President Obama’s announcement earlier today of his intention to send ground troops into Uganda to fight militant Christians came as a surprise to virtually everyone. A nation which the US has historically shown little interest in, Uganda is likewise relatively anonymous on the international scene.
Uganda’s primary involvement in foreign affairs has been its contribution to the African Union’s attempted occupation of Somalia, as they have sent large numbers of troops to the nation to back the self-proclaimed government.
Their involvement in Somalia has already caused some blowback. In July of 2010, a suicide bombing attack by Somalia’s al-Shabaab faction killed 74 people in the Ugandan capital of Kampala.
But it is not the spectre of the Islamist al-Shabaab that has brought America to Uganda. Instead, President Obama maintains that the invasion is about targeting Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and self-described spokesperson of the Holy Spirit.
The LRA’s unique brand of Christian militancy has given it a 25 year history of terror, killing civilians, using child soldiers, and lopping off the limbs of rivals. Though a significant nuisance in Central Africa, the LRA has no real history of fighting the US, and the claims that fighting them is a “national security interest” is perplexing, to say the least.
The group’s operations center around Northern Uganda, which is also where the US combat troops are assumed to be headed. They are not restricted to there, however, with operations in Sudan and Congo common, and the US involvement could easily spill over into Uganda’s neighbors.
Its operations also come amid the complicated backdrop of Uganda’s internal politics, with President Yoweri Museveni reelected earlier this year in a vote that was disputed by international observers. Museveni got his start as an anti-Amin rebel, and has ruled Uganda since 1986. Constitutional changes in 2005 solidified his hold on the regime, with many believing he is a President for Life at this point. He is also broadly popular with fundamentalist Christian elements in the country.