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Firoze Manji: US sends 100 troops to support Uganda’s fight against LRA

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. On October 14, President Obama announced he was sending 100 troops, special ops, to Uganda to help the Ugandan fight the Lord’s Resistance Army, the LRA, which operates in Uganda and the Congo. Now joining us to talk about the significance of this troop deployment is Firoze Manji. Firoze is the editor-in-chief of Pambazuka News. He joins us from London, England. Thanks for joining us again, Firoze.


JAY: So, first of all, what do we know in terms of the facts of this? And then tell us what you think about it.

MANJI: Well, I mean, it’s quite clear. One hundred special forces US troops have been sent to Uganda–vehemently denied by the president, Museveni, who says that they are just there to assist, but in fact they’re there to fight. They are allegedly there to deal with the Lord’s Resistance Army. This is a Christian messianic group which has been there for decades, operating from the Congo and from the Sudan, and have carried out almost appalling, appalling abuses and violations against young people, against women, and terrorizing, basically, the populations in northern Uganda. But they have suffered some serious, serious defeats as a result of the actions taken by the Ugandan army. And from all the reports that I read is that they are a very, very small group of individuals. They say–they’re talking about 400, 450. But the problem is, of course, they are also operating from a neighboring country, the DRC, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and there there are many, many militia who operate there, and rather like [incompr.] gangs of thugs who are after bits and pieces of minerals, the rich minerals that are available in the Congo. And, of course, your viewers may not know that Uganda has been deeply embroiled, as has Rwanda, another neighbor of the Congo, in invading that country and seizing access to some–the rich mineral resources of that country. But I think we ought to also recognize that, you know, Uganda has just recently announced the striking of some very substantial oil resources in the northern part of Uganda, and to me it’s difficult not to think that the sending of these US special forces has not got something to do with that.

JAY: So in the last few days, I just happened to be in New York, and I was talking to some people from the Congo, and they’re suggesting that the LRA, this Lord’s Resistance Army, and some of these other kinds of groups, that they maybe could have been suppressed a long time ago if there’d [incompr.] concerted effort on behalf of the Congolese government or the Ugandan government. But there’s kind of–they’re kind useful to have this ongoing destabilization, and especially for mining companies, to have a central government that never is in control of anything. Do you think there’s anything to this?

MANJI: Oh, I mean, I think there is something to it. I mean, I’ve mentioned to you on other interviews that I’ve done that, you know, the interest in keeping destabilized governments which are not able to [incompr.] which allows corporations to operate quite freely. But I think the other fact we also need to build into this is that the US is very conscious of the presence of China and its collaboration with the Uganda government in relation to the oil resources.

JAY: And same thing in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Chinese are everywhere is what people were telling me.

MANJI: Indeed, and the–as are the Americans, but nobody really talks about them.

JAY: So talk a bit about the US-Chinese contention in Congo, Uganda. How significant is it?

MANJI: Well, I mean, one of the things [incompr.] China is often blamed about is having what is, you know, the dragon consuming Africa. But the reality is that compared to the US, compared to the UK, compared to France and Germany, China has yet to get access to the kind of resources that these governments or these countries have. The Western corporations have been in operation for so long, they’ve taken the bulk of the resources available. But what China has done has been very strategic. Where, for example, the IMF refused to give loans to the DRC for infrastructure building and for their investments in oil, they turned to China, and China said, sure, we will happily help. And China’s intervention in natural resources, in oil and so on, has always been where it can get a strategic advantage because the West is causing a trouble. Sudan is a very good example where the US administration asked /Eks.kOn/ and other oil–US oil companies to–not to be involved in Sudan. And so the Sudanise turned to the Chinese, and Chinese said, fine, we need oil; let’s go there. So I think, you know, there is a real threat. There’s a real threat also because the US government has been in the forefront of trying to impose a limit on and stopping infrastructural development in Africa, and the Chinese have been very willing for the last 20 years to say, yes, if you want a bridge, you want the hospital, you want a road, you want whatever, we’ll build it. [crosstalk]

JAY: Right. Well, let’s go back to the situation in Uganda and the 100 troops. Is what gets offered here by the US fundamentally that we send in 100 troops–and apparently there’s more coming–and what that actually gets you is not just troops on the ground, it gets you our aerial satellite technology, which we know how to use, and so we can target people the way you can’t?

MANJI: And the drones, which has now become a major feature of US intervention in Africa. But I also think it’s a part of an attempt to acclimatize people to the presence of US troops. I go back to my argument that, you know, AFRICOM is seeking to insert itself very substantially in Africa. And I think this is only part of the process over a longer term to get people used to having US troops on the ground. I mean, I wonder what the American population would feel if they had Kenyan troops on the ground, you know, if we invaded the US because we didn’t approve of particular policies, or occupied some of your oil reserves in Texas, and so on. I mean, you know, there is a similar reaction in Africa against that, and I think that pushing in this way is going to have long-term repercussions.

JAY: And again it looks like a humanitarian intervention, ’cause we’re here to help you pick up all these psychopaths running around in the jungle, but we get to stay after we’re there, I suppose.

MANJI: And, of course, that provides the excuse for the international NGOs to then support that kind of intervention, just as, you know, the missionaries did under King Leopold, who invaded the DRC or organized to carve up what was then the Congo, under the guise of humanitarian intervention, and the missionaries supported them. Well, the modern-day missionaries, which are the international NGOs, are also now supporting these kind of interventions. And, you know, it’s not surprising that, you know, many of the well-known organizations have asked AFRICOM to help provide security support for their so-called humanitarian interventions.

JAY: Right. Thanks for joining us, Firoze.

MANJI: Thank you for having me on your show.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

End of Transcript

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Firoze, a Kenyan, is founder and executive director of Fahamu and editor of Pambazuka News. He has formerly worked as programme director for the International Secretariat of Amnesty International, CEO for Aga Khan Foundation UK, and regional representative for health for IDRC's office for Eastern and Southern Africa.