Commentary

Museveni needs Bashir to resolve South Sudan crisis

Share Bookmark Print Rating
By Asuman Bisiika

Posted  Saturday, December 28   2013 at  02:00

In Summary

The question to ask now is: to what extent can Uganda, now viewed as already partisan, leverage her military muscle to influence or impact on the mediation process? Another question is: how long can Uganda sustain its involvement in South Sudan?

SHARE THIS STORY

Once again, I would like to poke my blunt Mukonzo nose in matters related to the Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF). The object of my interest today is the military operations in the Republic of South Sudan.

Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, the spokesperson for the UPDF, has been quoted as saying that the military was carrying out evacuations of Ugandan nationals caught up in factional fighting in Juba.

Without having to ask whether the military transport planes belonged to Uganda, we must thank our mighty UPDF.
And then Riek Machar, the former vice president (and now leader of the rebellion) accused the UPDF of bombing rebel positions far away from the pick-up point of the Ugandan evacuees.

Responding to Riek Machar’s accusations, Foreign Affairs junior minister Okello Oryem made remarks lacking soluble information to debunk the accusations. We detected poor PR that could lead to poor diplomatic cover for the UPDF operations in South Sudan. The UPDF is in South Sudan and could be involved in combat operations (of course with an approving wink from Washington and London).

Ugandans seem to appreciate the UPDF’s involvement in South Sudan. Discounting the romantics of pan-African idealism, Ugandans would approve of intervention in Sudan than in Somalia.

The crisis in South Sudan is immediate and real. Indeed, the impact of the South Sudan conflict will not take long to be felt by the Ugandan economy. We predict that by the beginning of February 2014, the consequences of the conflict will be felt here. But there is a problem. This conflict may take longer than we are (have) prepared for. What does this mean? That the UPDF would be well-advised to brace itself for the long haul and that the people managing Uganda’s economy should also brace themselves for some challenges.

On the assumption that the Ugandan public appreciates and supports UPDF’s involvement in South Sudan, the UPDF needs to be more open in their public relations and communications.

When I raised the issue with a senior military intelligence officer, he told me that openness would attract the hawks from Khartoum. But then even a junior intelligence analyst would deduct that Uganda’s involvement in South Sudan is more than the evacuation of Ugandan nationals from Juba.

In spite of all else, this conflict can only end in mediated reconciliation talks. Any attempt at victorious triumphalism would have far-reaching regional ramifications. And poor Uganda could be the most affected if the warring parties prolong the conflict. Yet, Uganda’s immediate involvement may deny it the qualifications of a non-partisan mediator.

The question to ask now is: to what extent can Uganda, now viewed as already partisan, leverage her military muscle to influence or impact on the mediation process? Another question is: how long can Uganda sustain its involvement in South Sudan?

There were expectations that Sudan (Khartoum) would take advantage of the crisis and immediately take a partisan position. Ironically, the buzz in international intelligence traffic suggests that Sudan has not gotten involved (yet).

Bashir is in an advantaged position of having the ear of both protagonists in the South Sudan conflict. In all honesty, if one discounted the international diplomatic and political dynamics, Bashir looks like the man who can call the protagonists in South Sudan to order.

If the US had approached President Bashir, they would have gotten better results. The truth is: Whichever way this conflict ends, Juba will have to deal with Khartoum. Perhaps that’s why Khartoum is mum (this far).

But all in all, the South Sudan conflict offers President Museveni an opportunity to exert his credentials as a major player in the region.

Mr Bisiika is the Executive Editor of East Africa Flagpost.