Kampala. The State Minister for International Affairs, Mr Oryem Okello, yesterday said it was the choice of the Sudanese people to determine their destiny after President Omar al-Bashir was overthrown.
“Whatever happens in Sudan, it’s the choice of the people of Sudan. It’s them to determine their destiny and we as Uganda, we can only respect the decisions of Sudanese people,” Mr Oryem said.
The fall of President al-Bashir has come at a time when Uganda and Sudan have normalised their relations after decades of animosity.
Since 2016, President al-Bashir has visited Uganda every year. He attended President Museveni’s swearing-in, he returned in 2017, and last year and even visited Mr Museveni’s farm in Kisozi, Mpigi District.
Last month, the two leaders met in Addis Ababa and held bilateral talks ahead of the official opening of the 32nd African Union meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Both President Museveni and al-Bashir have been influential in the on-going peace talks mediated by the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (Igad).
Not long ago, the two Presidents agreed to intensify efforts, bilaterally and within the Igad and the African Union (AU) frameworks, towards finding a lasting political solution to the South Sudan crisis through an all-inclusive National Dialogue.
Now that one of the pillars in the talks is under house arrest, it is not clear what will happen to the ongoing peace talks between President Salva Kiir and his rival Riek Machar, who currently stays in Sudan capital, Khartoum. Machar is supposed to return to Juba next month.
Without disclosing what exactly Uganda intends to do to secure the on-going peace talks, Mr Oryem said: “The fact is that the role played by President Museveni and al-Bashir is key and influential, I hope it doesn’t distabilise the regional efforts [on South Sudan talks].”
Unsure of the disposition of the new Sudanese rulers, a security source told Saturday Monitor that there is a possibility of Machar relocating from Khartoum to Kampala. “For now, you can be sure whether the new group will be interested in continuing with what al-Bashir was doing for South Sudan,” the officer said.
It’s also not clear what will happen to the mediation role President Museveni has been playing to have Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) rebels reconcile with the Khartoum government.
The rebels have been fighting Khartoum government since 2011, demanding political reforms in the country.
In 2017, President Museveni proposed to Bashir to mediate talks between Khartoum and the SPLM-N and in the same year, the rebel group handed over Sudanese Prisoners of War to Uganda, who were later flown to Khartoum to rejoin their families.
During the function, Mr Museveni said: “Some months ago, I told Gen al-Bashir that maybe I could help him quietly with the issue of Sudan. I speak the truth. I am not a diplomat looking for a Nobel Peace prize, and we need to be frank with these issues. This is a good occasion where these young men are going to be reunited with their families again.”
The transfer of the Prisoners of War was coordinated by the current director general of External Security Organisation (ESO), Mr Joseph Ocwet.
When President al-Bashir visited Uganda in November 2017, the two leaders signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in Higher Education between the two countries, directed their respective ministers to fast-track the implementation of all decisions agreed upon and conclude all pending Memoranda of Understanding for cooperation in the areas of agriculture, trade, sports and youth, as well as security before the next Joint Ministerial Commission due in Uganda by March 2018. Sudan is one of the major importers of Uganda coffee.
Earlier Sudan-Uganda relations
Before the relations between the countries normalised, the countries had accused and counter-accused each other of hosting each other’s dissidents and the climax was in mid and late 1990s.
In 1998, Sudanese planes bombed Moyo and Adjumani districts. Three years before in 1995, the UPDF had driven military tanks to the Sudanese embassy in Kampala over allegations that there were guns being kept in the embassy.
Khartoum accused Uganda of supporting Sudan People’s Liberation Army, while Khartoum allegedly supported the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels in northern Uganda.
The Spokespeson of Ministry of Finance, Mr Jim Mugunga, who formerly reported for the Daily Monitor in the mid and late 1990s, said he travelled to Khartoum in 1997 to interview Bashir about the severed relations.
“At that time, the relations were not good. There were accusations and counter-accusations. The relations had really severed and the Sudanese Embassy had shifted to Nairobi” Mr Mugunga says.
President al-Bashir told Mr Mugunga that Aboke girls who had been abducted from Aboke Girls School by the LRA in 1994 and taken to Sudan, were still in Uganda, a statement that angered Uganda government because the abducted girls had long been in the jungles in Sudan in LRA captivity.
During the years of animosity, President Museveni took an upper hand to have the West rally behind him to isolate Bashir. Bashir was seen being close to terrorist Osama Bin Laden, who lived in Sudan at the time when both leaders were foes.
But after, the two leaders later started a journey of reconciliation. Playing key mediation role between the two leaders was Ms Najwa Gadaheldam, a little known Sudanese woman who is said to be very close to the two presidents.
In 2017, a security source told this newspaper that President Museveni first met Gadaheldam in Vienna, Austria at a UN conference on water in 2002.
The same source said President Museveni first sent a reconciliatory message to Bashir through her and Bashir also replied Mr Museveni through the same woman.
Ms Gadaheldam, a mechanical engineer and an author of a white paper on human rights in Darfur, Sudan, is now working closely with State House, the sources say. She has been instrumental in mending relations between Uganda and Sudan.