama’s heart-felt need to alleviate the plight of impoverished and terrorized Central African civilian populations. The public intention of our latest foreign military involvement is to “act as advisers to partner forces that have the goal of removing from the battlefield Joseph Kony and other senior leadership of the LRA.” Sounds honorable enough right?
When viewed within a larger framework the reasoning behind American application of military pressure to the region begins to take shape. To obtain a clear picture, let’s remove all the kumbaya rhetoric from Obama’s announcement and discard the touching notion that the United States government cares so deeply for Central Africans. We should probably start with the least important component, the political cover.
Lord’s Resistance Army/Movement
The LRA is one of the most infamous rebel armies in the world. Joseph Kony, the mystical Christian leader of the LRA, considers himself a conduit of the Holy Spirit and has, for more than two decades, led/instructed his forces in various civilian massacres, abductions, systematic rapes, and battles against state-military and militia forces in northern Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan. The LRA was one of many premillenialist groups that splintered off after the Ugandan dictator Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA) finally smashed Alice Auma’s Holy Spirit Movement (HSM) in 1987.
Alice Auma, an Acholi from northern Uganda, was popularly believed to be possessed by the spirit Lakwena (messenger) which instructed her to gather together an army in 1986 and overthrow the official government of Museveni (a Bantu) in Kampala. During a brief partnership with the Ugandan People’s Democratic Army (UPDA) the HSM achieved widespread popular support, especially in northern Uganda’s Acholiland, by inflicting two minor defeats on Museveni’s NRA. However the alliance between UPDA and HSM was short-lived and the the movement was shattered by Museveni’s artillery during a push on Kampala in late 1987.
The HSM experienced widespread popular support in northern Uganda when compared to other insurgent groups and the official Ugandan armed forces because they were relatively even-handed with regard to relations between the rebels and the native populations. HSM operated as a traditional army, invading and taking territory on a semi-permanent basis. Once HSM was broken and Auma taken into custody many spin-off factions emerged, but the LRA has turned out to possess true staying-power. They abandoned the HSM strategy of marching across the battlefield in cross-shaped formations singing hymns and anointed with Holy Water to protect from bullets (which was pretty ineffective against machine-gun nests with interlocking fields of fire) and began adopting more of a hit-and-run guerrilla strategy. The LRA began a massive campaign of forced recruitment of child-soldiers and became feared for their systematic atrocities against native populations, previously treated somewhat fairly by the HSM.
The central question to be asked is: Okay, so what’s new? If we cared so much for the human rights and safety of Central Africans, why didn’t we send troops years ago when the LRA had around 2000 combat troops and 3000 support personnel (2003)? Now the group has an estimated fighting strength of 400. Obama has already stated that the troops will be deployed to the neighboring countries of the DRC, CAR, and newly independent South Sudan. This makes sense, considering “in recent years the LRA has had no active presence in Uganda.” Repeat: no presence in Uganda.
As LRA ranks were depleted by Ugandan military forces, they began migrating into neighboring territories to take shelter and regroup, crossing over into South Sudan, DRC, and CAR. For some years since 1993-94, the LRA push into South Sudan was backed by the Government of Sudan (GoS) in an attempt to disrupt and defeat the southern rebellion, but as of September 2011 “no evidence exists of Sudanese government support for the group…” To this day, LRA activities are concentrated in these three states neighboring Uganda, especially in DRC.
Uganda and Museveni
Okay, so the LRA are a vile bunch, but our friend Museveni is no saint. Since taking power in 1986 Museveni’s control over the Ugandan military has been absolute. The foundation of the conflict, specifically with regard to Uganda, has always been a tribal one, with the northern Acholi people rebelling against what they view as economic and political marginalization on the part of the Bantu people (of which Museveni is a part) that comprise 2/3 of the population and reside in the southern, south-eastern, and western parts of the country. According to a report by the Small Arms Survey, appalling violence has been a tool for all sides.
