Asuman Kiyingi, the minister of state for Regional Cooperation has been involved in brokering peace in the warring South Sudan.
At home, he is perceived to be a supporter of out-of-favour former premier, John Patrick Amama Mbabazi. Edris Kiggundu spoke to Kiyingi about these and other issues. Below are excerpts:
More than a year ago, the UPDF went to South Sudan ostensibly to prevent a looming genocide there. What is your assessment of the security situation there now?
There is hope that we are going to get this problem fixed in the long run. Remember after the misunderstanding within SPLM last December (2013), which according to President Salva Kiir was an attempted coup, the state almost collapsed and there was an impending genocide.
We got calls from the government of South Sudan to intervene. We intervened by deploying the UPDF there. They have done a tremendous job. Since then an IGAD (Inter-Governmental Authority on Development) led process to mediate and form a unity government has been on-going.
We have been in touch with both sides. They have been encouraged to engage each other and agree on the fundamentals. We hope at the end of the day, this mediation process will be able to cause the two parties to form a government of national unity.
As someone who has been involved in the mediation process, what are the key points of disagreement between Salva Kiir and Riek Machar?
I think it is really the history between these two leaders. President Salva Kiir came in as a successor to John Garang. He has struggled to bring together the different warring factions.
This is a country that was divided among different fighting groups, warlords you might say. Even when South Sudan gained independence, the groups were not integrated into a cohesive national army.
So when the internal contradictions between SPLM failed to be managed, they led to the outbreak of this conflict. The biggest challenge is the reconciliation between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar.
There are people who believe that Uganda has overstayed its welcome is it time to get out?
We are saying that we would be very glad to leave this place any time as long as IGAD constitutes a force to take the place of UPDF. We don’t want to leave a vacuum in an irresponsible manner and then we have genocide.
There are so many Ugandans there who have invested quite a lot. We can’t just leave the situation to blow up because we have a stake.
When should we expect the aspects of that agreement between Kiir and Machar to be implemented?
Well, we have been a bit disappointed. There have even been suggestions that sanctions should be imposed against those who breach the terms of the agreement. We have thought about those options but we think it has not reached the bad levels.
We are engaging the parties. One of the problems is that the side of Riek Machar does not seem to be cohesive. You take a decision and he [Machar] says he has to go and meet his commanders and then his commanders may disagree with one aspect.
The biggest problem has been the demand by Machar for an elected government of Salva Kiir to step down. They want Riek Machar to have executive powers as prime minister and reduce an elected Salva Kiir to a ceremonial president as head of state.
Terrorism has become a regional issue. Kenya has recently suffered the brunt of al-Shabab attacks. How has Uganda worked with Kenya to deal with the al-Shabab threat?
There is a mechanism of sharing intelligence, sharing expertise and cooperating in fighting terrorism. We have our global partners like the EU and the US.
Some people say Uganda and Kenya have brought terrorism to their door steps because of their continued presence in Somalia.
Even before we went to Somalia, we had terrorism here. We had (LRA’s) Kony, we had ADF. So you can’t say terrorism started when we went to Somalia.
You have to decide whether to remain parochial and operate from within your borders and you are constantly harassed by people who have a distorted view of reality or you take the war to their doorsteps. Somalia is an African country and as Pan Africanists we have a duty to secure it.
Secondly, if you have a failed state, it becomes a haven for terrorists and a source of insecurity for the region.
This year when there was a stand-off between Israel and Palestine, Uganda joined a group of countries that condemned Israel over the aerial bombings and killing of civilians. Don’t we risk a diplomatic row with Israel?
Our position on the Israel-Palestine conflict has been consistent. We support a two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace. This is our position.
Israel knows our position. Our positions are not chauvinistic they are borne out of a deep appreciation of the realities that the two people belong to the region. There is no way one can exploit the other.
Recently we had EALA Speaker Nantongo Zziwa impeached. Some say the saga (impeachment) has portrayed Ugandan legislators as immature. What is your take?
The EALA thing is a bit complicated. I have listened to a number of legislators from EALA and the case was intricate. There are genuine grievances against the speaker but there are also issues which are trivial. I have not had an opportunity to speak to my sister Zziwa.
That said, we came out shabbily as Uganda but like it has already been noted, the problem was beyond Uganda. We just happen to be the people who were in charge of this assembly when all these problems manifested. I think the most important thing is how to manage contradictions.
The elections [for the speakership] were acrimonious and it was up to Zziwa to find ways of winning over her detractors and people who were against her. There was a mismanagement of this process and one complication led to another. In the end, literally everybody was against Zziwa.
Even if you are saying that they have small grievances like trips, allowances [like Zziwa said], how come everybody is interested in that? I think the problem is bigger. I hope my brother Dan Kidega [new speaker] will get on top of the situation.
Some people have said this debacle should open our eyes and we change the criteria we use for electing EALA MPs.
That is also partly true but you see EALA is elected by the national parliament and if you have a parliament dominated by young people, they will not choose old people to go and represent them.
But I think we can have a cross breed where we set a certain criteria and say someone must have a certain level of experience [to go to EALA], not necessarily in the manner that will lock out young people but in a manner that will produce better MPs.
Like the president has said, he would not have expected that problem if someone like Omara Atubo [whom he supported in his unsuccessful bid for EALA] had been speaker.
You and the speaker Rebecca Kadaga are not known to be on good talking terms because of jostling for political influence in Busoga sub region. Have you made up?
The Right Honourable speaker is my senior. She is my Woman MP in Kamuli district. She enjoys tremendous support from people in Busoga. Her voters are my voters and some of her campaign managers are my campaign managers.
Of course we might have had problems and differences here and there but we have tried to mitigate them and hope that they are not going to manifest in any dramatic way in the near future.
There has always been talk that you are one of the ministers close to former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi. Now that he has fallen out with the president, do you have any fear for your job or political future?
No it has not affected me. You can see I am very healthy. I don’t have sleepless nights over that issue. I know that the appointing authority, the president, understands me very well.
Of course I am aware that there have been opportunists who have tried to malign others and take aantage of the misunderstandings between the president and his former prime minister to get others into trouble but there is no way my president could misunderstand such a matter.
I worked with Hon Amama Mbabazi as a prime minister. He was an excellent prime minister he was an excellent secretary general. In that regard I related to him. I don’t know the real issue between him and the president. I cannot judge them. So, for me I have maintained my cool.
Have you spoken to Mbabazi after he was sacked as prime minister?
I have not, unfortunately. Not that I would not have loved to talk to him but I have not had that opportunity. He has never told me that he wants to be president.
It is people who have been trying to fill in the gaps and I find the whole thing to be katemba (comedy) of sorts. For me this whole issue of branding people pro-Mbabazi or anti-Museveni does not affect me.
We are going into a very serious period of electioneering. We need to be calm we need to keep engaging each other. I also congratulate the NRM for organising a successful delegates’ conference. The momentum should not be lost.
Source : The Observer