A shift in Uganda’s foreign policy towards Somalia will most likely increase its defence spending once the country starts a military offensive against the Al Shabaab, the East African extension of the Al Qaeda terrorist group.
It has now become clear that Uganda, which on average spends about 2.2 per cent of its gross domestic product on defence, is likely to expand its budget in the near future to guarantee safety of its troops in Somalia.
Pundits in Kampala believe the Uganda government will have to fork out more from its pockets once the mandate of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia is reviewed into an enforcement mission, which is what most African countries have been demanding.
Uganda currently has 2,500 troops in Somalia. Considering that only five countries — Libya, Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria and Angola — contribute 75 per cent of the African Union’s funding and the rest of the African countries contribute the remaining 25 per cent, only goes to show that Africa has limited resources to fund an offensive operation in Somalia on its own.
These five countries are bound to make significant decisions in the operation, which might not be acceptable to those for the new regional foreign policy in Somalia.
During the 15th AU Summit in Kampala last week, there was reluctance by most countries to contribute troops to raise the required 20,000 for fear of retaliatory attacks by Al Shabaab, although there was consensus on political backing for military action.
The Uganda People’s Defence Forces Commander Gen Katumba Wamala, however, told The EastAfrican that for now, they expect the United Nations to foot the bill for the additional troops in Somalia.
“If countries are ready to commit troops then the UN should be ready to foot the bill. Even now we do not spend our own money from our budget to keep the troops in Somalia,” said Gen Wamala.
But for an offensive mission, it would mean military supplies, medicine and salaries for the soldiers must keep flowing. Past experience shows this has not been the case. For instance, African Mission in Somalia (Amisom) troops have at times gone without pay for months due to technical hurdles.
“Even today, things are not the best for the troops. They have very limited ammunition. Every bullet that is shot must be accounted for, which has made it very difficult for Amisom to fight back at times,” sad Isaac Musumba, Uganda’s Minister for Regional Co-operation.
To date, only the US and the EU have supported the current peacekeeping troops inside Somalia.
The EU and the United Nations Security Council have signed packages that will see increased financing and logistics flowing to the peacekeeping mission in Somalia.
The EU for instance has earmarked €235 million for Somalia till 2013. Both the US and the EU for instance have given funds to support the training of security forces and humanitarian assistance to civilians.
EU will train 2,000 Somali men in addition to the 1,200 whose training has been funded by the US.But all this funding is earmarked for the 8,000 peacekeepers, a figure the African Union had originally been planned for and not the 20,000 troops proposed at the AU Summit to begin peace enforcement.Should Uganda decide to sustain its Somalia operation, its resources envelop is expected to shrink due to increased defence spending.
Since re-invigorating its campaign against the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group in northern and eastern Uganda in 2002, Uganda has sought to boost official defence spending substantially.
This has provoked tensions with donors, with whom Kampala had previously agreed to a 2 per cent of GDP ceiling on military expenditure.