Saturday July 5 2014

So, what is the status of UPDF’s mission in South Sudan?

By Asuman Bisiika

The Uganda People’s Defence Forces have been in South Sudan since December 2013.
At the time of deployment, Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, the spokesperson for the UPDF was quoted as saying that the military was evacuating Ugandan nationals caught up in factional fighting in Juba.
But we now know that there was some involvement of other powers. The military transport planes didn’t belong to Uganda. And we know which country provided them.

The involvement of a foreign power must have emboldened President Museveni to talk tough against Riek Machar.

President Museveni did not only provide forces but he also gave diplomatic cover to the fledgling Juba regime. And we heard analysts say that Machar had the capacity to take Juba, if only he could unlock President Museveni’s diplomatic weight behind Salva Kiir.

And then things burst. A split of opinion between Washington and London occurred. The US wanted Ugandan troops out.
You can say what you want, but what remains of the UPDF Mission in South Sudan is the management of troop pullout.
That though requires more PR and diplomatic input (not the spinning I always witness). Anyway, ebya UPDF tebigwayo…; but below is part of a story I wrote immediately after the UPDF deployed in South Sudan.

December 2013
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.
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 I challenged the officer: even a junior intelligence analyst in Khartoum 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? (Do you still wonder why the government requisitioned half the budget for the first quarter?)
The Khartoum factor
Sudan (Khartoum) was expected to take advantage of the crisis. Ironically, the buzz on 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. Thing is: whoever takes over in Jubu will have to do business with Khartoum in the immediate to medium-term.

Therefore, if one is discounting the international diplomatic and political dynamics, Bashir looks like the man who the protagonists in the South Sudan ‘should’ listen to.
The South Sudan conflict offers President Museveni an opportunity to exert his credentials as a major regional player. (Has he played his cards well?).
Mr Bisiika is the executive editor of East Africa Flagpost.