Last week’s deadly attack on three buses on their way from South Sudan to Uganda could well be the start of something serious: runaway former vice president Riek Machar may just have opened a front against Uganda.
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The attackers killed, abducted and took phones and cash from victims, most of whom are said to have been Ugandan. The government of president Salva Kiir in Juba says the attack was the handiwork of his former deputy, Dr Machar.Follow @newslexpoint
If indeed it’s Dr Machar ‘s forces behind the death and mayhem
Then the man has settled on a formula to make Uganda weep, possibly for the long term.
Ugandan businesses, and the economy generally, are in bad shape partly because of the fighting that erupted in South Sudan between president Kiir and Dr Machar in December 2013. Many Ugandan businesses that had supplied goods and services to the government in Juba have never been paid, affecting their cash flow. Now they want the Ugandan government to bail them out.
Just when Ugandan businesses were daring to hope again on the back of some sort of peace deal, the Kiir-Machar affair went up in flames again in July, forcing Dr Machar back into the bush and finally into the embrace of his friends in Khartoum from where he is unleashing pain on Ugandan and South Sudanese travellers between Juba and Kampala.
But let me back up a bit. Ugandan workers, goods and services took full advantage of the South Sudan market following the signing of a peace agreement between Khartoum (Sudan) and Juba in 2005 ending decades of civil war.
While doing some work in Juba before the fighting of 2013, every Ugandan I talked to — from the chapatti maker to the World Bank consultant — said he or she was much better off economically. Ugandans selling goods and services to South Sudan were also thriving back in Uganda.
Of course, the South Sudanese elite were spending big, snapping up fancy houses in Kampala and paying for their children in expensive private schools here.
Now death. South Sudan has become not a source of economic hope for Ugandans but one of despair (of course South Sudanese citizens are even facing far worse).
What must President Yoweri Museveni be thinking?
In 2013, he intervened militarily on president Kiir’s side, keeping in power a man who does not seem to have what it takes to hold things together. In the intervening years of more death and destruction, Mr Museveni kept by president Kiir’s side all the way to the shaky peace deal that saw Dr Machar return to Juba in April this year as VP in a unity government only to be chased out of the city three months ago.
In running away, he never forgot who his enemies were. Now his forces will not give Uganda peace. If Dr Machar and his men won’t enjoy the spoils in Khartoum, they see no reason why the Ugandans, foreigners whose leaders are hostile, should.
After December 2013, Dr Machar kept much of the fighting in the states north of Juba – Unity, Jonglei. This time around, he has his guns popping fire in the greater Equatoria (Western, Central, Eastern), states bordering Uganda and the DR Congo. It will be bloody. It is revenge all the way.
If Uganda must trade with South Sudan safely, it will have to use the air yet the country has no airline of any significance operating out of Entebbe. This means the road still is it. And so Mr Museveni will have to return his military into South Sudan to take on Dr Machar’s forces and clear the way. To do that he will have to be prepared to stay for the long haul as fighting what seems like groups of attackers scattered over large expanses of bush land is not easy.
See, we still can’t eliminate Joseph Kony and his LRA forces from Central African Republic’s forests and bushes after years of trying hard. Or he will have to deploy along the entire Nimule-Juba road to protect travellers, a mountain-high order. Either way, Dr Machar will be happy to snipe at the UPDF and make life hard for everyone.
President Museveni will also have to contend with the real possibility of Dr Machar’s forces infiltrating the refugee camps that are hosting nearly a million South Sudanese refugees in West Nile. Those fighters may simply want to give Mr Museveni a headache. Or they may also attack the camps for ethnic-based revenge killings, to recruit, to steal food and cash and whatnot.
South Sudan is on fire. In many ways it is Uganda’s problem. When Mr Museveni took sides in December 2013, he thought he was being far-sighted. But in failing to go all out after Dr Machar (the man who introduced Kony to Khartoum way back), he set himself and his country up for real trouble. And the trouble seems to have arrived. Talk of unintended consequences.
Source: Daily Monitor
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