Friday January 24 2014

Uganda’s belligerent role in South Sudan must stop

By Augustine Ruzindana

There was general consensus on the deployment of Ugandan troops between Juba and the Uganda border to facilitate evacuation of Ugandans and other foreigners in South Sudan. However, the engagement in the conflict on one side of the intra-Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army conflict is a serious error and should not be supported. Riek Machar remains vice chair of President Salva Kiir in SPLM and the troops now called ‘rebels’ are largely forces of the SPLA, the national army.

When our troops are in battle, they deserve our support and we need to pray for their safe return but this should not be confused with supporting the cause they have been sent to support. South Sudan is 619,000 sq. kms while Uganda is 236,000 sq. kms and Jonglei state alone is 122,000 sq. kms - half of Uganda! To appreciate the problem in which the UPDF is now embroiled, Ugandans may recall that in 1979, Tanzania deployed around 45,000 troops to secure the whole of Uganda during and after the overthrow of Amin. In proportion, UPDF needs to deploy about 118,000 soldiers to cover the whole of South Sudan. The Sudan (Khartoum) armed forces fought the now divided SPLM for more than 20 years and gave up, and through a negotiated deal accepted an independent South Sudan forfeiting all its oil, fertile lands and other resources. Uganda should reflect on why Sudan failed to subdue South Sudan.

The earlier splits within SPLM were settled through talks and reconciliation and even the stand-off between the late Dr John Garang and Salva Kiir was settled at Rumbek in 2004 through talks within SPLM. This is the way forward even now. Let us also recall that NRA was in Luweero for five years without holding any town, so that the loss of towns by ‘rebels’ in South Sudan should be put in its proper perspectives. It is not helpful that there is neither IGAD nor East African Community mandate for Uganda’s belligerent role.

Sudan too has interests in South Sudan and if it is true that at some stage Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) of Darfur intervened on the side of one side then its no surprise that they have expressed their concerns. Ethiopia has Nuer and Murle citizens and, therefore, is also an interested party. The Llemi Triangle, de facto controlled by Kenya, is claimed by South Sudan and, therefore, Kenya too has shared interests with South Sudan. The cancellation of an IGAD meeting in Juba this week by the President of South Sudan is an unwelcome surprise and if linked to increasing calls for withdrawal of Uganda’s belligerent role, then it is necessary for Uganda to reconsider its role in consideration of neighbours’ concerns. Ugandans should demand the withdrawal of UPDF from participation in the intra-SPLM conflict because this role delays achievement of a negotiated deal.

We have heard Ugandan authority advice that the ‘rebels’ should form their own party, that is a version of bagende hurled at some of us 10 years ago for resisting removal of presidential term limits from the Constitution. We went and indeed formed a party but unlike South Sudan, we did not go with part of the army and as a result we are helplessly repressed by use of force.

I am not sure the situation in Uganda will be replicated in South Sudan since both sides are armed and settling matters on the battlefield. Therefore, the way forward in South Sudan is a settlement through negotiations. Even in Uganda, an inclusive national conference would lead to a better, stable and peaceful Uganda.

Mr Ruzindana is a former IGG and former MP.