It is one month since Uganda militarily intervened in the conflict pitting South Sudan President Salva Kiir against his ex-vice president, Riek Machar, whom he accused of plotting a coup. Sunday Monitor’s Nelson Wesonga interviewed Mr Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a lecturer of History and Development Studies at Makerere University, about Uganda’s intervention in South Sudan.
By Nelson Wesonga,
January 26, 2014 [DM] — Was there need for intervention in South Sudan?
Yes, but it should have been done under the auspices of IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) or the AU (the African Union).
Government says we intervened on behalf of a legitimate government that was elected to power.
When you say you are supporting a government that was elected into power, you forget the so-called “rebels” were part of the group that had been elected to power. They are not rebelling against SPLM (Sudan People’s Liberation Movement) but against President Salva Kiir whose credibility is doubted.
When people who were jointly elected into office together disagree, you should not take sides. If Amama Mbabazi and Museveni clash, who are you to come from Tanzania to say Museveni is more legitimate than Mbabazi? They are all NRM and they were elected into office. Therefore, our intervention should have been under the auspices of IGAD, the AU or the UN – to stop the belligerent forces from further clashing.
What are our interests as Uganda in South Sudan?
We have economic interests. South Sudan is a major destination for our exports. Whatever has taken place or is taking place in South Sudan affects Uganda’s economy, especially its agricultural export earnings. Also, many Ugandans are employed in different sectors in South Sudan. The South Sudan government employed some. Even the non-governmental organisations employ some Ugandans. There were also Ugandans operating motorcycle taxi businesses (boda boda) there.
However, we may not know why exactly President Museveni has gone there. I think he has got a feeling that he has got a mission to stabilise the region.
Whenever there have been regional conflicts, he has been there. He has been to Rwanda, where we intervened to return the Tutsi. He has been in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to remove Joseph Desire Kabila and to install others.
He was also instrumental in the war between the SPLA (Sudanese People’s Liberations Army) and the Khartoum government. I think Uganda’s intervention facilitated the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in the Sudan. He has also been in Somalia to stabilise that country. But militarism is not going to stabilise the region; it is not going to bring sustainable peace. We have not stabilised the Congo, we have not stabilised Rwanda. We need to use other methods; to use diplomacy as the primary method and military as secondary.
How does one convince President Museveni to shift from military approach?
He is a politician. He is too old to be convinced. Somebody of 70 years is not easy to convince. But we can create incentives that can dissuade him from militarism.
Parliament can prevail upon him. Parliament has to review its position on supporting militarism.
Another position would be the international community to reconsider supporting his militaristic adventures in the region, because they are the ones supporting him.
We are not even sure if they are not the ones who sent him e-mails or called him to intervene militarily for sake of their strategic and economic interests that were under threat. Going by the Chief of Defence Force’s statement, we shall be in South Sudan, militarily, for as long as South Sudan is unstable or there is a threat to the state. However, civil wars are not easy to end. On average, they take more than eight years.
What is the military cost of Uganda’s intervention in South Sudan?
The most important cost in as far as I am concerned is the human cost. We have already lost some soldiers. The figure has officially been put at nine. We don’t know how many. Others might have been maimed. Two, it is going to be a financial constraint to our national budget. The Chief of the Defence Forces, Katumba Wamala, has already intimated that they need supplementary funding. That supplementary funding will affect service delivery because the votes for other services and goods might be reduced to meet the cost of our presence in South Sudan.
Our involvement is also a cost to our military hardware. Our aircraft, big guns and vehicles are far away. They are going to wear out. Others may be destroyed in the course of the war. During our participation, we might get funding from the Western powers; they can buy us arms that we could keep.
The troops could earn more money. When they earn more money, they will be satisfied and will, therefore, not think of disturbing the President here. Where each earns more than $1,000 monthly, that would be good to stop our troops from thinking about challenging his authority. Relatedly, the conflict there has affected our revenue.
What is the connection between our intervention in South Sudan and President Museveni’s calculations of Uganda’s 2016 general election?
Our intervention in South Sudan might, formally, be to protect our citizens. I think it is the basis upon which Parliament gave a go-ahead. Stabilise South Sudan so that at least we resume our trade activities in South Sudan. Those are legitimate concerns to any Ugandan. However, there might be some other calculations. One, one could argue that the President might use the interventions in our region, especially in South Sudan and Somalia to increase his good standing with the West.
We are talking about the Sudan, which can slide into anarchy, become a failed state, and a haven for Islamic fundamentalists. Museveni can help the West to secure its interests in the region. And in return, he will have a better chance for regime maintenance because regime survival is based on both domestic and international support. That might be his calculation.
The last word…
Nobody is saying we shouldn’t have intervened. The point is that we should have intervened under the auspices of a regional body. We could have negotiated with IGAD to say let the IGAD intervene so that it is said ‘IGAD troops clashed with rebels…’
We seem to have created permanent mistrust with a section of South Sudanese. What will happen to our traders, international civil servants in the predominantly Nuer areas? Won’t you fear to even call yourself a Ugandan?