By Andrew M.Mwenda
Because the CPA did not define borders clearly, Khartoum will not want to see the evolution of an effective state and stable government in South Sudan
Last Saturday, South Sudan became the newest nation in the world. Yet beyond the celebrations in Juba that featured President Omar Al Bashir, there is a real risk to the security of this region with the coming into existence of this new nation. Can Khartoum really accept this passively? Khartoum may accept this secession as a fait accompli because of the international forces at play. Yet, it seems likely that it may not want to see the evolution of an effective state and stable government in South Sudan.
The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) did not clearly define the borders. And around these border areas lies the oil wells. Who controls the territory where oil is found is a strategic issue for both Khartoum and Juba. And this ambiguity is laced with potential for conflict. Khartoum will need a weak and divided South Sudan as that may give it legroom to postpone the demarcation of borders so that oil remains in northern control. Any strategist would be looking at the machinations Khartoum is likely to indulge in to achieve this objective.
Yet whatever Khartoum will do to undermine the evolution of a stable regime in the south will inevitably drag Uganda, a major ally of South Sudan, into the conflict. For example, it can decide to attack the south directly (which it seems to be doing in Abyei). Yet this will bring the wrath of the international community on its head. So the best option for Khartoum is to ferment conflict between the different factions within the SPLA – like pitting President Salva Kiir against Vice President Riek Machar.
Given the ambitions of Machar, this is a real possibility. Besides, Machar has worked with Khartoum against the SPLA before. If Khartoum succeeds in stimulating or simulating conflict within the SPLA, it may actually set in motion an ethnic conflict in the south pitting the Dinka (supporting Kiir) against the Nuer (behind Machar). Such ethnically organised wars tend to take a fanatical tinge. If this projection comes to reality, Machar may need the services of an experienced fighter in that region – Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). If Kony joins the conflict in South Sudan, Uganda will be dragged into it too.
In fact it is very likely that whatever machinations Khartoum decides to use against the south, Kony will most likely be a major player. For example, if Khartoum fails to divide the SPLA, it may need LRA to destabilise the government in Juba – just like Machar may need him in the event of a conflict within SPLA between him and Kiir. Therefore whichever option Khartoum chooses, save for the unlikely one of accepting South independence without any attempt to undermine the consolidation of the regime there, has powerful security implications for Uganda.
Therefore Kampala needs to project a military posture that can deter Khartoum from any undertaking that threatens Uganda. The essence of any military strategy is never to fight a war but to deter or scare potential adversaries from begging a fight against you. I suspect that this may have been Museveni’s (and his advisors if they really advise him) thinking when he went on an expensive jet shopping spree. It would be silly at best, irresponsible at worst, to either ignore this potential threat or to assume it does not exist.
Yet I find it difficult to agree with the choice of military posture the government of Uganda has decided to adopt amidst these threats i.e. purchasing six fighter jets, however sophisticated they may be. Given Uganda’s financial means, one wonders whether spending US$ 1 billion on six jets – even at the price of bankrupting the country and rendering future purchases difficult – was the most cost-efficient and cost-effective strategy of posturing to Khartoum. I believe that government could have used less money and still project greater capability to resist any designs that Khartoum may have in mind.
For example, I hear Khartoum has more than 50 planes of equal or near equal capacity. It has much more revenues than Uganda. Therefore, an effective yet cost efficient posture by Uganda cannot be an arms race where the dice is clearly tilted in favour of Khartoum. It has to be investing in military hardware – like anti aircraft guns capability – that can threaten Khartoum without being so expensive as to drain our resources.
It seems therefore that there were silent considerations other than the manifest ones that shaped the decision to purchase these jets. Like in all arms purchases around the world, this deal may have offered fat kickbacks to those involved. Apparently, the jets were paid for in cash. This is unusual since a country can buy arms on credit and pay over years. There are creative ways of doing this even without approval from IMF (which would most likely veto such a decision because of its inability to appreciate third world security needs) without having to withdraw huge sums of cash from our reserves.
It seems the jets were purchased to satisfy President Yoweri Museveni’s personal obsession with military grandeur. This is very likely the reason for purchasing the jets because decision making in the UPDF is personalised. So Museveni’s personal idiosyncrasies could have played a disproportionate role. Therefore, the choice of equipment suggests Museveni’s personal considerations; the use of cash suggests kickbacks for his handlers.
I accept that if Uganda needed a particular military posture to counter Khartoum, it could not be done for free. It had to come at a price. If it demanded that foreign exchange reserves be drawn down, that’s reasonable. The problem is that the government of Uganda has made no effort to demonstrate that this purchase was the best option of all available options.
I had thought that people like Kizza Besigye (a former chief of logistics and engineering in UPDF), Mugisha Muntu (a former army commander) and John Kazoora (a former deputy head of national security) would come together to produce a paper on an alternative national security strategy in view of the threat from Khartoum. Nothing has come of them yet. This makes me wonder whether the opposition are really making any effort to demonstrate that they take national security seriously.