Oct 29, 2015(Nyamilepedia) —- After many confusing and often contradictory press releases regarding UPDF withdrawal both from the South Sudanese government and its Ugandan counterpart, we finally got an input from someone on ground in Bor town. General Malual Ayom, the SPLA commander in Bor town, said last week, I quote ” for the first time in 2 years , the Ugandan flag which was erected in January 2014 was now lowered and the SPLA flag was erected in place at the barracks previously occupied by the Ugandan troops “. His statement confirmed that the withdrawal took place or was about to happen.
What the General also know and the rest of us is that a similar flag is still flying high in western Equatoria state and in some parts of eastern Equatoria state as well. It has always been the case over the last 5 years or so. According to the General, the total number of the UPDF in Bor area is 2000. We do not know, in fact no one of the public will ever know whether all will return to Uganda or some units will be re-deployed in other parts of South Sudan notably western Equatoria state. There is no way to verify total withdrawal from South Sudan soil given the fact that the government is against the withdrawal in the first place coupled with lack of independent monitoring mechanism at the frontier.
When the UPDF entered South Sudan territory 22 months ago, the reason given was protection of Ugandan nationals and evacuation of those caught up in the fight and willing to leave South Sudan soil. The mission was then expanded to securing and defending government institutions and strategic facilities. As the number of the UPDF continued to increase within the South Sudanese borders, we heard president Museveni threatening Dr Riek Machar of imminent defeat should he not give up the fight. What was not mentioned was the main reason for intervention which is protecting Uganda’s huge economic interests in South Sudan. It also turned out that a secret deal was struck between the two governments where the government of South Sudan pays the wages of the Ugandan soldiers in US dollars. This fact came to light when the minister of defence, Kuol Manyang Juuk inadvertently disclosed to the media that the government of South Sudan is the one paying the bills. The Ugandan authorities got irritated and criticised leaking such matters to the media which further supported the presence of such a deal. However, the realities of the war and the results were quite contrary to the announced reasons and objectives.
The protection of the Ugandan citizens, if anything, was the last thing in the minds of the Ugandan authorities. As we know the majority of the Ugandan citizens live in Juba; their security like the rest of the South Sudanese people never improved, in fact it has gotten worse since the arrival of the UPDF. We have not seen any evacuations of Ugandan citizens back to Uganda so far. Furthermore, the bulk of the UPDF was deployed hundreds of kilometers far from where the Ugandan citizens are concentrated. This has led some Ugandan lawmakers to question the activities of the UPDF in places as far as Unity state and Upper Nile state. To a sharp observer, it’s a de’ja’ vu reminiscent of the second Congo war. In 1998, president Museveni in collaboration with president Kagame of Rwanda, invaded the Democratic Republic of Congo ( DRC ). The reasons given were, to prevent ” genocide ” against the Banyamulenge who are an ethnic Tutsi population in the eastern part of the DRC. Also that Laurent Kabila, the father of the current president, who was propelled to power by none other than the two presidents, failed to secure the borders with Uganda thus allowing the opposition to launch attacks from bases inside DRC. But the fact of the matter was that the UPDF was deployed thousands of kilometers to the west of the Uganda frontier and assisting a movement aiming to topple Kabila. The whole thing didn’t go well and the allies ended up fighting each other in Kisangani in June and July 2000. Even the Banyamulenge got tired of being used as a political pawn by their brethren and fought with the Rwandan army in 2002.
Museveni’s intervention in the DRC did not bring peace and stability to that country but on the contrary it led to devastation on a large scale. The invaders were accused by the international bodies of plundering the country’s massive mineral and timber resources. The International Court of Justice ruled in December 2005, that Uganda must pay compensation to the DRC for human rights violations during the second Congo war. In the case of South Sudan, civilians have reported rapes, killings and lootings by the Ugandan army in western Equatoria state. The use of cluster bombs by the UPDF is another issue that would certainly be brought up against Uganda by the human rights organisations and could lead to punitive measures put in place by the international community. The UPDF has now been stationed in western Equatoria state for at least 5 years and we now know that LRA activities have waned or are non-existent in the area. Experts in the field are also of the opinion that the LRA is on the decline and ceased to pose any significant threat. It is now confined to remote jungles in the Central African Republic or it might have already disintegrated. The questions that come to mind are, Why is the UPDF still present in western Equatoria state ?! Do we really know what the Ugandans are doing in relation to the rich natural resources in the area ?! What would prevent them from repeating what they did in the DRC albeit this time in South Sudan ?!
It is clear to every observer that Museveni’s military intervention in support of the government did not fulfil the intended goals. Dr Riek Machar is still standing tall and even getting more diplomatic attention and international traction than the president. The war that erupted in Juba and quickly reached Bor in December 2013, has spread to all parts of South Sudan. The loss of human lives and the destruction of properties and the meagre infrastructure is quite immense by any measure. Now the UPDF as an ally of the government forces cannot distant itself from the carnage that has befallen South Sudan. It is evident that the Ugandan intervention has made the situation far worse than it has been. This is similar to what happened in the DRC and that country achieved peace and stability only after the departure of the UPDF.
Some of the statements from the Ugandan authorities gave the impression that they consider themselves a regional power entitled to interfere in everyone else’s business. It was reported before the conflict that president Museveni once said he would hang himself if security in Uganda becomes like the state of affairs in South Sudan. Also many Ugandan officials and Generals have been saying that the SPLA is poorly trained and deficient in all aspects of military command and operation. Though security in South Sudan is probably one of the worst in the region, nonetheless Museveni is not in a position to lecture the South Sudanese about security because he continues to need them for keeping the LRA at bay. The LRA rampages all happened under his watch and he had to seek help from outsiders to solve his internal problems. Some of the criminal activities now prevalent in Juba were never there before and mostly emanated from Uganda or to some extent from the other neighbouring countries. Armed robberies, counterfeitings and assassinations were almost unheard of in South Sudan before the open border policy.
The Garamba offensive aka Operation Lightning Thunder took place between 2008 and 2009. The attack was carried out by Uganda, the DRC and South Sudan against the LRA rebels who were lured into the Garamba National Park in the DRC. The Americans provided the intelligence, satellite communications and money for fuel and logistics. The aim was to uproot the LRA as a final solution but apparently things didn’t go well and Joseph Kony managed to escape and remained elusive. The fact that the Ugandans sought the help of the SPLA makes what their Generals have been saying ironical. It also reveals a fundamental fact that Uganda has never been a formidable regional power in the past or at the present time. This could happen in future but certainly not now when it is unable to conquer the LRA on its own.
Before the conflict, president Museveni was probably the only foreign leader enjoying universal popularity among the South Sudanese people. He has done a lot of good things for us. We are all grateful and appreciative of the help and support given to us by the Ugandan people under the leadership of president Museveni during the liberation war. The relations between South Sudan and Uganda was on track to become an example of cooperation and mutual respect furthering peace and stability in the region. Our african heritage taught us that when you find two brothers fighting each other you don’t side with anyone of them but with both in the sense that you remain neutral and try to help stopping the fight. By participating in the bloodshed, president Museveni became a part of the problem and never a part of the solution.