Kampala- The deployment was quick, akin to a mother pacing to catch her falling child.
The mission was ‘simple’: rescue and evacuate Ugandans trapped in the middle of hostilities between President Salva Kiir’s SPLA forces and those loyal to former vice president Dr Riek Machar.
For one year now, part of Uganda’s national army, the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF), are still on the front line in South Sudan. At the same time, a solution, whether technical or political, to the long running stalemate between the two strongmen in the youngest country of the world, has remained a conundrum, and part of agenda at almost every big international convention.
According to UN sources, the conflict, which has since bloomed along tribal lines between Mr Kiir’s ethnic Dinka and Mr Machar’s Nuer tribe, has claimed more than 10,000 lives, displaced close to 1.8 million.
The UPDF spokesperson, Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, says at this anniversary, the national army is “simply proud” for what they did (the quick deployment), and what has been achieved so far.
“We stopped a catastrophe from happening and possibly the worst genocide ever in which Uganda could have lost many of its innocent people who were trapped,” Col Ankunda noted in an interview.
President Museveni, the commander-in-chief, on December 18, 2013, it was said, ordered the deployment of an unknown number of the elite Special forces troops to South Sudan, only five months after the country had celebrated its third independence anniversary.
President Museveni is a key ally of Mr Kiir, and Ugandan forces fought alongside SPLA in its liberation war against Sudan, which reciprocated by supporting Joseph Kony’s rebel outfit-Lord’s Resistance Army. So to many, the deployment of UPDF was not a surprise, except that, Parliament had not approved such a move which posed significant ramifications for Uganda.
Locally, there were concerns on who was footing the bill of UPDF’s activities, how would government deal with causalities from an unathourised mission in a foreign land, and internationallydiplomatically, UPDF had taken sides, fighting along Kirr’s SPLA, which would complicate the matter.
The Ministry of Defence in August asked Parliament to approve a supplementary budget of Shs170 billion “for regional security,” part of which, MPs said, was meant to support the deployment in South Sudan.
Lt Col Ankunda says: “We have lost only nine of our soldiers since last year and that is the overall. Since we crossed over, we have fought only one big battle at a place called Gemeza, and actually our troops landed in an ambush of Dr Machar’s men.”
He adds: “The fighting here was rather tense but the other group also lost a number of men (a number I am afraid I cannot mention), but from here, we fought and pushed up to Bor Town, a town where we maintain stronghold.”
In terms of expenditure, for one year now, Lt Col Ankunda says the government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with South Sudan that guides UPDF’s operations.
The said document has never been made public, but he added that South meets the fuel bills while Uganda caters for “some.”
Parliament eventually endorsed the deployment on January 14, 2013 this year after government indicated that UPDF was there to facilitate evacuation of stranded Ugandans and secure critical state installations, including Juba Airport. Close to 1,000 Ugandans, mostly traders were evacuated but some, according to government officials, have since gone back after some semblance of peace began to hold.
MP Peter Emmanuel Eriaku, the vice chairman of Parliament’s Defence committee, told Sunday Monitor, it was in Uganda’s best interest that troops were hastily dispatched to South Sudan.
“What would have happened if we had not intervened can only be imagined – a massive genocide possibly bigger than what Rwanda saw. Our only concern was that the mission had not been approved by Parliament. Since it was given a nod, I can say that maintaining troops there is in Uganda’s interest,” he said.
He added: “UPDF is not under obligation to declare casualties (under the UPDF Act) and on expenditures” like Mr Ankunda said, South Sudan caters for soldiers’ fuel and Uganda meets the recurrent bills of salaries, medication, uniforms, among others, which would have been paid anyway even if the troops were at the barracks.”
Lt Col Ankunda says UPDF will leave immediately “as soon as” regional countries under the auspices of Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) deploy a force that can ensure calm.
“We are not short of conflicts to resolve. But we want to leave mindful that someone behind is watching over the situation,” he said. “For now, we have not gone beyond Bor Town and are more into a defensive operation and no more offensives. That is our mission for now.”
On the peace solution, Igad took over the process and for a second year now, is still labouring to tame Kiir and Machar, as the only possible way of containing the solution. The only notable development has been back and forth agreements and disagreements between the two, and or with the mediators -but the script continues to unfold in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
Igad member heads of state (Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda and Djibouti) are expected to sit again next year to discuss a way forward and review developments since the last meeting in which the warring parties were urged to form a coalition government.
The Obama administration has on numerous occasions urged Igad to adopt sanctions against Kiir and Machar, which officials say, are long overdue. It is not yet clear if Igad will reprimand the two at the next meeting.
China has also announced plans to send about 700 combat troops to South Sudan as part of a UN peacekeeping mission. The troops will be equipped with antitank missiles, armoured carriers, drones, and other weapons.
Yet the country has a dark history of violence (that ran from 1983 to 2005), for now all eyes are on Igad for a solution that could save the country from swathes of anxiety and more tragedy.
UGANDA. SOUTH SUDAN TRADE RELATIONS
Since independence in 2011, South Sudan became Uganda’s biggest trading partner with annual export revenue of more than Shs890 billion (about $358 million) as per the 2013 data from the Trade ministry. Out of trade, Uganda earned a monthly income of Shs74.6 billion per month and Shs2.45 billion per day.
The war was a setback to this milestone to which MP Peter Emmanuel Eriaku, the vice chairman of Parliament’s Defence committee, said, explains why the Uganda’s export trade continues to struggle and another reason why UPDF’s stay in South Sudan is by all means in “our interest.”
How it started. The prolonged conflict was sparked by an alleged coup against Kiir’s government on December 15,2013, and after the president directed for the arrest of several “dissident politicians”, including Rebecca Nyandeng, the widow of the country’s ruling party founder, late John Garang.
The result was a barrage of gunfire as targeted officials scurried for cover and later rival factions of the presidential guard pressed the trigger button in the rest of the capital, Juba, sending everyone in panic.
President Salva Kirr then appeared on TV unusually dressed in combat fatigue, and in a short statement, declared a state of emergency and imposed indefinite dusk-to-dawn curfew on Juba.
His deputy, whom he had fired in a surprise July dissolution of the executive, reportedly masterminded the coup, the president said, adding: “I would like to inform you that your government is in full control of the security situation in Juba. I promise you that justice will prevail.”
SOURCE: Daily Monitor