Ugandan politcs are in turmoil again. The recent coup against President Godfrey Binaisa and former President Milton Obote's return will have grave consequences for the nation and for regional stability. Blame cannot be laid clearly at the doorstep of an Western government, but American performance has been far from helpful.
Since Idi Amin's downfall in April 1979, US official attitudes toward Uganda have bordered on apathy. The Carter administration has done little to relieve the suffering of the Ugandan people or support the pro-Western moderate Binaisa government.
To repair the neglect, the US should now consider three interrelated measures. First, it should use diplomatic pressure on President Nyerere of Tanzania to remove his troops from Uganda. These troops helped defeat Amin, but even Tanzanian sources admit that they have engaged in massive pillaging and murders. They have repeatedly supplemented their income by stealing from Ugandan peasants.
These troops have also supported the Ugandan "military commission" which engineered the coup against Binaisa. The members of the "military commission" are closely tied to Obote, whom Amin overthrew in 1971. During Amin's regime, Obote spent his exile in Dar Es Salaam as the guest of Nyerere.
Because of their admiration for Nyerere, Americans are largely unwilling to interpret Tanzania's manipulation of Ugandan events in any but benign terms. However, should Obote regain the presidency, civil unrest would be likely to take place within Uganda.
Obote's return, which will increase Uganda's dependence upon Tanzania, could threaten Kenya and thus undermine US policy in East Africa. Under the "Carter doctrine" there has been a convergence of interests between the US and Kenya, as seen in American use of the Mombassa naval facility.
Second, the US should support the concept of installing an international peacekeeping force in Uganda. It should be willing to share the financial responsibility for this force. Approximately 50 people are killed daily in Uganda. Only when these killings stop and some semblance of order is restored can there be any stability in the country.
Third, The US should join with Britain and other Commonwealth nations to help the Ugandans resotore the mechanism of government. Since there is famine in one part of the country and surplus in another, organizing trade and transportation is essential to prevent further suffering. When Amin fled, he left his nation in ruins. Once self-sufficient, Uganda now is forced to import food and other supplies.
The Carter administration has virtually ignored Uganda's pleas for help. The US sent only $6.2 million in emergency food and medical aid after Amin's defeat. Instead of playing a constructive role in improving the human rights and political conditions within Ugana, President Carter has preferred to stand idly on the sidelines.
With a few exceptions, Congress has been no better. Those lawmakers who had actively adopted the politically safe position of criticizing Amin remained surprisingly quiet when it came to voting assistance to the wartorn nation.
In fiscal year 1980, congress approved only $6 million in food grants. The FY '81 program is still in contention. In addition, the type of assistance is misdirected. The Administration called for long-term development assistance, when what Uganda need is immediate budget support and direct assistance.
At this point, only strong US actions can maintain stability in East Africa and assist the people of a sad and troubled land.