Letters Uganda

Letter: An Open Letter to the President of Uganda

Kampala Should Rethink Its strategy in South Sudan’s conflict

By Peter Lokarlo Ngrimwa,

Former Lecturer, RMIT.

Dear Mr. President,

A letter to Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, on South Sudan engagement(Photo: file)
A letter to Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, on South Sudan engagement(Photo: file)

June 20, 2015(Nyamilepedia) — As you may already be aware that the conflict in South Sudan, akin to other political morasses in many states in Africa, did initially has its origin essentially in the protracted power struggles that dates back to July 2013 when President Kiir dismissed the entire government from office so as to get rid of only his political opponents who were later excluded in the formation of the subsequent government. The other concern was the apparent lack of transparency related to democratic thinking and practices and besides, reforms within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) ruling party that has long been structured along autocratic fad.

In this regard, some of those members of the SPLM political Bureau who had hitherto declared their individual intentions to contest for the leadership of the Party in a democratic manner, and later run for the president of the country in the scheduled 2015 election were denounced for being enemies of the state. They were subsequently charged with high treason and detained after the fictional “failed coup” allegation was officially made by the government in Juba on the 15 December 2013, following the botched weekend meeting of the SPLM’s National Liberation Council (NLC).

This is the casus belli of the political feud in Juba or precisely the account of the genesis of the conflict in South Sudan. It was primarily a scramble for leadership and certainly had nothing to do with a coup d’état as disingenuously proclaimed by the government of South Sudan and now being disseminated by the regime’s functionaries to the international community. This was manifestly a colossal charade and an untenable tale being sold to the world community as genuine, but the story has become less vendible to date as it has dawned that there was actually no coup that occurred in South Sudan, but a calculated attempt by the government to expunge and silence opposition voices that did call for democratic pluralism in the country and to justify the mass killings of Nuer ethnic group in Juba that ensued from December 16, to 18, 2013

Worryingly, the uninterrupted military buildup of your army in South Sudan with substantial weaponry transfer coupled with the fact that both Kampala and Juba are frantically engaging in increasingly reckless military escapades against the SPLM-IO rather than searching for actual peace is irresponsible and stunningly precarious development. Hence, the widening of the scope of the destruction especially in Unity and Upper Nile states supported by the UPDF has boosted the chances of South Sudan’s destruction and consequently the modest hope of ever ridding the new country of poverty, hunger, illiteracy, mass unemployment, rampant insecurity and other ills, although an oil-rich country has effectively been diminished.

Uganda’s military interloping in South Sudan was initially made under the pretext of evacuating its nationals from the war-afflicted country and later preventing genocide in that country yet today Uganda is actively fighting alongside the government of South Sudan against the SPLM-IO. Now that the conflict has blossomed into a full-fledged civil war with numerous deaths and countless civilians maimed, more than two million displaced, where is the exit alley from this twisted setting Mr. President?

With all honesty and candour, the accurate prognosis for the region is that neither the government and people of Uganda nor the South Sudanese would derive any noteworthy long term gains from the ongoing political quagmire in South Sudan, in view of the current unwarranted military involvement of the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) in the South Sudan’s civil war. Arguably, the hard fact is that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) is now a formidable force replete with all the paraphernalia of a conventional warfare, including modern battle tanks and credible anti-aircraft system. Such an organized army can hardly be extinguished as witnessed in many parts of the world. As a former guerrilla leader commanding the NRA in Uganda’s “Bush War” of the early to mid-1980s against the legitimate government of the late President of Uganda, Milton Obote, you are better located to realize that it is extremely a mammoth task to defeat a rebel army.

Thus, it would seem an unrealistic impulse and probably an absolute fantasy to contemplate the destruction of the South Sudan armed opposition forces, the SPLA/SPLM led by Dr. Riek Machar, notwithstanding you had earlier at the start of the conflict spicily warned that you and the IGAD countries would end the insurgency once and for all after serving its leader, with an ultimatum of four days back in December 2013 to surrender or ‘face defeat’ and comprehensive annihilation. In this context, there is lesser incentive in backing up the unsteady government of South Sudan whose ills range from presiding over a ramshackle economy by sheer choice through to a country with scarcely any semblance of the rule of law; a totalitarian regime that continues to exhibit an inconceivable dossier of consistent human rights abuses that includes among other abnormalities a flagrant disregard of the elementary rules of international humanitarian law as seen across the country since15 December 2013, to pursuing an illusive and unattainable victory on the SPLA/SPLM-IO. The fact that the UPDF military deployed in South Sudan have access to monetary gains from the government in Juba, as substantiated by South Sudan’s Ministry of defence, these transient paybacks should never constitute a sensible basis for backing up the Police state in Juba.

