By Risdel Kasasira, DAILY Monitor, OCT/18/2015, SSN;
When UPDF deployed in South Sudan 22 months ago, three reasons were given for intervention, including evacuating Ugandans caught up in the fighting.
The second reason was that UPDF had been invited by a legitimate government to ensure order and the third reason was that the regional bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), had sanctioned the intervention following a request by the UN secretary General, Mr Ban Ki-moon.
What government didn’t say was Khartoum’s invisible hand in the conflict and also the need to protect Uganda’s economic interests.
According to military sources, President Omar Al-Bashir has been close to Riek Machar whom the regime in Kampala sees as an adversary.
Despite the war, South Sudan remained the biggest market for Ugandan products such as cement, beverages and agricultural produce.
Therefore, it was not a surprise that as the conflict escalated, Ugandan troops started fighting on the side of forces loyal to President Salva Kiir.
In the end, UPDF become a protagonist in the conflict and was accused of propping up Kiir’s regime. And indeed, If UPDF had not intervened, President Kiir would probably not be president to date.
However, with UPDF leaving, are Uganda’s security and economic interests protected? Is President Kiir’s interest to remain president secure?
Answers to this question depend on the internal political, economic and security dynamics in South Sudan, regional and international community interests.
But majorly, its regional and internal politics will be critical in determining the internal politics in world’s newest nation.
“There is a very big shift in geopolitical interests. President Museveni has reconciled with President Bashir who has been hostile to Uganda.
Therefore, even if Machar comes to Juba as President, his government may not be hostile to Uganda,” says Hassan Kaps Fungaroo, the Shadow minister for Defence and Internal Affairs.
Historical relations between Uganda and Sudan have been tense, with both countries backing armed proxies fighting over the status of South Sudan.
But in September this year, President Museveni made a rare visit to Khartoum that represents a significant shift in the relations between the two countries.
It was a smart diplomatic move by President Museveni to reach out to President Bashir because Kampala will now have less control over events in South Sudan without a presence in Juba and other parts of the country.
If regimes in Kampala and Khartoum are close allies, they can easily compel Juba to do what they want because South Sudan majorly depends on the two countries for survival.
South Sudan’s economy entirely depends on oil with the refineries located in Sudan and almost all food and other goods like beverages consumed coming from Uganda. Therefore, reconciling with Khartoum is not only good for Uganda but also for South Sudan and Sudan.
Anyone who wants to economically and politically distabilise Uganda will first distabilise South Sudan for it to be a safe haven for negative forces like the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels under Joseph Kony.
Northern Uganda is peaceful because South Sudan is Uganda’s buffer zone and that’s why Kony who was allegedly getting support from Khartoum was pushed out and later fled to the Central African Republic (CAR).
Some have previously argued that LRA can come back and attack Uganda and South Sudan with the help of some hostile regimes but no government or regime would want to be associated with a person like Kony who is being hunted by Americans and also wanted by the International Criminal Court.
Another critical factor that will determine South Sudan’s security situation is the 12,600 strong-UN force that is replacing the UPDF.
The force will be deployed under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter and it authorises the force to use “all means necessary” to protect civilians and deter violence.
If “all means necessary” includes carrying out targeted offensive operations to neutralise parties that violate the peace deal like Force Intervention Brigade in DR Congo, the UN force could help to bring peace.
But the challenge with such UN force is that it’s drawn from different countries with different interests and it’s not always cohesive.
“It might be business as usual where you have these UN troops getting good salaries and all the benefits but the local people are suffering.
It has been happening in DR Congo and other parts of the world,” says Sam Mwebaze, a Master student of International Relations at Makerere University.
It should also be understood that President Kiir in January 2014 accused the UNMISS, which is replacing UPDF of supporting the opposition, an allegation the UN strongly denied and dismissed.
Even last week South Sudan’s information minister Michael Makuei Lueth, told reporters in Juba that Salva Kiir was not attending the September 29 UN meeting because the UN had been treating Kiir like a “schoolboy.”
Role of UN
Therefore, there is already lack of trust between the UN and president Kiir.
More worrying, Juba is supposed to be demilitarised, and all government forces, according to the Addis Ababa agreement signed on August 26, are supposed to move 25km out of the capital and therefore president Kiir will be majorly at the mercy of this UN force.
However, Mr Ateny Wek Ateny, the government spokesperson, says the president will remain with about 5,000 presidential guards, fire brigade, police and wildlife warders.
“There will be no security vacuum. With these presidential guards and police, the city will be safe and the president will also be safe,” he said.
Mr Ateny also says government has more than 100,000 soldiers that can be deployed to defend their country.
But what he does not explain is why the government has failed to defeat Machar who now controls a swathe of territory with an intact fighting force.
A UPDF retired captain, who doesn’t want to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter, currently working for a European security firm in South Sudan, describes SPLA, as “ a disorganised and poorly trained force”.
“They cannot stand and fight an organised force,” he says
He says when UPDF deployed in December 2013, it was not only fighting Machar but also reorganising the SPLA at the frontline.
“They have guns needed to fight any war in this terrain. But they are disorganised. They are poor at command, planning and war execution. They really need training,” he says.
Another problem president Kiir is facing is the ailing economy. And with this big number of soldiers, it might be hard for him to raise the money to pay the soldiers.
In May this year, Mr Kiir acknowledged in his speech that South Sudanese have been hit hard by the ailing economy.
He blamed the fighting and falling crude prices for hobbling his country’s oil industry, which is South Sudan’s economic lifeline.
In the same month, a team of South Sudan officials led by vice president Wani Igga was in Kampala to seek financial help but government sources say Uganda only promised it would offer financial advice.
With these changing dynamics, Mr Fungaroo argues that the regional leaders are “ditching” President Kiir because he has failed to solve governance problems within SPLA/M and they are tired of continuously supporting his government from falling.
“There is a shift in geopolitics. Salva Kiir is being ditched” he says. But spurning President Kiir would not be easy.
It’s also risky because edging him out would be opening another frontline that could divide the country that is already ethnically and tribally divided. END