War on terror: Uganda to train Mali soldiers in fighting jihadists

By Musinguzi Blanshe
Posted on Tuesday, 18 October 2022 10:21

Ugandan army soldiers in downtown Kampala, Uganda, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Uganda and Mali have signed a military cooperation agreement that will see the Ugandan army train Malians in fighting terrorism.

Mali has also presented the idea of a possible deployment and Uganda says it’s ready if there is an opportunity. Mali becomes the second West African country, a region being scourged by jihadists, to seek assistance from East Africa after Benin’s approach to Rwanda.

Both Rwanda and Uganda have built a reputation for fighting terrorism.

  • Ugandan soldiers have been fighting al-Shabaab terrorists for 15 years in Somalia and are credited for driving militants out of Mogadishu in 2011.
  • Rwanda has registered success in fighting IS-linked militants in northern Mozambique since deployment in 2021.

Mali sought help from Kampala following the withdrawal of French forces who had been supporting the fight against insurgents for nearly a decade.

The Mali-France relations deteriorated following the August 2020 military coup that brought Assimi Goïta to power. France completed the withdrawal of its soldiers in August.

The five-years agreement, first of its nature between the two countries, which will be automatically renewed for successive periods of five years unless terminated by either party agreement, was signed on 7 October after three days of discussion in Kampala.

Bilateral talks

The Mali delegation was led by the minister of defence Col. Sadio Camara. The bilateral talks were preceded by a telephone conversation between Mali president Col. Assimi Goita and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni.

As per the agreement, they will cooperate in the training of military personnel, exchange between the military academic institutions, training in search and rescue, military intelligence, land, and air operations.

If an opportunity presents itself to save our fellow Africans from terrorism we shall always do it.

Other areas of cooperation include protection of the environment, mapping and hydrography, military health services, counter-terrorism strategies, prevention and countering violent extremism, and cyber security among others.

Camara said Mali has crafted a security strategy and needs support to operationalise it. “Mali is much aware of the professionalism of the Ugandan army, a force known on the African continent,” he said. “Mali would like to pick on the same military training, intelligence and education,” he added.

Happy to deploy 

The Malian has presented an idea of Uganda deploying soldiers to fight jihadists. Asked about the possibility of the deployment happening, deputy Uganda army spokesperson Deo Akiki says: “Uganda has had a wide experience in fighting terrorism and jihadists in Mali are not different.”

He adds: “If an opportunity presents itself to save our fellow Africans from terrorism we shall always do it in the spirit of Pan-Africanism.”

There is also a lack of clarity on who foots the training bill.

Deo Akiki says any country can foot the bill. He also says the agreement states that training can take place in either of the two countries, depending on the nature of the training operations.

Regional support

Yvan Guichaoua, a researcher on political violence focusing on West Africa tells The Africa Report that given Mali is in trouble with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), it has to look for support beyond the community.

“They have kept captive 46 Ivorian soldiers, they are dragging their feet with the transition. It’s not a surprise if Mali goes far away from the region to look for allies. Precisely, ECOWAS is on their back,” he says.

With the departure of the French, Mali’s only external support has been from Wagner, the Russian private military company linked to the Kremlin. They have been accused of human rights violations.

In April, Wagner and Malian soldiers were accused of murdering between 200 and 400 people in the village of Moura, located in the Djenné circle in central Mali.

Guichaoua says Wagner mercenaries are not helping Malians to regain territories from terrorists. And realising that Russians aren’t helping much, he says Mali is “welcoming any form of assistance…Uganda being a faraway country does not matter.”

Rwanda working with Benin

Apart from Uganda-Mali, Benin, another west African state battling jihadists has entered an agreement with Rwanda seeking support in fighting terrorism.

Brendon J. Cannon, who teaches international security at Khalifa University, United Arab Emirates, wrote that the Rwandan deployment could happen in October or November.

Cannon says the major focus of Rwandan soldiers will be launching training programmes.

He adds that the agreement with Kigali also provides for the deployment of Rwandan contingents on the ground. Previous reports indicated that Rwanda would deploy 350 soldiers and the number would be doubled after some time.

The deployment of Rwandan troops,  Cannon says “confirms the role that Kigali has acquired within the broader, continental African security architecture.”

He also warns that being the country’s first deployment to West Africa, it could be fraught with consequences and will “likely come as a surprise for other West African states.”

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options