Won’t UPDF withdrawal leave a security vacuum in South Sudan?
Hopefully there won’t be a vacuum. We have made all the arrangements with the government of South Sudan and our partners will not leave room for security vacuum. The government forces will be in the areas where we have been, like Bor which they have already taken over, then Nesitu and Juba, which we are going to vacate today [October 30].
The Riek Machar group claims you have left some soldiers behind in Bor, disguising as SPLA.
That’s a wild allegation. Why would we leave our soldiers there? It would put our soldiers at risk. There is no reason at all to leave our soldiers behind because it’s risky. It serves no purpose.
There are reports of the warring parties preparing to fight in Bor after your withdrawal
There is anxiety, but with time the situation will calm down. There are reports of cattle theft in the area. In Jonglei State, there are many instances of cattle rustling. But other than that, it’s still calm.
Has the UN force deployed to take over from you?
Not exactly where we have been. The UN force is not an interposition force. It’s supposed to do its usual role of peacekeeping, unless otherwise mandated to take on a peace enforcement role.
When UPDF deployed in South Sudan, government gave different reasons, including evacuating stranded Ugandans, being invited by the South Sudan government and for Uganda’s security. Now that you have withdrawn, are Uganda’s security interests catered for?
Of course, there will always be that anxiety. I wouldn’t say the security scare that made us deploy is completely diminished. It is residual. It’s there. There are some developments in Equatorial region which borders Uganda. There are some flashpoints that we worry about.
But having said that, what happened in December 2013 is different from now. The situation is calmer. In 2013, we were doing firefighting. Things would have erupted and the situation would have been worse for Uganda.
Like you said, we have an interest in stability of this country [South Sudan]. We more or less midwifed the independence of this country. That’s a fact. This was also a safe haven for our enemies. So, we had the reason to deploy. That’s why we have convergence interests. The Sudanese had an interest in self-preservation but we also wanted to secure our backyard.
Our coming helped avert genocide. We evacuated Ugandans who were trapped. We helped to create an environment for peaceful settlement. So, we are glad that we came and saved the situation. I think we shall be vindicated by history and posterity.
Which new developments in the Equatorial region are you talking about?
There are some groups attacking SPLA positions and traffic. That one being near our border is more worrisome if it escalates. But we are carefully watching the situation.
Is there a possibility of LRA leader Joseph Kony coming back to South Sudan and later on northern Uganda and cause havoc?
LRA’s fighting power is diminished. But he still retains capacity to cause trouble as a proxy to some negative forces in the region. But as far as Uganda is concerned, it’s not possible for Kony to get rejuvenated and cause trouble to northern Uganda. He can’t.
Other than fighting alongside SPLA, which other areas have you been working with SPLA?
Other than the initial fighting we did as we advanced towards Bor, we have not fought again. There is a bilateral agreement between the two militaries and the ministries of defence to cater for things like training. But it has not taken effect, it is still on paper and we are still looking forward to implementing it. Where we can train them to enhance their capacity, we gladly would because we are partners.
How will you train them when you are not here?
We will train them back home [in Uganda]. We have always done it for our partners. We have trained Somalis, even SPLA; we give them slots in our colleges: Junior Staff College, Senior Staff College and Cadet Course. We train them. If there is need, especially NCOs [non-commissioned officers], we can train them to the requisite capacity so that they can handle their matters.
You fought the rebels once and after the battle, UPDF said it had lost nine soldiers. But there are reports that continue coming up that you lost more than 50
We lost nine soldiers at Palek and a score who were injured. But that’s the number we lost.
Sources say in that battle you killed so many rebels. In fact, some people called it a massacre
I wouldn’t celebrate a massacre. But war is war. It’s so unfortunate that people die. If only we could avoid war and resolve differences through talks, it would be much better. What happened, happened. But we are happy it ended and there is stability. We hope it translates into peace forever.
Human Rights Watch says you used the internationally banned cluster bombs?
I saw that report. It was a contradiction itself. On one side, they we saying UPDF was using cluster bombs but on another side, they were saying there were many players in the conflict and in possession of cluster bombs. First of all, we don’t have cluster bombs and secondly, we didn’t use them in that operation.
Are you leaving South Sudan a better country or more divided because you took partisan position?
We are leaving South Sudan happy because we are leaving it a better country than we found it. There was a lot of anxiety and insecurity. We found so many bodies in Bor. There were so many killings. Juba was a ghost town. But it’s now thriving. Business is going on well. There is anxiety that we are leaving but hopefully this will be permanent peace and it’s up to the parties to choose that path. And I think the people of South Sudan have them that enough is enough.
The Opposition has been pushing for your withdrawal and they say you have divided the South Sudanese.
We made choices. Those who wanted us out do not know our history. One, I told you this is our backyard and we wouldn’t sit by and wait for our backyard to be destabilised.
Two, our bond with SPLA didn’t start yesterday. These are our historical partners. We helped them fight for their independence and they helped us in our fight against LRA. When their time of need came, we helped them and we shouldn’t be shy about it.
Are Ugandans in South Sudan safe after your withdrawal?
Hopefully, yes. They are anxious. But at the end of the day, this country belongs to South Sudanese and like we do for them at home, I hope they will protect Ugandans who are here doing business.
Do you have hope that South Sudan will secure the people and the country?
They have issues, but they will overcome them. For the time we have been here, they have also built capacity and I hope they will be in charge. They are still building capacity. They are young force. It’s only yesterday when they got their independence. Before the flag could be raised, they got internal contradictions. They are building capacity on the pace you do not want, but hopefully they will build full capacity and take charge of their country.
Which areas do you think SPLA needs help to build their capacity?
They need training to professionalise and instil discipline in the army. We have been training them but in piecemeal, not enough to create a critical mass to cause change quickly. Two, is to build cohesion within the force in order to be national character.
This can help them to transcend tribe and religion. But part of the professional training cures the problem to tribal differences. Politics also affects the military. If politics differences are solved, the military will be sorted.
How big is the problem of tribal differences in the military?
It was a big a problem when we came. It’s under the radar now. But, it needs a lot of work to completely wipe it out.
There are those who say UPDF was seeing SPLA as an inferior force at the frontline and it was causing friction between the two militaries
I don’t know your sources. I’m not aware of that and I haven’t heard about it. In any case, we didn’t have SPLA within our ranks as we advanced towards Bor. there is no contradiction between the two forces.
Where are these soldiers going when they go back home?
They are going to 4th Division. The commander here (Brig Muhanga Kayanja) also happens to double as the 4th Division commander. So, they are just crossing over to their division.