By Milton Allimadi
Salva Kiir has not been ruling South Sudan since December 2013 when his power struggle with then Vice President Riek Machar started. Museveni is the real power.
Terms of the peace deal call for Uganda troops to be pulled out of the country in 45 days. Many students of the South Sudan conflict don’t believe Kiir can survive long without Uganda’s army, which has been doing the fighting for him and has sustained heavy casualties.
Many Ugandan dead are believed to have been buried in South Sudan so as not to create turmoil from their relatives within Uganda if the true magnitude of the losses were to become clear.
South Sudan opposition leader Machar has for long claimed that the conflict was instigated and sustained by the Ugandan dictator of 30 years Gen. Museveni. It’s believed Gen. Museveni advised Kiir to "neutralize" Machar. Kiir sent elite troops against his then Vice President in December 2013 at his official residence in Juba. Machar, a wily veteran of many of the conflicts, first in Sudan and now in South Sudan, somehow fought his way out.
Within weeks his own loyalists defected from the army and joined him in his strongholds in the northern part of South Sudan. Machar declared in January 2014 that his forces would soon capture Juba.
Gen. Museveni quickly stepped in. Thousands of Ugandan troops rolled across the border with trucks and tanks. Uganda’s air forces also started bombing Machar’s positions and reportedly killed many civilians. A few planes have been shot down. Human Rights Watch and the U.N. also condemned Uganda’s use of cluster bombs.
Horrific war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed by all the combatant forces: Salva Kiir’s anemic army; Uganda’s robust intervention force; Machar’s opposition fighters; and the assortment of militias that have emerged since fighting broke out.
Why has Gen. Museveni intervened militarily in South Sudan? Because military expansionism has always been his nature — to control neighboring countries, plunder resources from those countries, while also keeping his over-sized army busy less it turns on him domestically.
In 1990 about 5,000 soldiers of Uganda’s army invaded neighboring Rwanda disguised as a guerrilla army called Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). Gen. Paul Kagame at the time was a senior officer in Gen. Museveni’s army, as head of military intelligence.
Gen. Museveni’s ambition was to install Kagame as a pliant ruler in Rwanda and eventually annex the country. The invasion and war culminated in the 1994 massacres when the plane carrying then Rwanda president Juvenal Habyarimana, who belonged to the Majority Hutu ethnic group, was shot down.
For years the popular narrative was that the plane was downed by Hutu hardliners opposed to a peace deal. Last year the BBC aired a ground-breaking documentary "Rwanda’s Untold Story" in which former Kagame senior military and political associates say it was actually Kagame himself who ordered the plan downed. The conflagration that Kagame knew would ensue would then give him the excuse to seize power, which he did, according to the former aides interviewed in the documentary.
In 1998, Bernard Debre, a former French minister said the missiles used to destroy the plane, which was also carrying Burundi’s president Cyprien Ntaryamira was provided to the RPF by Uganda, which in turn obtained them from the United States, according to an article in The New York Times — which the U.S. denied.
Kagame, an ethnic Tutsi, had the most to lose in a peace deal; elections would have resulted in the majority Hutus, 85% of the population, retaining power.
Once in Rwanda power, Gen. Kagame then helped Gen. Museveni invade Congo in 1996. Mobuttu Sese Seko was deposed. Gen. Museveni and Gen. Kagame installed Laurent Kabila in power.
But Kabila soon resented his domineering patrons, Museveni and Kagame. Not surprisingly, he was mysteriously assassinated. Kabila was succeeded by his son Joseph Kabila.
Then Kagame started resenting Gen. Museveni’s domination. Their armies fought two bitter battles in 2000 and 2002, not on their own territories, but in the city of Kisangani, in the Congo, the country they occupied and from which they plundered billions of dollars in mineral resources. The armies clashed over the right to steal Congo’s diamonds; the 2002 battle left more than 1,200 civilians dead and destroyed 4,000 buildings.
