Commentary

Is the East African region at risk of military abuse?

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By Charles Kazooba

Posted  Wednesday, February 19   2014 at  09:37

In Summary

Fortunately, from a legal point of view, UPDF intervention conforms to the principle of consent as defined by the International Court of Justice in the case of Nicaragua vs United States. Under that principle, a legitimate and legal government that acts for the state (in this case, SPLM led by President Salva Kiir) had a right to invite UPDF through its commander-in-chief, President Museveni.

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Global security is a preserve of the United Nations Security Council. But in recent years, a new philosophy has come up: Africans for Africa. So, military intervention by the Uganda army to save South Sudan from exploding into an ungovernable state just like Somalia is considerably plausible because Africans are solving an African problem.

This has triggered debate on the issue of consent. It is said that there was no status of force agreement before the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) deployment. The status of force agreement is signed between two countries and spells out what an intervention force is allowed to do and not to do, how long that force can stay in the receiving country and how funding can be solicited.

Fortunately, from a legal point of view, UPDF intervention conforms to the principle of consent as defined by the International Court of Justice in the case of Nicaragua vs United States. Under that principle, a legitimate and legal government that acts for the state (in this case, SPLM led by President Salva Kiir) had a right to invite UPDF through its commander-in-chief, President Museveni.

The UPDF intervention in South Sudan is not the first of its kind in East Africa. Both Ugandan and Rwandan armies in late 1990s invaded the DR Congo on pretext of pre-emptive self-defence. In 2007, UPDF was urged by the international community to create an enabling environment for democratic governance in Somalia. To date, Ugandan soldiers are still in Somalia, alongside troops from Kenya, Ethiopia and Burundi. In late 1970s, Tanzania also invaded Uganda on the basis of self-defence against Idi Amin’s army.

It, therefore, appears military intervention by Africans into Africa has gained currency.

“African solutions for African problems” is the prevailing mantra about security on the continent. This new trend of unilateral foreign military interventions by Africans should be worrying to East Africa. For instance, does the principle of consent as in the case of South Sudan reconcile with the principle of self-determination?

Any government forced to call in external military assistance to protect itself against internal opposition is not genuinely in a position to speak for the state, and that the provision of such assistance by outside states constitutes an impermissible interference with internal political processes. The South Sudan case study points to a much bigger picture for East African states. Conflicts in the region have attracted a massive military buildup amongst the East African states to out compete each other.

Since the deployment of the UPDF in Somalia, other East African countries have moved to take up more daring military missions. Last year, Tanzania commanded a peace enforcement mission that annihilated the M23 rebel group from eastern DRC. The victory sent signals to UPDF that it was not the only seasoned force in the region. Kenya Defence Forces also exhibited its might after pursuing suspected terrorists into Somalia.
Although military might is good for national interests, experience shows there is a greater risk of abusing it.
Secondly, our East African armies are more likely to end up in numerous conflicts, which could lead to a massive restructuring of the region’s international system, which will strengthen some states and maybe obliterate others.

Our real problem is failure to understand the consequences of always relying on military solutions for our problems.

Mr Kazooba is a journalist specialising in African integration. charleskazooba@gmail.com