Uganda’s Forgotten War

Gen. Museveni during a visit of the UPDF operations in Northern UgandaJanuary was a bad month for the Ugandan army fighting rebels in South Sudan alongside forces of President Salva Kiir’s government forces.

In one attack, the rebels killed Ugandan soldiers and destroyed tanks in battles at Bor in Jonglei state in the centre and Malakal in Upper Nile state on the northern border with Sudan. Upper Nile produces most of South Sudan’s oil.

According to a report in The Financial Times, China National Petroleum Company and Malaysia’s Petronas who operate there have cut down production by about 40% to 150,000 barrels per day over the fighting. The international market, FT said, is already feeling the pinch in higher prices for crude.

A source told The Independent that when Kiir and his Sudan counterpart, Omar al-Bashir, agreed to jointly secure the oil installations, Kiir quietly asked Kampala to be the one to keep an eye on the oil.

It is unclear how many Ugandan have soldiers died defending Malakal. The rebels said over 250, which is unlikely, and the government said 9, which is unbelievable.

The truth might never be known as the war in South Sudan is turning out to be one of the most under-reported in modern times.

“This is the worst situation I ever reported since I started reporting in 2007,” said BBC Media Action producer Manyang David Mayar to Tom Rhodes of the Committee to Project Journalists.

Mayar was speaking after being forced to walk long distances carrying his suitcase on his head to escape the fighting in Bor. He said he drank dirty water and slept in the bush.

In mid-March, the South Sudan Minister of Information, Michael Makuei, warned local journalist not to carry reports from Machar’s side. In a country without any pretenses of respecting freedom of the press, he said such reports would be deemed “hostile propaganda” and offenders would be arrested.

As a result of such hardship, journalists are staying away and the full complexity of the South Sudan war could be missed.

Partly this is because South Sudan is such a large territory, 240,000 Sq. miles about three times the size of Uganda. It is also largely under-developed and almost impossible to traverse without assistance from either the rebels or government fighters. A few journalists that have attempted to go it alone have got caught up in the brutality of the war that broke out in South Sudan on December 15, between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to sacked vice president Riek Machar.

AU investigates, Museveni cautioned:

The African Union (AU) on March 7 appointed a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the human rights violations and other abuses committed during the fighting since mid-December 2013. It is expected to submit its report to the AU Peace and Security Council in three months.

Prof. Mahmood Mamdani, who has published extensively on South Sudan and is a member of the commission, says Uganda’s military intervention may become counter-productive.

He cautions decision makers in Kampala to look at the 1979 Tanzanian intervention in Uganda following the Uganda President Idi Amin’s invasion of the Kagera area of Tanzania.

“Tanzania had great public support when it intervened, but very little when it withdrew,” Mamdani says, “The reason: Having intervened to protect national interests, it ended up meddling in Uganda’s internal affairs by supporting one particular regime.” Mamdani warns that Ugandan troops could become part of a problem if they do not leave South Sudan.

“Rather than follow a course of action that would lead them to enforce a particular leadership on the South Sudanese,” he argues, “the alternative would be to follow a course of military non-intervention combined with a political course of reform within the South and reconciliation with Sudan to the North.”

Prof. Mamdani argues that both the UN and IGAD need to take a lesson from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it became clear over time that a political solution would require the introduction of forces from countries without a direct political stake in Kivu (in this case, South Africa and Tanzania as opposed to Rwanda and Uganda).

“In South Sudan too,” Mamdani argues, “the way forward calls for the replacement of Ugandan troops with troops from other countries in the region, countries without a direct political stake in South Sudan and with a mandate and a political will to oversee the implementation of a necessary political reform.”

In February paper entitled, “South Sudan and its unending bloody conflict: No power-sharing without political reform”, Mamdani says reforms could include introduction of term limit of two five-year terms for the president and removal of the clause in SPLM (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement) constitution that gives its chairperson the power to nominate five per cent members at all levels of the party, including its legislative organ, the National Liberation Congress (NLC).

But Mamdani doubts that Kiir’s biggest backer, Museveni, could accept some of the terms.

“Having long snubbed the demand for a two-term limit on the presidency at home, it is unlikely that the Ugandan president will be sympathetic to demands for internal reform in South Sudan,” Mamdani argues.

President Yoweri Museveni addresses officers and men of the UPDF during the exerciseUnreported army losses

Unlike Uganda’s military entry into Somalia in March 2007 which was vigorously scrunitised and debated, Museveni’s Juba aenture appears to be fire raging under cover. Politicians, from the ruling party and from the opposition to Museveni, all appear pre-occupied by wrangle within their parties. Nobody is talking about South Sudan.

Yet unofficial figures indicate that Uganda has 4500 troops in South Sudan. On March 20, they were involved in heavy fighting to retake Malakal. Many died.

