Until now, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda has benefited from his position as one of America’s most trusted African autocrats, a rogue’s gallery that also includes the former liberation leaders turned lifelong authoritarians in Rwanda, Ethiopia and Eritrea. America’s patronage has ensured protection for Museveni and prosperity for Uganda, even as he shut down pro-democracy activists, supported the death penalty for homosexuals, pursued a brutal counter-insurgency campaign in the north, and plundered the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire).
But with the rubble still being cleared, Ugandans are waking up to the costs of their alliance with America. With elections looming next year, Museveni is likely to come under scrutiny for his military adventurism in Somalia and beyond. As a Ugandan friend who asked to remain anonymous told me, ”People don’t even know what our under-prepared military is even doing in Somalia.”
The Obama administration, meanwhile, has done little to clarify its incoherent Somalia policy, relying instead on covert actions that only seed further resentment. Indeed, despite hopes that Obama’s election would turn a page in U.S.-Africa relations, the administration’s misguided approach has not deviated from the militarized one promoted by his predecessor. Sadly, until al-Shabab inevitably sets its sights on American soil, it is likely that ordinary Africans will continue to bear the costs.
Zachariah Mampilly is an assistant professor of political science and Africana studies at Vassar College.