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US African Security Allies Face Criticism for Internal Deficiencies

  • Nico Colombant

While the United States government is getting increasing help from two African allies in terms of security objectives, U.S-based analysts fear the governments in Uganda and Ethiopia are getting a pass in terms of internal governance.

Ethiopian security forces are once again helping in a big way with U.S. anti-terror efforts in Somalia, this time to defeat al-Shabab extremists.

In 2006, U.S-backed Ethiopian troops began a two-year offensive in Somalia to defeat the Islamic Court Union and other affiliated militias.

Now, U.S-aided Ethiopian troops are on the move trying to push back al-Shabab fighters.

While this is happening, Ted Vestal, an Ethiopia expert from Oklahoma State University, worries about what is taking place inside Ethiopia, and the lack of reaction from U.S. officials.

“I am thinking of deficits of democracy and a bad human rights record, which the State Department points out every year in their human rights reports," said Vestal. "But the security angle seems to be more significant to U.S. foreign policy, especially with the war on terror and the connection to Somalia next door to Ethiopia. We apparently are flying drone airplanes out of Arba Minch down in southern Ethiopia over Somalia. So we have a definite military tie.”

Meanwhile, Ugandan peacekeeping troops have played a main role in securing Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, to allow a U.S.-backed transitional Somali government to function.

Uganda’s military is also getting new U.S. help to wipe out the roving Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group. A similar effort failed in 2008, but now more U.S. assistance is being given.

Joel Barkan, a Uganda expert with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, says this unfortunately comes as Uganda’s government displays declining governance and rising corruption.

“This is a classic regime of big man rule," said Barkan. "It relies on patronage and it increasingly relies on the granting of liberties to senior officials to loot. This is a regime that is basically slowly collapsing from within. Will it maintain itself in power in the foreseeable future? Yes, but in terms of a long-term bet in respect to providing peace and security in Uganda, a country that held out such great promise for a while those days are over.”

Both analysts say the U.S. government should drastically cut non-humanitarian aid to the two countries, which is in the hundreds of millions of dollars every year, unless there are significant democratic improvements.

Foreign observers described recent elections which kept long time leaders Meles Zenawi in power in Ethiopia and Yoweri Museveni in the presidency in Uganda as deeply flawed.

In both countries, human rights activists have also complained of degrading conditions for opposition politicians, the marginalization of entire ethnic groups and regions, and a crackdown on dissenting media.

The governments in the two countries reject those accusations, saying they are working to ensure development and stability, while also improving the democratic process.

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