“Breathtaking brutality, political manoeuvring, and propaganda have marked the conflict on all sides. The LRA has fought this war with ruthless attacks and abductions, and the Government of Uganda has responded with structural violence on a grand scale against the people of northern Uganda. Northern and parts of eastern Uganda have been systematically marginalized. Warfare tactics on the government side consisted of forcing the entire population in these areas into so-called protected villages, which are in reality displacement camps with inhumane conditions. This move has destroyed traditional structures and interrupted development…Furthermore, there are numerous reports of violence by the Ugandan army against civilians in the region…”
Bush II and Museveni
So why shack up with yet another dubious character? We have financially/militarily supported the Ugandan government of president-for-life Museveni for years and he has, in turn, faithfully supported our microwar against al-Shabaab in Somalia by sending an estimated 5000 US-financed Ugandan troops into the country as part of a larger (<10k) African Union deployment. There is an argument to be made that our deployment of combat-ready troops to Uganda is simply a ‘thank you’ for Museveni’s readiness to do our bidding in Somalia and to provide cheap mercs for rampart cannon-fodder security at places like the US embassy in Baghdad. Given the structure of our support for various dictators over the years, this makes sense. However, I believe this is a narrow approach to tackling the subject, after all we just gave the guy $47mn worth of military equipment. That’s a pretty solid thank-you.
Previous US Military/Legislative Involvement
AFRICOM already botched a joint Ugandan/Congolese/South Sudanese push (code-named Operation Lightning Thunder) to eradicate LRA forces in NE DRC in December of 2008 that failed miserably with regard to its main objective, killing Kony and as many of his commanders and fighters as possible. John Pfeffer of FPIF rightly points out that about the only thing that could possibly be considered a success about the operation was the fact that Ugandan and DRC forces worked together, however inefficiently. The Ugandans and East Congolese were bitter enemies in the Second Congo War (1998-2003) in which Uganda occupied vast areas of what is now the DRC and in which over 5mn people died, making it the deadliest war since WWII. Lightning Thunder was conducted under the purview of 17 US special forces advisors and was meant to trap and obliterate Kony’s combat force in the densely forested Garamba National Park area of northern DRC. Unfortunately bad weather and lack of interoperability between fighting forces helped the mission to fail, which instead caused LRA retaliatory attacks on surrounding civilian populations that killed around 1000 and displaced 180,000 more. Maybe round two will be more productive.
The predicate to Obama’s troop deployment was the congressional approval in May 2010 of Public Law 111-172, or the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009, which lays the groundwork for in-depth American involvement in the disruption of LRA activities in the region and sets out specific policy targets with regard to reconstruction efforts and aid levels.
Once again this brings us back to timing. Why, considering the Obama administration’s interest in Africa has been noticeably absent compared to that of Bush, should we suddenly play rescuer to our client states’ populations that, in the case of Uganda, are not actually being threatened by the group we are meant to help destroy?
Checking the Chinese
Now on to the fun stuff. If we can rule out that Obama’s mission is neither wholly driven by legitimate humanitarian concerns, nor by some tit-for-tat compensation for Ugandan military presence in Somalia, what then could be driving us into an easily-escalatable military presence in the jungles of central Africa? It’s sadly cliche at this point but nonetheless true: oil, precious metals and minerals, geopolitical strategy, and a whole lot more oil.
According to Pepe Escobar at the Asia Times:
“Uganda – and nearby eastern Congo – happens to hold fabulous quantities of, among others, diamonds, gold, platinum, copper, cobalt, tin, phosphates, tantalite, magnetite, uranium, iron ore, gypsum, beryllium, bismuth, chromium, lead, lithium, niobium and nickel. Many among these are ultra-precious rare earth – of which China exercises a virtual monopoly.”
