Uganda is recalling at least two dozen of its military officers in Somalia for their alleged participation in a scam to steal food and fuel and sell it on the black market. Though corruption is rampant in both countries, the timing of this major shake-up in the African peacekeeping mission by Uganda is noteworthy as it comes on the heels of a major European funding push in Somalia.
The allegations about the scam, which implicate Michael Ondoga, the top commander of the 6,000-strong Ugandan AMISOM contingent, were brought to light back in June in a report by the country’s independent Daily Monitor. President Yoweri Museveni’s decision to move against the officers now, just as European nations have pledged a $860 million “New Deal” to help usher Somalia out of conflict, may invite greater scrutiny around corruption — but showcases Museveni’s savvy.
Major European donors have proven to the Museveni government as recently as April that they are willing to back up their threats to pull funding in the face of flagrant corruption. Amid already serious concern over corruption in Somalia, Kampala is undoubtedly aware that their AMISOM contingent’s practices would not stand up to scrutiny and are now preemptively moving to deflect pressure down the line.
Uganda’s support of Western strategic interests in East Africa through its regional engagement, foremost among them its participation in AMISOM, is the bedrock upon which it has built international support for its government. This support has wavered in recent months following the uproar around a controversial proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill as well as the political crackdown after the high profile defection of General David Sejusa. While the scam allegations may be embarrassing, dealing with them now can demonstrate that the Museveni government is serious about tackling corruption — and more importantly that their major international selling-point remains credible.
And unlike the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (and the Sejusa affair, to a lesser extent), Uganda’s AMISOM involvement is an issue that has a significant bearing on the government’s reputation among its African neighbors. The leader’s recent criticisms of the ICC in support of the Kenyan government shows the importance Kampala is currently placing on its regional ties. To be seen on the right side of the corruption issue could also ensure the sort of regional support Museveni and his allies will count on should their messy succession issue leave them in the same boat as Kenya in a few years time.