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Will America fund South Sudan war?

By Haggai Matsiko

IGAD tight-fisted as parliament sends Museveni to war without a budget

One day before parliament on Jan.14 debated the deployment of Uganda army troops to South Sudan, the U.S.  National Security Advisor Susan Rice issued a statement that could have serious implications for President  Yoweri Museveni’s Juba mission. Rice said: “This crisis must be ended swiftly through a negotiated settlement in  order to prevent the escalation of a dangerous conflict that neither the people of South Sudan, the region or the international community can afford.”

Around the same time, the Indian Ocean Newsletter (ION) of Jan.10 had run a headline: “Museveni risks getting stuck in Juba”. The ION said: “President Yoweri Museveni’s constant pressure on the leaders of IGAD for them to  shoulder the intervention of his troops alongside President Salva Kiir in South Sudan is beginning to seriously  upset Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and the Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.”


Research and analysis of the conflict in South Sudan by The Independent shows that Susan Rice’s wish for a quick resolution to the conflict is highly unlikely and Museveni could easily be locked in a long war with neither allied boots on the ground nor money in the bank.

Uganda deployed troops in South Sudan in December 22, 2013, just seven days after fighting erupted in Juba between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former vice president Riek Machar.

Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, in a statement released on Jan. 9, maintained the UPDF had rushed to South Sudan “to rescue its nationals”. But South Sudan’s ambassador to Uganda, Samuel Lominsuk, made it clear the UPDF was in his country on a more sacred mission—to prevent the situation from deteriorating into genocide like happened in Rwanda in 1994.

When the debate of UPDF deployment in South Sudan hit the floor of parliament, there was unanimous support for its intention to evacuate Ugandans caught up in the crossfire.  But there was opposition to Museveni perceived interest in siding with the Kiir regime.

Wafula Oguttu, who represented the Leader of the Opposition (LoP), said the opposition supported the deployment of the UPDF in South Sudan but only for as long as it is for the evacuation of Ugandans.

“We would like the motion to be changed that we are there for evacuation for one month from the day the motion is passed,” Wafula said, “We do not support our soldiers to fight to prop up a government which may collapse on its own.

“We must know how long the evacuation will take and what money is being spent or which budget it is,” Wafula added.

Issues of cost shelved

Even independent players like Frederick Golooba Mutebi, a researcher and expert on East African regional politics, admire Museveni’s regional stabilising ambitions. He lumps him together with Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame.

“These leaders have a broader vision that extends beyond their borders,” he says, “Uganda is interested in a stable South Sudan because it is our biggest market and a stable South Sudan is also good for all these countries.”

Arthur Bainomugisha,, the Executive Director, Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE),  who is a conflict scholar, also says that as long as such interventions are under the framework of the United Nations, African Union or IGAD, there should not be a problem.

The region has been lacking of leadership or regional hegemony that can guarantee peace and stability, Bainomugisha says.

He argues that Egypt was for a long time that hegemony in the Middle East, South Africa is for the South African Development Community (SADC) and Nigeria for Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), there is also Russia, among others.

“You need leaders who will stop conflicts, genocides,” he says, “I mean you cannot discredit Uganda’s role in ensuring stability in Somalia. We sacrificed, won the confidence of the international community and now you have Burundi there and Kenya to stablise that country.”

It is clear that Museveni has won support for his deployment in South Sudan, what was less clear was how he plans to win the war.

During the debate in parliament, issues of the monetary cost of the war were perfunctorily smoothed away because it was clear no answers would be forthcoming.

Gen. Katumba Wamala, the Chief of Defence Forces, said that in just seven days of the conflict in South Sudan, a 1,000 lives had been lost and that by any standards, the conflict bore the hallmark of a genocide.

“You cannot compare the cost of the operation with the lives lost,” Katumba said, “I urge members to look beyond politicking” and appreciate the strategic benefits of this intervention.

But questions of how the Sudan war will be financed remain. Discussions of the cost of the Juba mission on the Ugandan budget and its implication on the economy had been raised before by Kyadondo East MP Semujju Ibrahim Nganda, who sits on parliament’s Committee on Defence and Internal Affairs.

“In Somalia”, Ssemujju had told The independent, “we spend Shs250 billion per year but this bill is met by the U.S and EU, who will meet this [South Sudan] bill?”

Semujju was also concerned that for every soldier that falls in Somalia, there is money under the African Union Mission for Somalia (AMISOM) for compensation.

“Where is the money to compensate the soldiers that are dying in South Sudan?” he asked.

Ssemujju said ideally, Museveni needs to cause the international community to take-over the mission as happened in Somalia. If this happens, then the UPDF would operate under a UN mandate and other players would share the cost.

“How does Uganda deploy without international mandate in an international war that can go either way,” Semujju wondered, “for such a war the African Union is not enough, you need the mandate of the United Nations.”

No answers were forthcoming in the debate yet apart from the direct cost war, Uganda could also be impacted through missed trade opportunities. It is estimated that over 200,000 Ugandan traders operate in South Sudan. Another sizable number are employed as professionals, in the construction industry, non-governmental organisations, ministries and industries.

South Sudan is a major trading destination for Uganda exports.

Bank of Uganda figures indicate that Uganda’s exports to South Sudan were valued at US$220 million per month as of 2012.

In the same year, the bank said, Uganda earned an estimated US$1.3 billion from exports to South Sudan – an improvement from the US$630 million Uganda earned in 2010.

Gabriel Ajedra, the minister of State for Investment, said on Jan. 9 that Uganda’s export revenue losses could further spike if efforts to restore peace between the two fighting sides fail to yield results.

