Is Uganda deployment in South Sudan more than just a citizen evacuation mission?
It started on Sunday, December 15. I woke up on Monday to the news of a ‘failed coup’ in South Sudan that now many believe never was. Next day, President Salva Kiir wore his military fatigue as if to reinforce that idea that this will be solved militarily- in a country where he has yet to bridge the political and ethnic divides. The fight that started as squabbles between members of the SPLM exposed divisions – both political and ethnic- in the worst way possible.
A week later, UN agencies put the number of dead at 500 and most of them civilians. Many graphic stories are going around about how people were hunted down in their homes and hacked and killed in some of the cruelest ways imagined, just because they belonged to a different tribe.
For many months there was consistent talk of a possible coup with Kiir dismissing an entire cabinet. This was a man in a paranoia mode. From then on nothing has been the same. Many people I know in South Sudan believe Kiir is been putting a lid on the party, the government and the army and not allowing dissenting voices or a resemblance of democracy internally. What appeared a political rift at the top of the party this this week degenerated to fight for power along ethnic lines.
Kiir is reading from the same script that many post-independence African countries leaders used. Coming from Uganda have seen enough and always civilians will bear the brunt of the rigidity of these leaders.
— KTN (@KTNKenya) December 18, 2013
As most countries started evacuation citizens, in Uganda were half hooked to South Sudan, the other half on our parliament, which has been busy making sexist laws that include banning mini-skirts and the infamous Anti-homosexuality law. Somewhere in the middle of this confusion, President Museveni sneaked us into the South Sudan turmoil, reports say at the invitation of Kiir’s government. Like many military deployments, only a few people in this country decide where and when our soldiers will be taken.
Museveni is well known for his historic support of the SPLM/A struggle – in fact top SPLM figures lived freely in Uganda as the independence struggle went on.
But this time it is not a struggle for independence; it is a struggle for good governance. And whatever interests we may be trying to protect, in the end we must give South Sudan- two year old country- its chance to shape it’s destiny.
I am a skeptic when it comes to lone interventions by any country but many reports show that Museveni may not be acting alone entering the South Sudan conflict.
“Our mission is to evacuate injured and stranded Ugandans. It is a bilateral arrangement with the government of South Sudan”, Paddy Ankunda, spokesman of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) told Sudan Tribune on Friday.
Later there were reports Uganda has secured Juba airport. Today reports say Ugandan troops have been sighted in Bor- Jonglei. One tweet – unconfirmed- suggested a Ugandan military plane had been brought down.
— Sudan Tribune (@SudanTribune_EN) December 21, 2013
In a tweet, the Chief of Defense Forces in Uganda Gen. Katumba Wamala refuted the claims of Uganda troops presence beyond Juba, insisting theirs was an a simple evacuation mission.
@RosebellK You are got it wrong only in Juba. Other countries have sent their for forces to facilitate their nationals to leave, why no Ug?
— General wamala (@Gen_wamala) December 21, 2013
Another tweet quoting the South Sudan military spokesperson refuted the reports but as we know the first casualty of war is truth so we wait to see.
Army spokesperson Ankunda said Ugandan soldiers will remain in South Sudan for “as long as the South Sudan government is still there for us (the UPDF)”.
Gen. Wamala was vague about when Ugandan troops will finish this evacuation and come back.
— Magelah Peter G. (@pmagelah) December 21, 2013
The vagueness regarding the mission has increased rumours that UPDF is there support Kiir. And if indeed Museveni takes us to Juba and beyond to save Salva Kiir- who has had chances to negotiate with rivals but chose not- I am afraid may affect what kind of settlement will be reached.
Gen. Wamala sort of wrapped this mission around humanitarian grounds – that peace in South Sudan means peace in Uganda -but we have a UN mission in South Sudan whose mandate should must be to protect civilians.
The IGAD delegation led by Ethiopia ,of which Uganda is part, are already in talks with Kiir and Dr. Reik Machar to come to the negotiations. And I wonder how this deployment – if it is has gone beyond citizen evacuation, will be viewed by the other parties – rebels. Meanwhile reports of the violence and the devastation are still coming in.
People seeking refugee in UN bases are being surrounded by militia and some peacekeepers have also been killed. The last thing South Sudan needs is more military action from a neighboring country.
A good friend from South Sudan wrote to me:
“It is such a shame as innocent (Ugandan) soldiers will die fighting for a cause they don’t even know…what is happening now in south Sudan is a fight between dictatorship and democracy…we know who will win in the end.”
Some tweets from Ugandans on South Sudan deployment:
— Magelah Peter G. (@pmagelah) December 21, 2013
— George Bankole (@Snottyganda) December 21, 2013