By: Samuel Atabi, MAR/03/2017, SSN;
The Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, is not politically a popular man among many in the ethnically divided South Sudan. The source of this political unpopularity can be divided into two main parts: among the non-Dinka group, Mr Museveni is accused of advising President Kiir to adopt dictatorial tendencies in order to advance a tribal hegemony over other non-Dinka tribes; and within the Dinka elite can be found those who hold Mr Museveni responsible for the death of Dr John Garang, the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
Garang died in a helicopter crash in 2005 after visiting with Museveni. This group of accusers asserts that Mr Museveni did not share the vision of a “New Sudan” that was espoused by Garang and, therefore, as a motive, he might have colluded with others who had similar view, to eliminate Garang.
In any case, Museveni was the “last man to see Garang alive,” as a criminal prosecutor might say. Together, the two groups are passionate in their belief although there is no incontrovertible evidence to support their positions.
The lingering doubt on the veracity of these accusations tends to support a view expressed by many non-South Sudanese, including two expat friends of mine, that “South Sudanese have the habit of blaming others for their own problems.”
Mr Museveni himself appears to defend himself when he was recently quoted in the media as saying that the main problem in South Sudan is lack of clear-headed leaders, and leaders who are bereft of ideology but who “push the pseudo-ideology of sectarianism of tribes that is detrimental to the people’s well-being.”
If there is no tangible evidence to support the charges against the Ugandan president, can one then hold a contrary view that he has always acted in the best interest of South Sudanese as a people?
In my opinion, the answer is yes, to a large extent. I will explain why.
In the mid-1980’s, the SPLA was some few years old but it was already embroiled in a quarrel arising from accusation that it was giving support to Ugandan rebels; these rebels were resisting the newly installed government of Museveni’s National Resistance Army/Movement (NRA/M).
Unsurprisingly, the NRA government was in turn accused of harboring some SPLA dissidents who had disagreed with Garang’s objective of fighting for “New Sudan;” the dissidents were separatists who favored secession from Sudan.
Among the dissident SPLA officers was a prominent Equatorian who became a close political friend of Museveni’s.
With time, the NRA government made it up with its rebels whose members were then absorbed in various posts in Uganda; but a group of rebels called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) held out and still exists to this day albeit at a much reduced fighting capacity.
Later, Sudan became the main supporter of the LRA; this in turn spurred Uganda to support Garang’s SPLA. The two leaders then became friends.
The friendship between Garang and Museveni appears not to have been completely consummated though, because there was, at the time, some evidence that Museveni did not share the vision of a united New Sudan as championed by Garang.
In one episode that confirms this claim, and which the author has an intimate knowledge, key Uganda government officials, apparently with a tacit permission from the top, supplied the senior Equatorian officer referred to earlier, with funds and military materiel apparently without the knowledge of Garang.
The purpose for this generosity was for the Equatorian to form a guerilla faction to fight for independence of South Sudan, outside the Garang-led SPLA.
Were this faction to prosper and grow into an effective insurgency, the celebrated support that Museveni was extending to the SPLA would have waned and stopped altogether. But this was not be because this new faction failed to take off as will be explained shortly.
There is another reason why SPLA continued to get support from Uganda. It is now publicly known that Uganda’s assistance to the SPLA was also motivated by the country’s leader’s deep emotional and ideological desire to free South Sudanese from the oppression of the Arab-and Islamic-dominated north Sudan.
Although South Sudan did gain its independence in 2011, Museveni must still remains disappointed by what is going on in our country and also with his erstwhile Equatorian ally.
As pointed out earlier, the logistical and financial support given to this ally was to enable him embark on the recruitment of South Sudanese from all ethnic groups to fight in the proposed faction.
Disappointingly, the man decided to recruit only from his own tribe in Equatoria!
Furthermore, there were no officers to lead these recruits. More distastefully, the funds and vehicles were diverted to promote business activities of the relatives of this officer.
Eventually, word of this monumental incompetence and corruption reached those who provided the assistance and, were it not for the intervention of a close relative of the Ugandan leader, this officer would have faced a military justice, which may have included facing a firing squad.
This is how the well-intentioned project of creating a faction to fight for independence came a cropper.
This debacle should act as a cautionary tale to my brother, Gen. Thomas Cirillo Swaka, the leader of the newly-created National Salvation Front (NAS). Like the failed officer, he is an Equatorian.
Furthermore, there is now a heightened expectation not only among the Equatorians but also among other South Sudanese that NAS might be the answer for the removal the terrible regime now in Juba. He must not fail and disappoint them.
General Swaka should resist the temptation to go tribal and to succumb to an abhorrent Jieng Council of Elders’ type of machination and maleficence that have destroyed the country.
He should remain firm against tribal-minded “expert” advisers and a Bari Council of Elders, if one (ever) exists.
To my fellow compatriots, South Sudanese, presidents and leaders do not have to follow advice given to them; they must first know what they want to achieve.
On this score, I will hesitate to blame Mr Museveni for the calamity now befalling us.
Samuel Atabi is a concerned South Sudanese and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org