We had just watched footage on NTV of Uganda’s impressive servicemen and women in Somalia and Agnes Nandutu was signing off. My maid asked,
“So were those Ugandan soldiers born and raised in Somalia?”
“Of course not,” I answered. “What makes you think they could have been born there?”
“ Ever since I came to Kampala I have been hearing of our soldiers in Somalia,” she said. “So you mean they just went there?”
“And not so long ago,” I explained. “Most of the ones you have just seen might not even have done a year there, for they change them according to what they call battle groups.”
“So when did the first battle group go to Somalia?” she asked.
“Maybe eight years ago,” I said before checking. “At that time there was no government. It has been a long and grueling task, capturing territory inch by inch from al Shabaab in their natural setting…” I was still going on about the Ugandan troops’ valour when she interrupted impatiently.
“And what have we benefitted from it all?” she asked.
I explained about our Somalia intervention’s contribution to curbing the proliferation of small arms and terrorism.
“I mean in terms of riches,” she said impatiently again.
“That was not the intention of Uganda going to Somalia,” I started, but the minister’s maid, who had been quiet since the discussion began, stepped in saying,
“Uganda is too innocent to benefit economically,” she said. “Even if its troops were the only ones stationed in Somalia for 100 years, we would not benefit the way other less innocent countries would if they were the ones to make the sacrifice we have made.”
I turned and looked at her, an unspoken question on my face urgently requiring her to elaborate.
“The other night I heard honourable whispering to his guests that for any properly matured nation to send hundreds of its boys to die in another country, there has to be a big economic gain,” she reported. “Honourable argued that it would otherwise be enough to make a lot of noise in those big international meetings about the situation in Somalia, sponsor a motion in AU or UN and then tighten our own internal security to minimise risks to our people.
But to send thousands of troops when the richer and militarily more powerful countries wouldn’t, a less innocent country would have claimed some huge economic benefits. He actually gave the example of Iraq, Libya and Kuwait where Western military interventions have been purely for billions of dollars worth of oil business.”
“So what would Uganda have done to become richer from Somalia had it not been such an innocent, uninitiated state?” I queried.
“Honourble said that Somalia is a huge country with a very long coastline with a vantage command over the Indian Ocean,” she explained. “He says that the prospect of controlling trade routes on the ocean should have had landlocked Uganda’s mouth watering if we hadn’t been so innocent.
He said that the minimum he would have done had he been influential would be to get the Somali government lease Uganda several kilometres of the water front for 99 years and a concession to do a railway from the coast. That investors would then be sought to develop the new routes but after the concessions had been secured.”
“So why hasn’t he suggested that in government where he is a minister?” I asked.
“He told his guests who asked the same question that he is not influential enough,” she answered. “That the Somalia strategies are not formulated in cabinet where he sits, and he has no access to the forum that handles Somalia.”
“But why cant he get cabinet interested in how we can economically exploit the territories where our troops are in charge of securing the governments there?” I insisted.
“That is the innocence I am talking about,” she said with a tone of impatience over my apparent slowness to understand. “The opportunity is staring at us and others who are not shy are doing things directly in Iraq, Libya and so on. But for us we are too innocent to see it.”
With that, she picked her bag and said good night.