Why South Sudan fighting is bad news for Uganda
Posted Sunday, December 22 2013 at 02:00
Analysts say, if the conflict in the newly independent state escalates, Uganda could register both human and material loss.
Juba- The fears that greeted the independence of the new republic of South Sudan in July 2011 – that the country could descend into chaos partly due to friction between the two major ethnic groups – has become a reality in the last one week since fighting broke out in the capital Juba.
What President Salva Kiir’s government initially called a coup attempt by a group led by his main rival and former vice president, Mr Riek Machar, quickly spread to other parts of the country, with the key town of Bor – 200km from Juba – falling to the mutineers.
The US and Britain evacuated their nationals and Uganda sent rescue troops to Juba to facilitate the evacuation of its citizens and other nationals which started earlier in the week as the situation threatens to run out of control.
Danger of simmering conflict
The Uganda government statement indicated that Mr Henry Okello Oryem, the state minister for Foreign Affairs in charge of International Affairs, had travelled to Juba as part of an African Union ministerial team “to engage the South Sudan authorities in finding a political solution to the problem”.
Questions may be posed as to whether the most potent delegation to get the rivalling groups in South Sudan to talk should be composed of foreign ministers alone – in Uganda’s case a state minister.
Observers say that the confrontation always seemed imminent since July when President Kiir fired his entire cabinet, including vice president Machar.
The fact that half a year had passed since Mr Kiir fired the cabinet but no major effort had been made to mediate between the rival sides, calls into question the role of key partner states, particularly Uganda and the other countries of the East African Community (EAC).
South Sudan has shown intention to join the EAC and majority of the partner states welcomed it, with Mr Kiir attending some key meetings of the bloc.
Maj Gen Mugisha Muntu, the president of Ugandan opposition party FDC, thinks the EAC states need to “move in fast enough so that the situation does not escalate”.
“The EAC needs to craft a common position on how they can help South Sudan,” says Gen Muntu, arguing that the infant country should be guided to learn from history as it manages the early years of independence.
Gen Muntu also says the EAC must be honest. “The EAC countries should engage South Sudan not on the basis of how to outmanoeuvre one another for influence but to genuinely seek to guide the country on how to move forward,” he said.
Uganda and Kenya are thought to be jostling for influence over South Sudan, particularly concerning key partnerships and contracts like the joint construction of an oil refinery.
Uganda wanted to partner with South Sudan to build a refinery but it was outdone by Kenya, with the planned refinery at Lamu expected to handle the crude oil from South Sudan.
Implications of the war
Reports indicate that President Museveni has been in contact with Mr Kiir since the fighting broke out but details on whether the engagements were making any breakthrough were scanty by the time of writing this report.
Uganda is among the principal stakeholders in the South Sudan situation, for should the young country descend into chaos, Uganda will have another front of its border to watch closely.
The tense situation in Eastern DR Congo is a drain on the Ugandan security, and therefore finances, yet a contingent of the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces is still active in Somalia.
An unstable South Sudan could offer sanctuary to rebel groups, like the example of Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) shows.
South Sudan was viewed as a buffer between Uganda and Sudan following the decades-long conflict between the two countries in which Uganda backed the Sudanese Liberation Movement which won the independence of South Sudan while Sudan backed the LRA.
If, as it is feared, the country is torn apart by ethnic wrangles or bad politics, decades of attempts for independence from Sudan – at great material and human cost – will have been wasted. And should this happen, Uganda will be among the big losers.
History of civil wars in South Sudan
As Sudan prepared to gain independence from joint British and Egyptian rule in 1956, southern leaders accused the new authorities in Khartoum of backing out of promises to create a federal system, and of trying to impose an Islamic and Arabic identity.
In 1955, southern army officers mutinied, sparking off a civil war between the south, led by the Anya Nya guerrilla movement, and the Sudanese government. The conflict only ended when the Addis Ababa peace agreement of 1972 accorded the south a measure of autonomy.
But, in 1983, the south, led by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and its armed wing, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), again rose in rebellion when the Sudanese government cancelled the autonomy arrangements.
The conflict finally ended with the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, under which the south was granted regional autonomy along with guaranteed representation in a national power-sharing government. The agreement also provided for a referendum in the south on independence in 2011, in which 99 per cent of southern Sudanese voted to split from Sudan.