Written by Machel Amos
January 19, 2014 [AR] — As fighting rages in South Sudan, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has plainly admitted that his troops are helping the Juba government forces defeat the rebels.
Museveni’s role has raised concerns about the impartiality of the regional body (IGAD) in mediating the talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
Mr Museveni’s revelation, which has raised eyebrows back home, followed a United Nations Security Council statement strongly discouraging external intervention in the conflict that pits former vice-president turned rebel leader Dr Riek Machar against President Salva Kiir’s government.
President Kiir accused his former deputy of staging a failed coup, a charge Mr Machar has denied and instead accused Mr Kiir of seeking an excuse to purge political dissent.
About 10,000 people have been killed since gunfire exploded in Juba on December 15 and quickly spread to other major towns in the country, according to the International Crisis Group. The United Nations estimates that more than 400,000 have been uprooted from their homes.
Talks to resolve the conflict have failed so far to strike a breakthrough, with rebels now increasing the conditions they need the government to fulfill in order to cease hostilities.
In addition to the initial demand for the release of 11 politicians arrested in connection with the failed coup, the rebels now want the state of emergency lifted in the oil-rich Unity State and the vast Jonglei. The rebels also want Ugandan troops protecting crucial installations like the airport in Juba to withdraw before any ceasefire.
The government insists detainees will be declared innocent by a competent court.
Western diplomats have backed the demand for the release of the detainees. Together with the UN, the diplomats have successfully avoided referring to Dr Machar’s fighters as rebels; instead calling them “opposition forces” or “anti-government forces”. The diplomats also say they have not seen an evidence of a coup plot.
The cumulative effect of these probably makes Mr Machar intransigent in the hope that he has the support of the world super powers. Presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny has referred to the rebels as “puppets of some western countries.”
It is here that Pan Africanists like President Yoweri Museveni would find a bone to pick. Mr Museveni argues that if Mr Machar had not stage a failed coup, he won’t have quickly formed a rebel group to fight Mr Kiir’s government, neither would he lay conditions for a ceasefire deal.
Mr Museveni also fears that an instable and ungovernable South Sudan could disrupt peace in northern Uganda.
In terms of trade, South Sudan is Uganda’s biggest export destination and more than 150,000 Ugandans leave and work in Juba and other parts of the infant nation. Regime’s interests aside; Uganda has a lot at stake in an instable and ungovernable South Sudan probably more than any other country in the region.
Of course, the Africans symbolized by the African Union have this culture of sitting back to watch as conflict eats up and destroys part of their own, creating space for what they refer to as the double standards of the West.
The West and the UN are now grappling with challenges of the South Sudan conflict that has an ethnic dimension; issuing alarms of atrocities, fears of a relapse to civil war and calls for accountability.
In the Central African Republic, the UN warns that the situation looks ripe for a repeat of the 1994 genocide. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, UN troops are on alert against a possible attack from M23 rebels, which they helped the government defeat last year. In Egypt, a military-backed transitional government is battling to restore the country to constitutional rule.
In 2012, French forces drove former Ivorian President Laurant Bagbo out of office to The Hague after refusing to cede power to Allasane Ouatara following an election. And not long ago, French forces helped contain Islamist rebels in northern Mali; all in the name of restoring democracy constitutional rule.
Amid chaos in many parts of the continent, Museveni’s involvement in South Sudan to avert collapse of a constitutional government could be one way of handling African problems in the Africa way.
Mr Museveni’s such involvement in the early 1990s helped the then rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army compel the Khartoum government to sign a western-back peace deal in 2005 to end more than two decades of a long running civil war.
On the other hand, the Ugandan army was able to pursue the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels deep inside South Sudan, resulting into peace in northern Uganda. A South Sudan Mr Museveni salvaged will always be there for him, then his role in Rwanda, DRC and Somalia.
South Sudan is about a year to its first general elections in 2015. A collapse of a democratically elected government or a protracted civil strife would derail peace in the Africa’s new nation and would have far reaching repercussions for the region.