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Uganda -- Foreign Relations

Uganda is heavily dependent on imports of foreign products for most of its consumer goods and energy requirements. Furthermore, the country is landlocked and so must rely on the railways and roads of its neighbors for many of these goods. For these reasons, one of Uganda's primary foreign policy objectives is to maintain an open trade route to the Indian Ocean. This is as true today for Uganda's government as it was for colonial authorities before independence. Once the railroad from Mombassa to Kampala was completed early in the protectorate period, relations with Kenya became a primary concern of the Ugandan government.

During the 1950s, when African nationalism was gaining momentum in East Africa, Uganda sought to achieve closer relations with surrounding countries. Later, the economic challenges faced by the new nations eroded federational initiatives and eventually led to hostilities between Uganda and Kenya in the 1980s that would have been unimaginable two decades earlier.

After independence, Uganda's political difficulties led to violence within the country. Tensions with neighbors caused serious strains in bilateral relations, frequently involving rebellions and military incursions, and forcing many citizens to become refugees. Britain, the nation's former colonial ruler, maintained a close relationship with Uganda. But over time, this relationship diminished in importance as Uganda cultivated new links with other industrialized countries. Despite its official policy of nonalignment, Uganda remained far more closely linked, both economically and politically, to the capitalist than to the socialist bloc.

Uganda's foreign policy objectives changed sharply after Idi Amin's coup d'Ètat in 1971. During the first decade after independence, policy makers had emphasized cooperation with Uganda's neighbors and the superpowers, participation in international organizations, and nonalignment. These policies were intended to protect the state's sovereignty and support the African bloc as much as possible without limiting trade or losing development assistance. When

Amin seized power, he pursued a far more aggressive and unpredictable foreign policy. Amin threatened Uganda's neighbors both rhetorically and militarily. His gratuitous verbal attacks on foreign powers served mainly to isolate Uganda.

The National Resistance Movement (NRM) government introduced radically new foreign policy objectives when it came to power. This brought new complications into Uganda's foreign relations. At the outset, President Museveni had enthusiastically supported international and, especially, African cooperation, but this cooperation was contingent on whether other regimes were racist, dictatorial, corrupt, or violated human rights. Shortly after taking power, the government entered into trade agreements with other developing countries, which were based on barter rather than cash. Museveni wished to promote recognition of Uganda's autonomy, even though its exports consisted largely of coffee purchased by the United States or Europe, and most of its imports came from Europe. Uganda's neighbors were suspicious of the radicalism of Museveni's pronouncements, interpreting his denunciations of their human rights policies as political attacks.

After its first four years in power, the NRM government changed its foreign policy to reflect more closely those of earlier Ugandan governments. Uganda maintained friendly relations with Libya, the Soviet Union, North Korea, and Cuba, although most of its trade and development assistance came from the West. Though it consistently affirmed political nonalignment, the fact that the NRM government accepted an IMF structural adjustment plan made it more politically acceptable to Western leaders. During this period, many African leaders overcame their suspicion of Museveni and the NRM, electing him chair of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1990.

Uganda is currently a member of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), and the Organization of African Unity (OAU).After the collapse of the EAC (East African Community), Uganda renewed efforts to establish cooperation among African nations in transport and communications, commerce and industry, security and immigration, and regional investment. A permanent tripartite commission (PTC) for East Africa Cooperation was officially launched in Arusha, Tanzania, in March 1996. Since July 1, 1996, the currencies of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania have been convertible. Progress in other areas has been slower. Relations with Kenya have been unstable, due in part to personality differences between the two heads of state. Each country has alleged that the other has sought to destabilize its politics. The situation has improved since 1993, when Daniel arap Moi became the first Kenyan head of state to make an official visit to Uganda.

In western and northern regions of Uganda, social and political problems have been caused by the movement of ethnic and rebel groups across the boundaries with Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire) and Sudan, resulting in a serious refuge problem. In October 1990 the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) used Uganda as a base from which to invade Rwanda. Uganda has supported the new regime in the Democratic Republic of Congo and encouraged the geopolitical realignment of Central Africa, which could work to Uganda's benefit if the Congo proves stable.

The most serious threat to Uganda's security lies in the country's northern regions, where instability caused by the civil war in Sudan frequently spills across the border into Uganda. The Ugandan government supports the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). The Sudan government has aided rebel groups from Uganda. Relations between Kampala and Khartoum have deteriorated in recent years. The situation came to head in April 1995, when Uganda broke off diplomatic relations. 2

1 Byrnes, Rita M. (ed.) 1992. Uganda A Country Study, Library of Congress: Washington D.C. pp. 178-9.

2 The Economist Intelligence Unit, 1998, Country Profile. Uganda , The Unit: London, p. 8.

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