Albeit you have on a number of occasions affirmed that Uganda’s intervention in South Sudan was necessary to maintain the government of President Salva Kiir and stability in the new nation, and that your forces would not withdraw until you were assured that Juba was “secure”, this avowal is certainly repellent, not sound and would likely rebound. It is time to abandon this quest for faux triumph in order to save not only lives of South Sudanese, but also the lives of Ugandan soldiers fighting and dying in the battle fronts in South Sudan’s flash points. Likewise, it would be sensible to minimize the damage done and the level of detestation generally directed against the people of Uganda living in South Sudan in connection with Uganda’s disparaging military sprees in the war-torn country. Regrettably, any aerial sorties or strafing conducted by the Ugandan air force in South Sudan would likely generate enormous resentment and aura of vengeance against Ugandan citizens living in South Sudan. It is commonly acknowledged that wars apart from engendering brutality and counter brutality generally drain the coffers and economies of the countries involved in pursuing them.

Not a long while ago, the American Administration through the Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama’s new top diplomat for Africa, Ms Linda Thomas-Greenfield, had stated that the Uganda army must leave South Sudan territory and allow citizens there to enjoy a future of peace and prosperity they voted for. We too, the citizens of South Sudan would like to add our loud voice in unison in urging your government to withdraw Ugandan forces from South Sudan. Furthermore, the withdrawal strategy is the only feasible and prudent option to undertake, as the UPDF would be in a woeful shape should it be defeated and ejected from South Sudan by the armed SPLA-IO forces. In fact the demand for the military disengagement if realized should not be read as synonymous with ignominy on the part of the government of Uganda as more often misguidedly interpreted, but a display of a high level of political erudition on the part of your country’s leadership.

Besides, it would categorically epitomize a more sensible and priceless accomplishment in terms of equanimity and steadfastness on the one hand and an exit face saving strategy for Kampala on the other. The recent report presented in Parliament by the parliament’s committee on defense and internal affairs that urges the withdrawal of the UPDF from South Sudan is a barometer of public disenchantment with Uganda’s level of involvement in the conflict. This perspective which is essentially based on the nous of pragmatism should be seriously cogitated and addressed by the political leadership in Kampala. The contradictory statement made by Uganda’s defence minister, in Parliament that Ugandan troops would not withdraw from South Sudan is profoundly parochial in the sense that the minister is abundantly oblivious of the future political ramifications of such an indiscreet stance.

Fathomably, it is a common knowledge that cluster bombs are banned worldwide due to the danger they pose to human life long after a conflict has ended. The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) is an international treaty that prohibits the use, transfer and stockpile of cluster bombs of which Uganda is a signatory. In a clear-cut accomplishment of grotesque crime against humanity, the Ugandan air force had unleashed cluster bombs on villages near Bor on the road to Juba in South Sudan in February 2014 (Monitor, May, 2014). This was confirmed and reported by the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS). The use of these munitions despite unsuccessful denials by your government is still a stinging reminder that Kampala has a case to answer to the people of South Sudan at the post-conflict era. However, it is worthwhile moving on to explore all avenues of peace at the moment. Your government should start a rapprochement arrangement, halt the bloodshed in South Sudan by unconditionally withdrawing Ugandan troops from the country.

Based on this plain discernment, South Sudanese largely believe that despite all odds, the government of Uganda could nevertheless move on to lessen the damage already done by Kampala’s plain shortage of strategic political foresight, by embarking on a genuine innovative and radical trajectory. This political trajectory should include a spirited attempt to potentially cultivate a candid and constructive approach that would see the government of Uganda and the SPLA/M IO forge and build a reciprocal trust, evolve a sense of esprit de corps and start working together alongside Juba as a team towards ending the unrewarding hostility. We must all be cognizant that governments come and go at certain stages after their tenure of office have elapsed, whether violently or through a tranquil process of democracy, but countries and their people perpetually prosper. It is crucial to state that the future prosperity of South Sudan as a country critical to Uganda’s economic lifeline does not reside in the current ethnically-entrenched, and less sophisticated administration in Juba, but in an entirely new configuration of a democratic South Sudan where there is absence of political witch hunts and all South Sudanese irrespective of tribal affiliations are ranked equal and real stakeholders in the new nation.