But officials at Uganda’s central bank who track the impact of such event on the economy also downplayed the likely fallout on the economy. Adam Mugume, the executive director for research at Bank of Uganda, told a press briefing in early January that the Uganda economy would not be badly affected by the war.

“Even if it does [affect us], I don’t think it can reduce our GDP growth by 0.5%,” Mugume said.

But as Mugume admitted, it is still too early to tell is likely to happen in terms of actual losses.

Costly adventures

South Sudan is the latest sign that Museveni enjoys the direct and indirect military roles he has played in over nine countries; Rwanda, Burundi, DR Congo, the Central Africa Republic. He has also contributed peacekeepers under UN peace missions to Liberia, Darfur, Cote de’ Ivore and East Timor.

But such military adventures are costly in men and machines. In 2011, Uganda’s military expenditure hit US$1.02 billion. Apart from the financial cost, the Sudan mission also threatens to over-stretch the UPDF.

In the past, the men serving on these foreign such mission have included reservists from the UPDF Reserve Force.  Battle-hardened and low cost, they are commanded by Maj. Gen Levi Karuhanga who was the first commander of AMISOM. Even Col. Kayanja Muhanga who is commanding the Sudan mission has just returned from a stint in Somalia.

But the foreign missions have also led Museveni to maintain a large and costly standing army.

Military officials unofficially put the UPDF strength at about 55,000 officers and men. Some estimates add another 10,000 troops that keep being shunted between missions. If these figures are correct, Museveni has the largest frontline ready army in the region. It is also the most costly and could prove a burden for the third poorest country in the region.

In Somalia, under the United Nations and African Union peacekeeping agreements, troop-contributing countries are reimbursed if they deploy with their own equipment, both lethal and non-lethal under an arrangement named reimbursement of Contingent Own Equipment (COE). Some estimates say last year Uganda was reimbursed up to US US$7 million (Approx. Shs18 billion).

The Independent has reported previously that according to a book, Crafting an African Security Strategy: Addressing Peace and Conflict in the 21st Century, By Hane Besada, in 2007, the AU received 400 million Euros for peacekeeping and capacity building efforts and this was renewed with another 300 million Euros in 2008. These are the latest figures from mission whose finances are usually shrouded in secrecy. But informed estimates showed that UPDF takes up about 30% of each penny of the AMISOM budget. Uganda has been cashing in on the Contingent Owned Equipment (COE) or reimbursement for the equipment used in the missions and other costs of troops and self-sustainment.

There are other intangible benefits including donor goodwill and prestige.

In March 2013, Michael Pelletier, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Democracy for the Africa Bureau told The Independent that Museveni’s role in finding African solutions for African problems is becoming globally recognised.

Former U.S. secretary of State Hillary Clinton also praised Museveni for promoting regional security.

Golooba Mutebi notes that Museveni’s  interventions are good because they occur in situations where there is lack of a leadership that is in control and that can glue a country together.

“Unlike Garang [John Garang, the former leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement], the current South Sudan president lacks charisma and is not respected as a leader,” Golooba Mutebi argues, “ the same applies to [Joseph] Kabila and CAR’s former president Bozize and the one who replaced him.”

Golooba-Mutebi contrasts the three leaders with Kagame, Museveni, and late former Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

“Kagame completely controls the RPF and is accepted by even some of his opponents as a leader,” Golooba Mutebi argues, “in the NRM, Museveni is a towering figure and some in the opposition accept that he has some indisputable qualities as a leader and so was Zenawi.”

And for countries emerging out of long cycles of violence, Golooba Mutebi argues, there is no doubt; you need a leader who will be strong enough to unite and stablise that country.

“You can say that if it hadn’t been for a very strong personality that Kagame is, Rwanda would not be where it is,” Golooba Mutebi says, “the same can be said of Uganda.”

But Bainomugisha is less smitten by the order imposed by the strongmen.

He says South Sudan does not need a strongman but a leader who respects constitutionalism and rule of law.

“If you look at South Sudan,” he says, “the problem starts with the constitutional crisis.”

“What you have are rulers not leaders and rulers abuse with human rights, have weak or no political institutions, are repressive and depend on patronage,” Bainomugisha says, “ In such circumstances, you will no doubt have high chances of violence because people wantopposition turning into militant opposition.”

Bainomugisha says for these countries, you also have the natural resource nexus, with the political elite using their positions to capture power and these resources.

“That is why you see these problems starting in mineral or oil-rich areas like Bentui in South Sudan and in the eastern part of DR Congo.

“Couple these with the abundance of small arms and light weapons, which mean easy acquisition of arms in a war zone,”Bainomugisha says, “then you, have the situation that you are seeing today.”

For all these reasons, Uganda’s military adventures have kept Museveni as a strategic ally of the U.S in the war against terrorism and earned him top dollars. For instance, 17.3% of Uganda’s defense budget is from donor partners on the Somalia mission.

But for now the benefits are not forthcoming. Instead Museveni and Uganda risk being isolated in Sudan. Susan Rice and her boss, U.S. President Barack Obama who hold the keys to Museveni’s usual war-chest have in the past shown little appetite for war. They favour peaceful resolution of conflict and are more like to financially support the mediation efforts between Kiir and Machar being pursued in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa than give Museveni any more fire power.

But being in a lonely corner of a frontline is nothing new to Museveni. His deployment in support of Kiir in South Sudan is similar to his deployment of forces to Somalia in 2007. It was a unilateral deployment that was adopted by the African Union as AMISOM. As is happening in South Sudan, pundits predicted failure in Somalia. But Museveni found success, glory, and regional clout. If the South Sudan mission succeeds, Museveni will have stamped his mark on region superpower status; he will have become Museveni The Great.

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