Ugandan oil exploration is centered in the Albertine basin [pdf] region that neighbors the DRC. The discovery of oil in Uganda was officially announced by UK-based Tullow Oil (previously Heritage Oil) in 2006, and in the meantime Western oil conglomerates, namely Tullow, have been buying up exploration/exploitation rights and making huge finds. Uganda’s proven reserves are in the ballpark of 2.5bn barrels, with an upper bound of around 6bn barrels (according to Bloomberg) as exploration moves forward, making it potentially the newest powerhouse producer in Africa.
Tullow/Heritage Concessions Prior to Transfer of Title
Tullow is an entertaining side-story in itself. Spun off from Heritage Oil, but still basically owned by the same investors, it has interests in the North Sea and in many African countries including Uganda and DRC. In 2009 Tullow secured $1.885bn in funding for “future capital commitments” from a consortium of Western banks, including BNP Paribas, Bank of Scotland Plc, Barclays Bank PLC, Calyon, ING Bank N.V., Lloyds TSB Bank plc, Natixis SA, NIBC Bank N.V., Societe Generale, Standard Bank Plc, Standard Chartered Bank, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation, and The Royal Bank of Scotland plc. In addition the World Bank-associated IFC provided the top-off $115mn. Currently embroiled in a bribery scandal that reaches all the way to upper echelons of the Ugandan government, including Museveni, and with the sale of some of their concession blocks (to France’s Total and China’s CNOOC) being put on hold for trying to swindle the Ugandans out of approximately $400mn in capital gains taxes resulting from the sale of Heritage assets to Tullow last year (a deal that basically moved concession blocks from the front pocket to the back one), these guys certainly don’t display a spotless track-record. But back to the point.
Chinese, and to a lesser extent Indian/Russian, economic infiltration in Africa has been widely documented and poses the real ‘threat’ to Western interests. Take Sudan for example.
South Sudan possesses the vast majority of Sudanese oil fields (producing over 350,000bpd), and reaps 98% of its budget from oil revenue. Given its landlocked geography, lack of refineries, and no distribution channels available with any neighbors, the Government of South Sudan (GOSS) must use Khartoum’s pipeline/refinery system to deliver its oil to market via Port Sudan on the Red Sea. Naturally this causes some North-South tension because the two states are supposed to split the oil revenue 50/50. The 50/50 split was put into effect in 2005 and ended with the secession of the South earlier this year. GOSS has already expressed their wish to receive a higher percentage if not all of the revenue in the future, but as long as they are shackled to the North’s pipeline/refinery network they’re just going to have to suck it up and negotiate. Unfortunately the North haven’t been too kind on the price-point, trying to extort a $32/barrel transit fee for Southern oil shipped through their system which Juba (Southern capital) referred to as “broad daylight robbery.” Considering the South was coming to the table with a beginning price-point of of $.50/barrel the North’s number is laughable. As it stands the price-point decision will be left up to the AU and the South will pay in arrears.
2/3 of Sudanese oil is sold to China, and considering they financed the pipeline and a significant amount of petro-infrastructure loans have yet to be paid back, the Chinese are in a strong bargaining position and have a considerable vested interest in getting both sides to come to a deal. Chinese moderation, in addition to AU decision-making, can hopefully bring the South and North together on a price-point that is mutually beneficial. It’s central to China’s posture with regard to Sudan that the Red Sea pipeline remains the artery for shipments of South Sudanese oil and that interest is diverted from other Kenyan possibilities. Why does China invest so heavily in the Sudan (and in much of Africa)? Because a) they cut great deals as far as the Africans are concerned, complete with massive civilian infrastructure projects, and b) China is able to make wilder bets with regard to security because state-coffers back their investments. The Chinese state basically eats the insurance premiums that would be charged to western private corporations if they were to go to their insurance company and ask for a coverage quote on a pipeline in volatile Sudan.
