MAX Analysis CAR & Uganda: UPDF involvement in CAR due to security, economic, geostrategic considerations; may hinder peace process, credibility of MISCA August 18, 2014

Current Situation

Over recent weeks, Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) troops, partaking in the African Union-led Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA), have reportedly clashed several times with ex-Seleka militants in the mining town of Nzacko, located in CAR’s southeastern regions. Additionally, the Muslim ex-Seleka movement has been accused by the Ugandan military of cooperating with Uganda’s longstanding enemy, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) militant group. This alleged partnership has prompted UPDF officials to declare the ex-Seleka as an enemy of Uganda as well. In response, ex-Seleka officials have claimed that the UPDF troops’ presence in CAR has allowed them to plunder the country’s natural resources, such as gold and diamonds, allegations which have been dismissed as ill-founded by the UPDF.
MAX Analysis CAR & Uganda
MAX Analysis CAR & Uganda

Uganda is a prominent contributor to peacekeeping missions in Africa, with UPDF contingents stationed in South Sudan, DRC, and Somalia. UPDF troops were deployed to the CAR in 2012 in order to hunt down LRA leader, Joseph Kony, in cooperation with US Special Forces. However, in March 2013, the Ugandan military was compelled to exit the country by Seleka rebels following the overthrow of former CAR President Francois Bozize, who had given the UPDF a relatively free hand to conduct counter-LRA operations in vast swaths of territory in the eastern CAR. In December 2013, the UPDF was re-deployed to CAR as a peacekeeping contingent, as part of the MISCA mandate.  

Assessments: Cooperation between LRA, ex-Seleka creates strained relations between Uganda and Central African rebels; likely to result in further clashes

  1. As the LRA was initially formed in 1987 to resist the UPDF, the rivalry between the two warring parties has been ongoing for more than two decades. In 2012, the LRA was reported to be in Djema, CAR, signaling that the LRA’s theater of violence has shifted from northern Uganda into the neighboring country. In light of this, the UPDF’s original deployment to CAR was likely prompted by Uganda’s pursuit of LRA leader Joseph Kony, who faces International Criminal Court (ICC) charges for numerous human rights violations. In light of the Ugandan Government’s reiteration that it will persist in operations until Kony is detained, we assess that the UPDF contingent is likely to remain in CAR until the LRA leader is caught.
  2. Relations between the UPDF and ex-Seleka have been strained since the Ugandan military was forced exit out of the country by Seleka rebels in March 2013. Given the longstanding rivalry between Uganda and the LRA, the UPDF’s declaration of the ex-Seleka as its enemy is mainly due to the Muslim group’s alleged cooperation with Kony’s movement. Given that there are already existing tensions between the UPDF and ex-Seleka, coupled with the Ugandan armed forces’ denouncement of the Muslim group, we assess that further clashes between two warring parties are likely in the coming weeks, further augmenting the cycle of violence.
  3. We assess that a degree of collaboration between the groups is likely despite the fact that the LRA and ex-Seleka do not share a similar agenda and seek entirely separate goals. While the ex-Seleka was formed as an alliance of rebel militia factions in order to overthrow CAR President Bozize, the LRA was established as a counterinsurgency force to depose Yoweri Museveni’s Ugandan government and establish a theocratic state in the country.
  4. Nonetheless, unconfirmed reports indicate that ex-Seleka fighters are involved in trading with the LRA in illegally sourced diamonds and ivory. Thus, we assess that ex-Seleka members are likely to be cooperating with LRA militants due to an opportunistic self-interest, mainly driven by financial interests, rather than an alignment of strategic goals. This assessment is further corroborated by reports released in June indicating that LRA rebels forged an alliance with Fulani pastoralists, who also do not share common objectives, in the Orientale Province of the Democratic Republic of Congo. In light of this, we further assess that LRA militants are likely to establish such partnerships as a means to gain a formidable position in their areas of operations.  

Assessments: Competition between UPDF, ex-Seleka over natural resources could hinder Uganda’s impartiality in MISCA; involvement unlikely to decrease given desire to preserve geopolitical clout through military intervention

  1. While the official reason for Ugandan intervention in CAR is allegedly aimed at seizing LRA leader Kony, some reports suggest that financial, political, and strategic motivations are also determining Uganda’s agenda. MISCA, officially established in CAR in December 2013, has been charged with stabilizing the country and neutralizing the various rebel groups struggling for power. Should Uganda’s national interests conflict with the peacekeeping mission’s objectives resulting in UPDF involvement in CAR’s domestic issues, such friction carries the potential to hinder the peacekeeping forces’ goals.
  2. CAR possesses uranium, gold, and diamonds – resources that have driven regional and international interests in the country for decades. In this context, ex-Seleka spokesperson, Eric Massi, has accused the UPDF via public media of deploying its troops in the CAR in search of natural resources, rather than in pursuit of Kony. Massi also denied any links between the ex-Seleka movement and the LRA, stating that militant group is a “bunch of criminals.” The UPDF has faced similar allegations in 2005, when the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Uganda had violated the sovereignty of the DRC, as UPDF forces plundered its natural resources in pursuit of Ugandan rebel groups residing in that country during the Second Congo War.
  3. Natural resources typically play an important role in conflict-worn countries, with insurgent groups funding their operations by seizing control over mining areas. Unconfirmed reports indicate that ex-Seleka commanders have control of artisanal timber exploitation, ivory poaching and diamond mines in the eastern town of Ndassima, as well as the northeastern areas of Sam-Ouandja and Bria. Given such reports suggesting UPDF plunder, coupled with similar past accusations, we assess that Uganda is also driven by financial motivations in its military intervention in CAR. Given this, we assess that Uganda would potentially have interest in obtaining control over resources that are currently controlled by the ex-Seleka. This competition over the resources could fuel the ongoing tensions between the UPDF and the ex-Seleka and potentially result in fighting. 
  4. Furthermore, the Kampala government views the UPDF’s participation in peacekeeping operations throughout the continent as a key foreign policy tool in its diplomatic relations in the international and regional arena. This is accentuated by Uganda’s vast contribution of police officers, military personnel and staff workers to various African Union (AU) missions, which in return allow the East African country a high level of influence in terms of political bargaining power within the pan-African organization. The alleged operation of special forces in the country outside of the MISCA mandate is likely to reinforce allegations of Uganda’s unique geo-political agenda behind its involvement in the country.
  5. Local efforts to ease tensions between rival communities in CAR are likely to be supported by international mediators, including the MISCA forces, as part of a broader strategy of working with the country’s authorities on national reconciliation. Thus, the open animosity between the UPDF and ex-Seleka due to competition over resources and in retribution for the latter’s cooperation with the LRA, may cause Uganda to act without impartiality, thus interfering with its support of the MISCA mandate. We assess that this perception could hinder the peace and reconciliation process between the ex-Seleka and other factions, which could prolong the country’s volatile security situation.