By JULIUS BARIGABA,U.S. Marine Sergeant David Ash explains combat marksmanship tactics to a soldier of the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) during ongoing training in counter-terrorism combat engineering, March 2012.
February 17, 2014[The EastAfrican] — Besides Uganda’s security concerns, it has emerged that China’s economic interests in South Sudan is the main reason behind President Yoweri Museveni’s defiance of demands by the US and the Inter Governmental Authority on Development to withdraw his troops from the world’s youngest state.
A source close to President Museveni’s government told The EastAfrican that Kampala was not about to withdraw the Uganda People’s Defence Forces from South Sudan until after the elections next year, as it was keen on a continuity of the Salva Kiir presidency.
According to the source, the Chinese, who have multibillion dollar investments in South Sudan including its oil sector, have misgivings about a shaky government and a weak army in Juba, and, therefore, need help from Uganda to help usher in a strong government.
This is because of Kampala’s involvement in the conflict — both in combat and guarding of key installations in South Sudan — since the war broke out on December 15.
At the time, officials in Washington DC — as well as the United Nations chief Ban Ki-Moon — asked President Museveni to intervene in the crisis, and the Ugandan leader deployed his troops within days.
According to the source, this has given the Chinese confidence in Uganda as an ally, and in a Salva Kiir presidency.
“Our friends the Chinese had gone with Riek Machar to safeguard their interests in the war-ravaged Bor and other oil rich states, but when they realised that UPDF were on the ground, they deserted him and moved back to support the side that is allied to Uganda,” the source said.
The war broke out when a faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army began an alleged mutiny that spread from Juba to Jonglei. President Kiir blamed his former deputy, Riek Machar for instigating the “coup” but Machar denied any knowledge of it and blamed Kiir for playing power politics.
But eight weeks later, after the guns have gone silent, the Americans want President Museveni to recall his soldiers from Juba, Bor in Jonglei state and other strategic oil-rich states is South Sudan.
They say this will allow the recently signed cessation of hostilities between Juba’s President Kiir and rebels loyal to Machar to hold, and also prevent the possibility of the situation turning into a regional conflict.
“We urge the redeployment or phased withdrawal of foreign forces invited by either side and warn of serious consequences that could result from any regionalisation of this conflict,” said Jen Psaki, the State Department spokesperson on February 7.
Although Ms Psaki did not directly refer to UPDF, it is the only known army that has officially been deployed in South Sudan.
Days later, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who is also the Igad chairman, expressed concerns over the intervention of foreign troops and “other interests” in the South Sudan conflict.
“What worries Igad so much is that because of this intervention, the crisis might end up becoming a regional conflict because there are other interests,” he said.
But the Ugandan leader has vowed to keep his army in South Sudan.
At a retreat at the National Leadership Institute Kyankwanzi, central Uganda, President Museveni accused Washington of practising double standards.
He said that whenever there are regional conflicts, the West looked to “us to help” but when stability is restored, they begin talking about non-interference in the affairs of an independent state.
However, without stating a particular timeline, Uganda’s Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary James Mugume said UPDF will leave South Sudan in a phased withdrawal programme.
Uganda is a key ally of both China, mainly on the economic front, and the US in its war on terror. It remains to be seen whether Uganda is playing a dangerous game in supporting President Kiir and by extension advancing Chinese interests to outsmart the Americans.
The demand by Washington on the other hand has re-energised demands by Machar’s side for a UPDF withdrawal before talks can resume.
Speaking in Addis Ababa this week, seven leaders of Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) released by Salva Kiir accused the UPDF of ethnic cleansing in South Sudan.
“Uganda’s involvement in South Sudan has a negative role and our people (the Nuer clan) know that they are currently engaged in ethnic cleansing in South Sudan,” Deng Alor Kuol, one of the seven said February 13.
The group said it would join the second round of peace talks as an independent third party under the banner of, “former political detainees.”