It would hardly amount to exaggeration to state that Uganda’s interests are in excessive jeopardy today than at any time since the civil war in South Sudan began in December 2013. In this regard, your government as the official guarantor and provider of the Juba government with the wherewithal to pursue the war should be able to identify and promptly diminish all circumstances that could increase the likelihood of unintended consequences such as a regional conflagration involving not only the countries that possess “interests” in South Sudan including Uganda but also other countries far a field with similar tendency. Hence the people of South Sudan still maintain that your government has the potential to accomplish a noble realization by peacefully and orderly withdrawing all UPDF units deployed in South Sudan within a shortest possible time frame and leave alone the Intergovernmental Authority on Development IGAD; the African Union (AU); Troika countries that include the USA, UK and Norway; all other interested parties in the international community in addition to all South Sudan’s political forces in addition to the South Sudan Civil Society Organization, to serenely sort out the new country’s imbroglio. Such a proposition should logically exclude your government’s participating role, as it demonstrably lacks neutrality as well as being an integral part of the problem. You certainly can’t be a player and synchronously assuming the role of a referee in this regard. Another more invaluable option is for Uganda to rein weightily on the government of South Sudan, urging it to embark on genuine peace rapprochement with the SPLM-IO. Juba together with the opposition should construct an all-embracing chart that entails the formation of a broad-based interim government shared on a Pari passu representation and should be far divorced from the current IGAD’s incongruous blueprint that unquestionably ensures the perpetuity of the civil war in South Sudan.

Uganda’s sore and unpalatable experience in the second Congo civil war that ended in 2003 coupled with the subsequent verdict of the International Court of Justice imposed on Kampala for its unscrupulous and inexcusable role in that country’s conflict, should sagely caution and inspire your government to rethink its strategy in South Sudan’s conflict and accordingly refrain from liberally involving further into adventurous and perilous fixation and futile military pursuits. This abstemious counsel should not again be construed to represent a reprimand of any sort to your government, but it establishes an equable and sagacious observation and guidance destined to lessen the pain emanating from the metastasizing civil war in South Sudan that the leadership in Uganda currently inflames with impunity, and also to ensure future peaceful bond between the people of the two neighbouring countries.

Lamentably, according to the latest Uganda’s trade statistics with the Republic of South Sudan, as published by the Daily Monitor (dated 20 May 2015), the volume of exports to the latter had sharply declined by 80 per cent from Shs271billion to only Shs54.2 billion within the last two months alone and that “South Sudan had become Uganda’s most active trading partner in the entire region”. With this plain reality, it would be imprudent for your government to retain a noxious relationship between the people of the two countries and put a halt to such flourishing trading environment. Furthermore, building a strong bond with the majority of the toiling masses of South Sudan is a shrewder reckoning than maintaining the unpopular regime in Juba that runs death squads at whim and broadly characterized by insularity and a fascistic temperament. Generally, a state must orient its policies to the conventional framework of international standard systems of governance, in which the rule of law and justice prevail, but this is not the case in South Sudan at the moment where murders on an industrial scale, rape of children as young as eight years old including the imposition of crude gonadectomy on young boys have regrettably occurred as testified by United Nations officials. This is precisely the archetypal grimmer scenario and insanity in South Sudan that Kampala committedly supports and doesn’t seem to worry about it Mr. President.

Thus, in simple and honest terms, there is a desperate need for fresh thinking, the people of South Sudan would appreciate that you candidly reassess Uganda’s entire policy towards the conflict in their country. This would necessitate a radical approach rather than the fancied military option currently being pursued by both your government and the Juba regime for a military solution. The fundamental focus now should be geared towards immobilizing the caustic war and speedily halt the unimaginable and senseless bloodbath by withdrawing the UPDF units garrisoned in South Sudan. Such a prudent move if adopted could decisively provide the South Sudanese government with a persuasive incentive to discontinue the war. It is indubitably an accurate view to state that if left to its own devices, the government in Juba would begin a vigorous search for a genuine peace, of course being aware that there would no longer be any forthcoming foreign country to back it militarily against domestic opposition as Kampala does at the moment. Hence, Juba would consequently embark on a genuine peace deal with all the opposition forces in the country and this could usher in a new and all-inclusive functional interim government in Juba, a real long lasting peace and a triumphant ambiance not only between the two countries, but the entire East African and Lakes region at large.

Thank you

Peter Lokarlo Ngrimwa

Former Lecturer,

Graduate School of Business and Law (GSBL),

RMIT University

The Emily MacPherson Building

Building 13, 379-405 Russell Street,

Melbourne, VIC, 3000


E-mail: ptr_lok@yahoo.com.au

Copies to:

  1. E. President Salva Kiir of the Republic of South Sudan, Juba
  2. Riek Machar Teny, Chairman and Commander in Chief of SPLM/A in opposition
  3. E. Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, President of the Republic of Kenya, State House, Nairobi
  4. E. Hailemariam Dessalegn, the Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and Chairman of the IGAD, Addis Ababa
  5. E. Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, President of South Africa, Mahlamba Ndlopfu, Pretoria
  6. E. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, President of the united Republic of Tanzania
  7. Ugandan Parliament’s Committee on defense and internal affairs, Kampala
  8. Other Representatives of member countries of the IGAD
  9. Alpha Oumar Konaré, the AU high representative for South Sudan
  10. South Sudan Civil Society Organisation, Juba

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