By Lako Jada Kwajok,
President Museveni’s persistence to prop up Kiir has been the subject of discussions in the South Sudanese intellectual circles, particularly among the Equatorians. It’s also true that the laypeople are aware of the ever-increasing influence of the Ugandan leader over the ongoing conflict in South Sudan. Many believe that had it not been for the Uganda People’s Defense Force ( UPDF ) intervention; the regime in Juba would have collapsed in early January 2014. Museveni’s intervention gave the embattled government a lifeline. In reality, the regime is heavily dependent on Uganda for its survival. The UPDF has been deployed in Western Equatoria since 2005. Its mission as we were made to believe; was to pursue and uproot the Lord’s Resistance Army ( LRA ) in collaboration with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army ( SPLA ). The Americans were also involved in providing logistical support, special forces and funding. The Garamba Offensive ( codenamed Operation Lightning Thunder ) between 2008 and 2009 was the culmination of the coalition’s efforts including the Democratic Republic of Congo ( DRC ) to eradicate the LRA. But for the last 5 to 6 years, the LRA is nowhere to be found in Western Equatoria. Many observers are now of the opinion that the LRA is no more or if at all it existed it will be in the form of a negligible group in the depths of the remote jungles of the Central African Republic ( CAR ). As such it fits the description of a group of bandits rather than a rebel group to be reckoned with. Yet the UPDF remains deployed in Western Equatoria State. There are now reports that they are present in Eastern Equatoria and even in disguise within the capital city, Juba.
No one would dispute the fact that President Museveni has done a lot of good things for the people of South Sudan during the war for independence. In addition to whatever legacy he is going to get in his country, the people of South Sudan would remember him as one of the few African leaders who gave them unwavering support. However, that good reputation is in jeopardy or has already been damaged following his involvement in South Sudan’s conflict. An operation aimed at evacuating the Ugandan Nationals as was initially announced by the Ugandan authorities was swiftly modified into safeguarding the strategic infrastructures in Juba in the aftermath of the December 2013, massacre of the Nuer civilians. Ultimately the operation ended up with the UPDF taking sides and decisively tilting the power balance in favour of the government. People were told that there was an Agreement/Treaty between the government of South Sudan and the Ugandan government to intervene in such a situation. The fact of the matter is that if such an Agreement/Treaty ever existed, it would have been unconstitutional because the National Legislative Assembly ( NLA ) did not deliberate on it or pass it. In fact, the NLA was unaware of such an arrangement between the government of South Sudan and the government of Uganda. Furthermore, a Mutual Defence Treaty is universally for defence against foreign invasion and not for defending the government against the opposition or an uprising of its own people.
Museveni’s motives are quite unclear. Following his statement that there was no coup d’etat in Juba, people expected a change in policy towards a more neutral position. What he said showed a government that fabricated a coup, plunged the country into civil war just for the sake of maintaining the status quo. That alone should have been enough for the Ugandan leader to review his backing of Kiir’s government. Also, it was reported that Museveni did say while addressing a rally, that if security in Uganda was to be like the state of affairs in South Sudan; he would hang himself. It’s a clear admission that the government of South Sudan has failed its people. Then why would the Ugandan leader continue to support such a government?!
I believe " It’s the economy, stupid " if I may borrow President Bill Clinton’s phrase that was first coined by James Carville, Clinton’s campaign strategist in the successful 1992 Presidential campaign. Probably other weird calculations do exist in the Ugandan leader’s mind that are subject to speculations. There is no doubt that Uganda’s economy is " booming " because of unfettered access to the South Sudanese markets. Foreign trade regulations are rudimentary in the new country with Uganda and the other regional powers taking full advantage of the situation. Rampant corruption is also attracting bogus foreign investors and traders who hardly pay taxes. Juba has become the centre of attraction for all the thieves in the world. South Sudan is the top consumer of Ugandan goods with trade deficit almost 100% in Uganda’s favour. However, the policy of shoring up an unpopular regime is short-sighted and risky. History has shown us that the outcomes are usually grim than when foreign countries show solidarity with the people or at least remain neutral. The case of Iran during the Shah era is a classic example. The US blanket support for the Shah did not save the regime from collapse or ensure the furthering of American interests and influence in that nation. Instead, it led to the radicalization of the society, marginalisation of the moderate political figures and extreme animosity against the US. It was apparent that for decades the US lost a big consumer market and a major trading partner in that region. The Europeans, the Japanese, the Russians and the Chinese were quick to seize the chance and fill the gaps.
