President Museveni’s intervention in the South Sudan war on the side of President Salva Kiir has underlined the Ugandan leader’s penchant for military interventions in neighbouring countries with sometimes disastrous consequences. In addition to South Sudan, Ugandan troops are deployed in Somalia and Central African Republic. In the past they fought in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
When fighting started in the South Sudanese capital, Juba, mid-December 2013, Museveni unilaterally issued a threat to the rebels on behalf of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, IGAD, saying that member states would fight them if they did not stop fighting unconditionally. He did this in disregard of mediation efforts which were being carried out by Ethiopia and Kenya, two other IGAD member states.
At the beginning Uganda claimed it had sent troops to Juba only to evacuate its citizens and secure Juba airport. Those who were sceptical about Uganda’s intention were proved right when body bags started arriving in Kampala, forcing Museveni to come out in the open and declare that his troops were actually fighting on the side of President Kiir.
Concerned about a possible “internalization” of the South Sudanese war, the UN warned foreign states not to support warring sides. At the same time, the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, rejected President Kiir’s accusation that his former deputy, Riek Machar had organised a putsch, further weakening Kiir’s and Museveni’s argument that their troops were fighting putsch organisers.
At some point, Ugandan army’s presence in South Sudan threatened IGAD’s mediation process. Many analysts expressed fear that countries such as Sudan would be drawn into the war further complicating the already delicate situation. A Kenyan foreign ministry report in January expressed fears that the South Sudan crisis would worsen as Sudan and Rwanda may get involved in the war. Sudan was opposed to the intervention of foreign forces in the South Sudan war. “Museveni has complicated things”, Rebecca Garang, the wife of late South Sudan leader John Garang told the Kenyan media. She was quoted by the media also saying that Ugandan intervention was an invasion.
During the South Sudan liberation war, Riek Machar and the Sudanese leader, al-Bashir, were allies fighting Kiir’s SPLA. Uganda also accuses Machar of facilitating the transfer of Sudanese weapons to the Ugandan rebels of Lord Resistance Army which were then based in northern Uganda.
In South Sudan, President Museveni is protecting Ugandan economic interests which he believes are better protected under President Salva Kiir. Uganda and Kenya risked losing most if the South Sudan crisis continued. This explains Kampala’s and Nairobi’s rush to seek a quick solution to the country’s crisis although the first opted to use military means while the latter preferred a diplomatic approach.
Some 50,000-60,000 Ugandans are believed to live in South Soudan. Uganda also exports food stuffs and construction materials to South Sudan and there are plans to extend the railway line from Mombasa, Kenya, through Uganda, to Southern Sudan. According to Bank of Uganda the country’s monthly exports to South Sudan are worth 220m dollars. In 2012, the country earned 1.3bn dollars from exports to South Sudan, the bank says. Economists say Uganda’s growth rate could fall by 0.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2013-2014 if the crisis in Southern Sudan was not resolved quickly.
Now, thanks to the crisis, the flow of population is from South Sudan to Uganda. Ugandans did not only flee South Sudan leaving behind all their investments but South Sudanese too flocked into Uganda at a rate of 2000 people per day seeking safety, according to the Ugandan Red Cross. Some 42,000 South Sudanese had already crossed into northern Uganda at the end of January 2014, according to the UNHCR. Uganda and South Sudan are both members of IGAD and the latter is in the process of joining the East African Community which brings together Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. The body was about to review South Sudan’s application for membership. The EAC secretariat says the current crisis may delay that review. By joining the EAC, South Sudan would have integrated its economy to that of its southern neighbours, including sectors such as energy and transport.
Peacekeepers in Somalia
Uganda also has thousands of troops who form the largest African contingent in Somalia to fight al-Shabaab Islamists. It was the first country to deploy troops under the umbrella of the African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM. The deployment was a success as Amisom troops have for the first time been able to push Islamists from the capital, Mogadishu, and large areas in the south. Although many other countries, including Burundi, Kenya, Djibouti and Sierra Leone also have troops in Somalia, Amisom successes built Uganda’s image as a peace maker in Africa contrary to the DRCongo adventure which portrayed the country as a destabilising factor in the Great Lakes region.
Uganda has several times in the past intervened militarily in the Democratic Republic of Congo officially to fight rebels opposed to his government. Museveni’s army has been accused in several UN, international human rights organisations and NGO reports of supporting various rebel groups opposed to the DRCongo government in the eastern part. The latest of such groups is the M23 which was defeated by a combined UN-DRCongo force last year following western pressure on both Rwanda and Uganda not to send them military support. Uganda and Rwanda have denied accusations that they are illegally exploiting minerals from eastern DRCongo. Rwandan and Ugandan troops fought twice in 2000 over minerals in the eastern DRCongo town of Kisangani leaving thousands of Uganda troops dead.
Central African Republic
Museveni’s troops are also in the Central African Republic in pursuit of Lord Resistance Army rebels. Joseph Kony’s men fled after they were uprooted from their Uganda stronghold in northern Uganda. The government of former CAR leader Francois Bozize allowed Ugandan troops to pursue Kony’s rebels on its territory. The US also sent troops to help the Ugandan army track down Kony’s rebels who stand accused of atrocious violations of human rights in Uganda and the DRCongo. However, Uganda is yet to defeat or capture Kony, three years after thousands of its troops entered the CAR. Media reports in 2013 spoke of the possibility of Kony negotiating his surrender after the Seleka came to power in the CAR. But they were found to be only Kony’s other trick to hoodwink the international community.