It was the latest time the ghostly remain of once-thriving oil city was changing hands since rebels loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar claimed it in December 2013. It is not clear how long Ugandan-backed government troops can hold on to Malakal.

Amidst the confused situation, Uganda’s military presence has found as many supporters as opponents.

Initially, the frustration was summed up by reactions to the document Museveni presented to parliament to justify its deployment in Juba–the Status of Forces Agreement.

Apart from being signed on Jan.10, almost a month after the UPDF had deployed in South Sudan on Dec.16, legislators questioned the agreement for failing to outline the obvious why Uganda intervened, how long it planned to be there, who will finance the deployment, and the army’s exit plan.

This has for long stoked fears that Uganda could get stuck in a long vicious war and be forced out finally with heavy costs.

Although South Sudan Defence minister, Kuol Manyang Juuk, during a February radio programme said that Juba was funding all activities of UPDF and SPLA, Uganda’s Defence Ministry the same month got cabinet to approve a Shs120 billion supplementary budget (Approx. US$50 million) for among others the war in South Sudan. This pushes the country’s defence budget to over a trillion shillings.

Financing the war could be the boot that kicks Uganda out of South Sudan. Its economy is reeling from budget support cuts imposed by western donors after Museveni assented to a law that jail homosexuals.

President Kiir’s fears:

The U.S., which has funded most of President Yoweri Museveni’s aentures in the past, has said it wants Ugandan forces out of Sudan. The U.S. position is backed by the UK and Norway, who are the main funders of the humanitarian efforts in that country.

President Kiir, observers say, fears that by insisting that the Uganda army pulls out, the western powers are attempting to render his sting blunt on the battlefield and weaken his hand at the negotiating table.

Already, the powers have suggested setting up an in interim government that does not include Kiir and Machar.

Meanwhile, a local diplomat in Kampala, who did not want to be named, told The Independent that “some international friends” were happy Ugandan forces were guaranteeing stability.

China has the biggest business stake in South Sudan amongst what Kampala would term “international friends”.

It is the biggest investor in South Sudan’s oil fields which oil giant BP estimates to hold sub-Saharan Africa’s third biggest oil reserves.

“The situation is still very unpredictable,” the official told The Independent , “you can’t just leave now and some of the people you are talking about have silently thanked us and urged Uganda to keep on top of the situation.”

Uganda’s top foreign affairs civil servant, Ambassador James Mugume, told The Independent that no one can downplay the UPDF’s role.

“What we did is we pushed the rebels back from the streets where they were killing innocent civilians to the bushes, where the fight now is between them [rebels] and the government forces,” Mugume said.

He added though that the UPDF was working on withdrawing in a phased manner to be replaced by a regional force.

IGAD responds:

Mugume was referring to a Protection and Deterrent Force (PDF) to be deployed under the aegis of the Inter-Governmental Agency for Development (IGAD). The IGAD leaders meeting on March13 at their 25th Extra-Ordinary Summit of Heads of State meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia resolved to deploy the force by April.

They were responding to Machar’s insistence that he could not implement a Cessation of Hostilities (COH) agreement as long as Uganda troops remained in the country, fighting of Salva Kiir’s side.

But Machar has already spoken against the IGAD deployment and called it “unfortunate” and an “attempt to regionalise the internal conflict”. His chief negotiator, Taban Deng Gai, called IGAD’s move ill-aised and unnecessary.

“If IGAD member states who mediate the peace talks want to interfere militarily in the conflict, we may rethink our participation in the talks,” Machar was quoted in Sudanese local media.

Meanwhile, talks were supposed to resume in Addis Ababa under IGAD on March 20. President Kiir raised objections about some attendees.

Confusion, misinformation, and deception regarding Uganda’s role in South Sudan became apparent just days after fighting erupted in Juba. On Jan. 14, the Chief of Defence Forces of Uganda, Gen. Katumba Wamala told a committee of parliament his forces had “gone in to secure the country’s key installations and rescue innocent people including Ugandans”.

But the next day, his boss President Museveni, told heads of State from the Great Lakes Region at a meeting in Luanda, Angola on Jan.15 that the Uganda army was “fighting alongside Kiir’s forces”. Ugandan troops had, alongside the SPLA, inflicted a big defeat on the rebels, despite getting causalities and losing some soldiers.

So far, officially, Uganda says it has lost only nine soldiers in the Juba aenture. But, if the reporting of fatalities in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is an example, the dead could be much more.

A Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) February 2014 Policy Brief shows that while the AU estimates that between 2007-2012 AMISOM had registered 500 fatalities, the UN puts the number at 3000. The cost and numbers of dead Ugandan in South Sudan might be in dispute, but it is clear that Museveni’s military intervention on Kiir’s side is not the solution. Unfortunately, there appears no other on the horizon.

Source : The Independent

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