Legislators okay deployment of Ugandan troops in South Sudan

UPDF representative, Maj Gen Julius Oketta, speaks during the special session to discuss the deployment of UPDF soldiers in South Sudan. PHOTO BY GEOFFREY SSERUYANGE.

What you need to know:

Premier Amama Mbabazi justified the deployment of UPDF in South Sudan, saying “there was necessity to act the way we did” because there was an imminent threat from an “ungovernable South Sudan”.

Government yesterday found itself under fire as MPs grudgingly recognised deployment of the country’s army in South Sudan.

MPs criticised the ruling NRM leadership over its response to the crisis weeks after Ugandan troops were rushed to Juba, South Sudan capital and beyond. Matters were not helped when the very motion seeking House approval had to be amended on the floor after it was realised that it had been made under the wrong legal provisions.

Speaker Rebecca Kadaga begged MPs to allow Defence Minister Crispus Kiyonga, who still reminded MPs that South Sudan leader Salva Kiir asked Uganda to help stabilise the situation, to instead move under Section 40 of the UPDF Act. The original text of the motion had quoted Section 39.

Section 39 requires Parliament to ratify a deployment for peace enforcement, while Section 40 says the minister [for defence] shall only enter into an agreement, referred to as a “Status of Forces Agreement”, with a host country.

Ms Kadaga told MPs that the purpose of yesterday’s special sitting was not to seek approval as many MPs were led to believe, but rather to update Parliament on the deployment and seek support of members. But speaking on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition, Bukhooli Central MP Wafula Oguttu said the motion should have been bi-partisan. He was backed by Shadow Attorney General Abdu Katuntu who criticised the country’s leadership for treating an issue of national importance as an NRM affair.

“We support the deployment as long as it is for evacuation of our citizens from South Sudan,” Mr Oguttu said. “When a country is going to war, leaders consult widely; we should learn to work together. What’s happening in South Sudan is a result of bad governance. We don’t have sufficient resources to maintain another country in the neighborhood.” He added: “The government is killing and the rebels are killing but for us to get involved we must get a clear mandate.”

Opposition MPs appealed to the NRM majority to take a conscious decision that will not be regretted in future. “The UPDF have taken sides in the conflict to the extent that once you identify yourself as a Ugandan, you’re finished; that’s your death sentence,” Mr Kassiano Wadri (Terego) said. “The motion is vague; it means UPDF may even stay in South Sudan forever because there is no timeframe.”

Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi responded to accusations that the army was illegally sent to South Sudan, saying “there was necessity to act the way we did” because there was an imminent threat from an “ungovernable South Sudan”.

Mr Mbabazi dipped into Article 209 of the Constitution which sets out the army’s functions, including preserving and defending Uganda’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. He said under international law, you can even defend your territorial integrity beyond your boundaries.
“This is a case where unity must be demonstrated, this matter should not divide us,” the PM said.

But his submission also indicated a further blurring of the official position on South Sudan. He reversed the President’s recent suggestion that the deployment was for peacekeeping and peace enforcement purposes. Mr Mbabazi said this was not the case, although he emphasised that every action taken by the President is in conformity with the laws of Uganda.

Dr Kiyonga said: “We are in South Sudan to evacuate our citizens but also close any gaps that may endanger our security,” Army chief, Gen Katumba Wamala, said: “The situation in South Sudan was threatening our security and we had all reasons to intervene. We have an obligation to see South Sudan stand as a nation.”

Other MPs wondered how the Dr Riek Machar “rebels” fit into Uganda’s January 10 agreement with the government of South Sudan on the status of forces. Ms Kadaga asked the committee on defence to study the agreement and report when Parliament resumes on February 18.

The MPs also noted that the government motion had made no mention of the need to support ongoing peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The scope of the UPDF’s deployment was also not specified, they observed.

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