The South’s attempt to extricate themselves from Khartoum has driven them to explore additional routes to the sea through Kenya, including a pipeline to Lamu and multiple railways to Mombasa and other Kenyan ports. The South Sudan-Kenya pipeline will likely never happen given the years it would take to complete combined with the predicted slowdown of Southern production. South Sudanese production is expected to decline to 200,000bpd by 2016 and 160,000bpd by 2018 without further discoveries. However there is potential for more finds, and if Total can make a discovery in their licensed Block B area this could make a South Sudan-Kenya, or more likely a South Sudan-Uganda-Kenya (given vast Ugandan/DRC deposits) pipeline, viable down the road. Indeed, the latter could be made viable without further finds in South Sudan given appropriate security levels.
The Chinese would prefer interest to be distracted from the Kenyan option, but the US certainly doesn’t. The plan for a South Sudan-Kenya railway has been scrapped, but a South Sudan-Uganda-Kenya railway option seems to be moving forward. However, the exact specifics of the program and the companies behind it are hard to nail down. According to a Standard Media article from Dec. 2010, the East African Rail (EAR) would connect Juba to the existing line between Gulu and Tororo (Ugandan cities on the South Sudanese and Kenyan borders, respectively), and then connect to the existing Uganda-Kenya rail system thereby facilitating delivery to ports (Mombasa/Lamu) on the Indian Ocean. The venture would include revamping dilapidated rail systems already in place and constructing the Juba-Gulu link and is supposedly partly financed by Texas-based Ayr Logistics’ Ayr Development Group (a company that is extremely hard to find information on), Germany’s ThyssenKrupp (a large multinational tech conglomerate that would provide steel and other materials and additional financing), and Russia’s Metrostroy (which would be the major construction/rehab contractor and provide additional financing). Here’s an interesting IPS article claiming the World Bank would help with the reconstruction and that Indian firms would be brought in on the project as well (but it’s from Jan. 2010). And here’s an All Africa article from Aug. 2011 detailing further, and perhaps more up-to-date, foreign investments from Egypt’s Citadel Capital and by-extension France.
Although the specifics would be nice one thing is certain: capital is flowing and there is notably increased interest in furthering Western-financed ‘regional integration’ in Central/East Africa. Translation: There is an intense interest in providing an alternate transport route for Central/East African natural resources to market inside of a Western-controlled infrastructure. It isn’t absolute control over which companies get the concessions to exploit resources that matters most (although that does play a role), but rather soft- and potentially hard-power control over the ‘spigot’ that the US craves. And the most valuable spigots are ones which could potentially have a wider pipe connected tomorrow than exists today, e.g. Uganda/South Sudan/DRC as exploration matures.
It should come as no surprise that CAR also has oil deposits with the potential for exploitation. A central problem with regard to western exploitation in northern CAR, the North and South Kivu regions of DRC, South Sudan, and the Albertine Basin region in general, stems from a lack of security and transport infrastructure. Uganda will serve as a foothold for AFRICOM in central Africa, providing a semblance of security upon which a foundation for this infrastructure can be constructed.
The funniest aspect of this whole story is that it’s so painfully obvious, what with no LRA threat in Uganda to begin with. We will send out troops on a ‘stabilizing humanitarian mission’ that will result in control over the region’s energy spigot, initiating an environment where the Chinese will have to come to us for permission to exploit their share of whatever resource it is they want to pull from the ground. The scariest aspect of this story is that there are plenty of other vicious rebel groups in the region which could easily be interchanged with the LRA to serve as a public eye-candy threat to US ‘national security interests.’ Given the transposable and escalatable facets of the regional conflict, it’s doubtful whether the approximate number of 100 US troops has anywhere to go but up.
Finally, with South Sudan on the fast-track to client-state status, and Uganda firmly in the grip of Western powers, the deployment of combat equipped JSOC forces under the guise of ‘military advisors’ is just the first step in solidifying economic and military hegemony over the region at the expense of Chinese interests. What the Chinese reaction will be remains to be seen. More broadly, the deployment is just the next step in the Western recolonization of Africa that began with a bang in Libya.