North Korea seeking to deepen ties with far-away Uganda

June 13, 2013

Kim Jong Un, center, accompanied by military officers, inspects an air drill at an undisclosed airbase in North Korea. (KCNA via KNS/AP)

North Korean officials visiting Uganda have signed deals to provide police training, security hardware such as tear gas and even housing construction, according to a report by the independent news site NKNews. Although North Korea has sold martial arts training to the Ugandan police since 1988, this deal seems to mark a new level of cooperation and a rare diplomatic success for Pyongyang.

The North Korean delegation is scheduled to sign a joint communique with Uganda's international affairs minister affirming their relationship and even to visit the hometown of President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled the country since 1986. When Museveni visited South Korea in May and met with South Korean President Park Geun-hye, he used a Korean-language greeting he said he had learned personally from North Korea's founding leader, Kim Il Sung.

North Korea, isolated by international sanctions and a largely hostile world, struggles to find allies and suffers economically with few trade partners. With the exception of China, though, its hostile rhetoric and unpredictable foreign policy typically scare away would-be allies. The deal with Uganda, while it would be routine for any other country, will provide Pyongyang with much-needed currency. It may also help ease the country's isolation, if only a little.

As for Uganda, Museveni's foreign policy has long balanced between outside powers. He's friendly with both Koreas and particularly with the U.S., which grants Uganda military assistance for its role in fighting regional terror groups.

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Caitlin Dewey · June 13, 2013