Karoli Ssemogerere

East Africa in 2014: We should be vigilant

Share Bookmark Print Rating
By Karoli Ssemogerere

Posted  Friday, December 27  2013 at  02:00

In Summary

The prolonged 2012-2013 oil shutdown also exposed another South Sudan vulnerability. South Sudan not only did not belong to any regional block; its Independence Day agreements did not have a comprehensive peace treaty with its erstwhile northern neighbour.


Christmas Day is in the rear and the New Year 2014 is upon us. 2014 has both risks and opportunities for East Africans. We have gone to rest off 2013’s final days with a lot of anxiety. The world’s newest country, the Republic of South Sudan, is in turmoil caused in part by July’s fallout between the President, Salva Kiir, and his former deputy Riek Machar.
One of Africa’s erstwhile liberation movements, SPLM, has had a number of falling outs before - mostly used by Khartoum to fight back the southerners. The current putsch that has divided the country along ethnic lines bears a lot of semblance to the past ones even though its success may end up either re-creating the old Republic of Sudan, an anathema to the great powers or a subservient vassal state. It is a situation with no winners.

Internally in SPLM, which controls 99 per cent of the seats in Parliament, the issue has been choice of flag-bearer in the next elections. Salva Kiir had managed to skirt through the critical first five years managing crisis upon crisis. The real crisis, however, remains the control of oil resources. South Sudan has a dual problem. Unlike her neighbours Uganda and Kenya, her resource is a mature resource. Projections for exhaustion of current reserves are between 2020 and 2025. As such stability is even more crucial to allow prospecting for new finds.

The second problem is that this very finite resource exploited for decades by Khartoum happens to be the sole lifeline for the Khartoum and Juba economies. With the independence of South Sudan went 75 per cent of Sudan’s oil resources and valuable source of foreign exchange.
The viability of South Sudan as a huge landlocked country covered in natural forests, minerals with a natural drainage feature, the River Nile at its centre, has exploded in an environment that has exposed the weakness of our regional institutions. South Sudan’s ascent has been limited by the refusal of the East African Community, first opposed by Tanzania, but indirectly by other members, which have preferred to negotiate deals with South Sudan on a bilateral basis.

The prolonged 2012-2013 oil shutdown also exposed another South Sudan vulnerability. South Sudan not only did not belong to any regional block; its Independence Day agreements did not have a comprehensive peace treaty with its erstwhile northern neighbour.

South Sudan has begun to resemble the DRC. A period of massive blood-letting followed by years of instability. Any new government will be dominated by a spoils system - mafutamingi arrangements that have dominated Uganda’s politics since 1979. Democratic elections would be years away and any new regime in Juba will have to contend with sovereign undertakings.

For the international community, this terribly sounds like a negative return on investment. The United States underwrote the cost of setting up the government of South Sudan. The new South Sudanese Pound was pegged to the dollar and suitcases of cash were landed in the country to kickstart the new economy. Globalisation and an open economy had begun forcibly transforming South Sudan into a bigger player in the region. Fortune seekers, fortune tellers and East Africans by the thousands had already set up shop in South Sudan. Sudanese money had found its way into the region’s big money centres in banking, real estate, import and export and transportation. Khartoum still remains an important economic partner. 12 per cent of Uganda’s coffee is consumed by Khartoum.

In the shadow of armed conflict, EAC, the bloc which should have taken up South Sudan almost immediately, will have to deal with the after-effects of this major fallout. The buses returning with truckloads of returnees in Kampala and Nairobi are just a tip of the iceberg. So are the trucks and lorries that have been delivering farm produce, consumer goods to markets in South Sudan. The same applies to regional financial institutions operating in South Sudan.
A security contract is necessary to sustain East Africa’s neighbours in the event of attack or breakdown in civilian authority.

Kenya’s vast north-east still remains a hotbed of insecurity contiguous with Somalia. This year, Kenya has already absorbed at least one major terrorist attack and and low-level conflict. Uganda is not far behind; it’s a repository for small arms in the region. Uganda is perhaps one of the few countries in the world where the right to bear arms is taken literally. You can board a boda-boda with an AK-47 without causing a stir.

Rwanda, the honey bee of the region, is also dealing with its own challenges. Even a massive PR machine has not left it unblemished. As the RPF revolution matures, old faces continue to fall out with the regime. The reluctant statesman of the region, Jakaya Kikwete, (a peer of Col. Kizza Besigye) has succeeded in writing a new constitution to redeem himself after the contested 2010 elections.

The DRC has strained relations between Tanzania on one hand; and Uganda and Rwanda on the other hand.

It is a clear warning to all the region’s blocs that the indigestion that applied to the DRC is the same constipation and indigestion that will apply to South Sudan. A vigilant EAC, political leaders, institutions and civil society must be on the lookout.

Mr Ssemogerere, an Attorney-at-Law and an Advocate. kssemoge@gmail.com