Gen. Museveni and Gen. Kagame eventually came to a truce; they turned their energy to something more lucrative — continuing to loot the Congo. Meanwhile the body counts from their militarism mounted; estimates of Congolese dead exceeds six million.
Some of the dirty work –killing Congolese civilians and plundering resources– was done for Gen. Museveni and Gen. Kagame by militias they trained, including the notorious M23, which was also commanded by senior Rwanda military officers, including the minister of defense Gen. James Kabarebe, according to the United Nations.
After atrocities committed by M23 in the Congo city of Goma, U.S. President Obama personally phoned Gen. Kagame and warned him of consequences if he didn’t pull back his proxy army; meanwhile, the United Nations deployed an intervention force spearheaded by Tanzanian and South African troops. M23 was defeated and many fighters and commanders fled to Uganda and Rwanda in December 2013.
By December 2014 Gen. Museveni was already eyeing South Sudan. He knew that Kiir was much more pliant while Machar has always been mercurial with a very independent streak. Salva Kiir would be a better partner for the long run; by controlling Kiir, Gen. Museveni would also control and dominate South Sudan with its oil fields and other riches.
This could only be done with Machar out of the way. That’s why Kiir attacked Machar in December, accusing him of plotting a coup, which even the U.S., not a big fan of Machar, dismissed as fantasy.
Unfortunately for both Gen. Museveni and Kiir, Machar survived; so far.
That’s why for the last 20 months South Sudan has endured horrific warfare. Gen. Museveni has been trying to eliminate Machar.
There’s also another profit-motive. The airport in Juba, where the U.N. ships relief supplies and those for U.N. peacekeepers is operated by ENHAS the private company owned by the notoriously corrupt Uganda foreign affairs minister Sam Kutesa who is now ending up his post as President of the U.N. General Assembly; his company acquired the U.N. contract illegally since he didn’t disclose his ownership when ENHAS bid for it. Kutesa’s daughter is married to Museveni’s son Brigadier Muhoozi Kaenerugaba. When The Black Star News brought this fraud to the U.N.’s attention rather than revoke the contract the world body engaged in covered-up by disabling links on its website showing payments to Kutesa totaling almost $30 million.
Without Gen. Museveni’s expansionism and Kutesa’s profiteering in South Sudan, Kiir and Machar would have long ago concluded a peace deal.
Now with the eyes of the world on the South Sudan conflict after President Obama personally addressed it during his recent Africa trip Gen. Museveni’s space for maneuvering has disappeared.
It’s believed by many observers of the conflict that it was Gen. Museveni who advised Salva Kiir not to sign the peace deal when all the parties met in Ethiopia last week. He wanted Kiir to insist on revising the deal to allow Uganda’s army to remain longer in South Sudan. Even when he finally signed the deal Thursday, Kiir complained and voiced doubts that it would endure.
Many believe he’s speaking on behalf of Museveni.
The obstructionism last week had backfired. The White House in a statement released by National Security Advisor Susan Rice, gave Salva Kiir a 15-day ultimatum to sign; but in reality Rice was speaking to Museveni. Reportedly President Obama had said "enough is enough." While in Ethiopia Obama had also pointedly said any African ruler who claims he’s the only one who can hold his country together means the leader hasn’t done a good job. Museveni has in the past made that statement in Uganda.
Now that the deal is signed Gen, Museveni has 45 days to pull his troops from South Sudan. Some observers believe he will try to disguise some Uganda troops and some former M23 fighters also shipped there by Uganda as Kiir’s fighters. However the verification mechanism created by IGAD, the regional body that handled the negotiations should be able to prevent this.
Gen. Museveni himself faces domestic political heat during elections next year — he will need his troops back home if he wants to successfully rig the vote again.
If Uganda troops leave Machar himself should not be tempted to again march on Juba to seize power.
The South Sudanese have suffered immeasurably.
Give peace a chance.