Even from a practical point of view, the gains to the Ugandan economy under the current turmoil are unsustainable in the long term. As the war continues to rage in South Sudan, and due to reasons of proximity to a war zone - Uganda’s economy would be negatively affected one way or another. Refugees are crossing the borders into Uganda in their thousands. Ironically they are fleeing the SPLA atrocities to safety in Uganda, while the government of Uganda is helping the SPLA to acquire lethal weapons to commit those atrocities. With the steady increase in the refugee population, a drop in the buying capacity would occur coupled with a decrease in the number of consumers. Both would certainly have a negative impact on Uganda’s exports to South Sudan. There is no doubt that the war will have a significant effect on the flow of goods from Uganda to South Sudan as the major routes between Uganda and South Sudan would be at the mercy of the opposition forces. Additionally, the Equatorians have reached a level of awareness that may push them towards boycotting Ugandan goods in protest to the support rendered by the Ugandan government to the murderous regime in Juba. Most of the commodities imported from Uganda are produced locally in Equatoria. It’s the absence of help from the government and widespread insecurity that’s preventing our farmers from producing those commodities. The best strategy for Uganda to protect its economic gains and ensure sustainability is to be on the side of the people of South Sudan rather than throwing its weight behind a government that has no future.
The relations between the people of Equatoria and the Ugandan people goes beyond politics. There are strong ethnic and cultural ties between the two peoples. The colonial borders are artificial as it has divided families with the result of some having both nationalities among their members. The constant flow of refugees into Uganda who are clearly in a dire situation is bound to evoke sympathy towards them from the Ugandan people. Museveni’s policy would likely backfire. The heinous crimes that are being committed in South Sudan, would certainly push the Ugandan people into solidarity with their brethren across the borders. Should that happen; which is quite likely, it would mean that the Ugandan leader has stirred up the hornets’ nest. A host of problems could arise as a result. The Equatorian people have been instrumental in the efforts to ward off the LRA attacks on Ugandan soil. In particular, the Arrows boys have been battling the LRA in the jungles of Western Equatoria for at least 5 years. Their contribution cannot be underestimated particularly in providing accurate intelligence about the whereabouts of the LRA. With the current policy of the Ugandan government, the locals will have no incentive to help in the war against the LRA. That leaves the door wide open for the possibility of LRA resurgence. The UPDF presence on South Sudanese soil would likely be viewed differently than it used to be. Many are seeing it increasingly reminiscent of the infamous 1998 UPDF invasion of the DRC in collaboration with Rwanda.
During a recent unannounced visit to Juba, the Ugandan leader issued statements that raised eyebrows. The following quote which is attributed to him appeared in the Sudan Tribune on December 22, 2016 - " Any other issue that needs to be handled will be handled in order to allow elections should be done now." It showed that Museveni is now pushing for early elections in South Sudan. He knows that his friend lacks legitimacy and the only way to overcome that is by organising an election. It will, of course, be a fake one but still carries the name election which is all that Kiir needs to cling to power. However, the Ugandan leader committed a serious breach of diplomatic protocol by dwelling on a matter that touches the sovereignty of the host state. Such a statement would have caused a diplomatic and media uproar should it be delivered in a democratic or indeed any sovereign country. In 1967, General Charles de Gaulle, the President of France, during a visit to Canada said the famous phrase " Long live free Quebec! " He received harsh diplomatic and media criticism both in Canada and in his country France. De Gaulle had to cut his visit short and return to France. What he said was perceived as an attempt to undermine Canada’s sovereignty. I am absolutely sure that Museveni’s statement was outrageous to many South Sudanese including members of the media. But with the assassination of journalists like Isaiah Abraham, Boutros Martin, Isaac Vuni, Dalia Marko, Musa Mohammed, Randa George, Adam Juma, Peter Julius Moi and others lingering in people’s minds - any criticism would seriously compromise the safety of the critic.
According to Sudan Tribune, Kiir gave the reporters the following response - " We discussed bilateral issues and listened to his ( President Museveni’s ) advice and we will do what he told us. " Kiir’s statement transpires two things; either he is unaware of Museveni’s breach of diplomatic protocol or that he knows it but has become a pawn for Museveni. Many of us still remember President Kiir and the Minister of Information, Michael Makuei Lueth saying in the face of mounting international pressure to implement the Peace Agreement over a year ago -that Kiir was being treated as a school boy. Well, with the above statement following the meeting with President Museveni, the question that comes to mind is - who is to blame?!
The author is the Chairman and C-in-C of the SSDF