Tuesday January 14 2014

South Sudan: Why President Museveni has run past his home

By Nicholas Sengoba

There is a cautionary saying in Runyankore-Rukiga, that you don’t run past your home simply because you are praised for being a fast runner (bakweta ‘Bwiruka,’ wa reng’owanyu.)
President Museveni, in power for 27 years, is considered in regional and international circles as the experienced elderly statesman of the Great Lakes region. He has a good understanding of its political, historical and security dynamics.

In many cases like the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the post-election violence in Kenya after their 2007 elections and the troubles of war-torn Somalia, among others, Mr Museveni is usually the first point of reference for wise counsel and efforts at initiation of pacification. You would consider him the fast and best runner in the region.

Now it is intriguing to many minds. A conflict breaks out in neighbouring South Sudan and Mr Museveni hits the ground running. He wastes no time in taking sides. The Ugandan army, the UPDF, is deployed in Juba to allegedly evacuate Uganda nationals and secure vital installations, including the airport -which is okay.

Museveni then runs past his home. In explicit support for embattled South Sudan president, Gen Salva Kiir Mayardit, wags his finger at the rebelling Dr Riek Machar. He orders Machar to stop fighting ‘within four days’ and enter into peace negotiations. Anything less than this, Museveni makes it known that “we shall go for him, all of us and defeat him!”

‘All of us’ includes the member states of the Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), whose member states include Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda. They have made it known that they are opposed to the overthrow of a democratically elected government within the organisation.

So why would the experienced elderly statesman dive in the deep end and put a stick before the carrot in this conflict?
Museveni is looking very far into the future -mainly for the sake of his perpetuation.
First is the obvious reason that if Museveni manages to prop up an unpopular government (like Salva Kiir’s is turning out to be,) he as ‘king maker’ or protector will have overwhelming influence in this oil-rich young nation. Henceforth it will be in Kiir’s interest to have Museveni stay longer in power.

Secondly, Museveni’s actions help him reap dividend as a custodian of the interests of the West in Africa like in Somalia. South Sudan was among others, envisaged as a bulwark against the advance of (militant) Islam to the south of the continent. Helping to keep it peacefully together makes Museveni a relevant player in both the political and economic (investment interests in oil and minerals) game plan of the West and here as well; it is useful if he stays around much longer.

Then Museveni also finds competition for international attention in the moves of Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta. Kenyatta’s effort is not only for the economic interest of Kenya in South Sudan but also for his personal challenges at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
If Kenyatta leads initiatives to bring peace to South Sudan and succeeds, the West may soften its stand on his trial at the Hague as he becomes useful to their South Sudan interest.

Kenyatta will no longer need Museveni as the ‘chief campaigner’ against the ICC trials. That would have a dimming effect on Museveni as the leading light in the region. That is why Museveni has ‘to prove’ that he not only carries a carrot like Kenyatta but has the capacity to wield the stick -even before it is required.

Lastly, by emphasising the military intervention of IGAD in internal conflicts of member States, Museveni speaks to those who intend to contend with him on the domestic scene. Should people like the renegade Gen David Sejusa put into actions their rebellious ideas, they should be prepared to face ‘all of us!’

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. nicholassengoba@yahoo.com