Delegates vote at the UN General Assembly Emergency session in New York on March 2, 2022 , after a resolution condemning Russian invasion of Ukraine was passed. PHOTO/AFP


Why Uganda abstained at vote on Ukraine war

What you need to know:

  • Uganda joined 34 other countries in taking a stance of abstention during Wednesday’s UN General Assembly vote on the Ukraine Crisis.
  • Could standing military deals with both Russia and Ukraine have tipped the scales?

Uganda’s vote at the UN on Wednesday, condemning Russia’s invasion and demanding its immediate withdrawal, was a gambit meant to serve the interests of two powerful puppet-masters.

In an emergency session of the UN’s general assembly, 141 of the 193 member states voted for the resolution. 

Thirty-five—including Uganda—abstained, and a further five voted against it. The only countries to vote in support of Moscow were Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea and Syria.

Mr Adonia Ayebare, Uganda’s Permanent Representative to the UN, offered a plausible defence of Uganda’s position at the UN vote.

“As incoming chair of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), neutrality is key. Uganda will continue to play a constructive role in the maintenance of peace and security both regionally and globally,” he tweeted hours after the vote.

At the peak of the Cold War, the Non-Aligned Movement was formed largely on the initiative of then-Yugoslav President, Josip Broz Tito. 

The NAM’s underpinning was a dedication by its members not to align themselves with either the United States or the Soviet Union. 

It essentially sought to remain independent or neutral. When a unipolar world order installed the United States as the top dog, the NAM seemed to peter out.

The decision by Uganda and 34 others to abstain has, however, reverberated around the Western capitals of the ‘free world’, perhaps, showing that we live in a multipolar international system. 

Critics though, say the decision may bear parallels with the words of Martin Luther King Jr, who said thus: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Darling of the West
For long spells, President Museveni has been a point-man of the West in the Great Lakes, one of the most restive pockets in the world. 

Uganda also crafted a major alliance with the United States in its war against terror when it deployed its troops in the Horn of Africa enclave in March 2007 against the Al-Shabaab insurgents.

This turned into a boon as the United States provided significant development and security assistance to Uganda, with a financial war-chest exceeding $970m (Shs3.4 trillion) per year. 

It also plays a key role in supporting the professionalisation of the military; providing antiretroviral treatment for more than 990,000 Ugandans living with HIV/Aids; and working to boost economic growth and agricultural productivity, improve educational and health outcomes, and support democratic governance through inclusive, accountable institutions.

The US, which is the single biggest donor funder to the country, pools a sizeable chunk of Uganda’s health sector budget. 

Of the $896m (Shs3.1 trillion) in assistance to Uganda in 2018, $511m (Shs1.8 trillion) went to the health sector, specifically interventions in HIV, malaria, Tuberculosis and other communicable diseases, maternal and child health, nutrition, and health systems strengthening. 

It has also donated millions of vaccines to Uganda to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

‘Move to the Left’
But as President Museveni’s halo began to slip, his erstwhile allies prodded him over the ruling party’s governance and human rights record. 

The government was prompted to build new alliances in the Far East with China and Russia.
Russia has since then been the major supplier of fighter jets that Uganda has relied on to ramp up its fire-power in the skies. 

In 2011, government raided the reserves and withdrew $740m (Shs2.6 trillion) for the procurement of six Sukhoi Su-30 multirole fighters from Russia.

Rostec, one of the lead partners in RT—a state-owned Russian company, is a renowned supplier of military hardware to the Ugandan military. 

In 2016, Russian helicopters, a holding company of Rostec, supplied Uganda with a VIP version of the Mi-171E helicopter as part of a contract signed in 2015.

Those who support the government military expenditure postulate that given the instability across the Great Lakes and among its neighbours, the Kampala regime must establish a cordon sanitaire to guard its borders from aggressive neighbours.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is using Belarus as a staging ground for his war and enjoys support from the iron-fisted ruler of the country, Alexander Lukashenko.

Observers, therefore, say while the NAM narrative offered by the Ugandan government was plausible, it also wanted to curry favour with two eastern European countries that help keep its military machines purring.

Military support

The Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) has also relied on Ukraine for repairs and training of its Air Force. 

In March 2020, a 14-man team of pilots, engineers, and technicians from Ukraine’s Odessa Aviation Plant (OAP) completed a major repair and upgrades of six of Uganda’s L-39 Albatross training and combat aircraft. 
Eight Ugandan L-39ZA jets have since then been overhauled and modernised, by the Ukraine firm.
Uganda first received three L-39ZO trainers from Libya in 1987, which are reported to still be in service. 

In 2002, Uganda also received a further four ex-Bulgarian Air Force L-39Zas, which were overhauled in Ukraine in 2009/2010.

Earlier on in 1997, Emmanuel Katto, a shrewd businessman, purchased junk MI-24 attack helicopters from Belarus, a neighbouring state of Ukraine and Russia. 

Upon inspection at the Entebbe Air Force base, it was discovered that the helicopters were not overhauled, had worn-out tyres, as well as rusted pipes and were not air-worthy. 

The helicopters were meant to be deployed in northern Uganda to fight Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) acolytes.

According to the 2002 findings of a commission of inquiry led by Justice Julia Ssebutinde, who is now a judge at The Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ), this deal cost Ugandan taxpayers a substantial loss worth Shs14b.