Over the past few months, there has been a steady escalation in the conflict between Sudan and South Sudan. Earlier this week, regional media sources reported that Uganda would support Juba in the case of a full-scale war with Khartoum. What are some potential reasons for Uganda’s to get involved in this conflict?
Historical Ties, Historical Proxy Wars
Uganda and the Southern People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), the ruling party in South Sudan, have historical ties due to Uganda’s support of the Southern People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) during the second civil war (1983-2005). In addition to providing financial and military support, Ugandan troops were directly involved in operations alongside the SPLA. Uganda also served as a vital sanctuary and rear base after 1991, when the SPLA was expelled from western Ethiopia after the fall of Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Derg regime.
In retribution for Uganda’s support for the SPLA, the Sudanese government supported the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) as a proxy to destabilize northern Uganda and weaken the SPLA. Having been expelled from Uganda between 2005 and 2006, the LRA has since been operating in remote areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the Central African Republic, and South Sudan. Ugandan intelligence suggests that Khartoum has recently made contact with the LRA in order to use the group as a proxy in the event of renewed hostilities with Juba.
Trade and Economic Opportunity
Uganda has substantial commercial interests in South Sudan that could atrophy if South Sudan were attacked. South Sudan is Uganda’s biggest trading partner, although this relationship is disproportionately skewed in favor of Uganda. In 2008, South Sudan’s formal imports from Uganda were $246 million, while informal imports were estimated to be as much as $389 million. Furthermore, approximately one million Ugandans reside in South Sudan, not only capitalizing on the country’s postwar economic opportunities, but also escaping the dearth of such opportunities in Uganda. This is possibly the largest group of foreign nationals in South Sudan.
Influx of Refugees
Although a conflict between Sudan and South Sudan would take place far from the Ugandan border, Uganda might be reluctant to play host to another generation of South Sudanese refugees. By the time Sudan’s civil war ended, over 200,000 Sudanese refugees were in Uganda; many of these have since been repatriated. However, renewed instability in South Sudan could add to the recent influx of refugees from North Kivu province in the DRC. Earlier this month, former rebel leader General Bosco Ntaganda and soldiers loyal to him defected from the Congolese armed forces and Congolese President Joseph Kabila subsequently called for his arrest. Ntaganda had been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2006, but had been integrated into the Congolese military in a 2009 peace deal, as he was believed to be critical to the peace process as well as to regional stability. More than 3,000 residents of North Kivu have fled to Uganda since the beginning of the year as a result of instability in the province, and Uganda is already struggling to manage this most recent influx along its border with the Congo.
Security…and Regime Longevity
Finally, Uganda’s involvement in a conflict between Sudan and South Sudan would ensure its own security. Uganda, South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the DRC have formed a Regional Task Force (RTF) to capture LRA leader Joseph Kony, whose movement originated in northern Uganda. If South Sudan is preoccupied by fighting along its border with Sudan, Uganda might be concerned that Juba might not be able to fulfill its commitment to the RTF.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni also sees himself as a regional patriarch, and demonstrates this, in part, by deploying the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) abroad. In addition to being part of the RTF to capture Joseph Kony, Uganda is the largest troop contributor to the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM). Uganda is keen to remain a key player in the realm of regional security, which would necessitate its involvement in a full-scale war between Sudan and South Sudan.
Although he tends to prefer his military deployed abroad to ensure that it is not a nuisance at home, Museveni simultaneously tends to like his military large and reasonably capable in case he needs to call upon them to restore order in Uganda itself. Museveni’s heavy-handed crackdown on last year’s “Walk to Work” movement to protest high fuel prices was one example of the growing pressures for Museveni to step down after 25 years (at the time) in power. (For analysis of Museveni’s political challenges and prospects for Uganda’s future, see International Crisis Group’s report Uganda: No Resolution to Growing Tensions released earlier this month). Furthermore, a recent news report on Uganda’s increase in defense expenditures suggests that the types of equipment Uganda is acquiring might be more useful for securing regime longevity and sowing fear in the population than for addressing the country’s actual security threats.
The bottom line is that Uganda has a wide range of legitimate interests in South Sudan, but in my opinion, the most compelling reason is that a new war is a new shiny object for Museveni’s military.
In an historic move, southern Sudan voted in January 2011 to become a separate nation from northern Sudan. Recently back from a trip to Rumbek in southern Sudan, CNA research analyst Lesley Anne Warner discusses the future of the two Sudans.
(Originally published in the Atlantic.com on June 22, 2011)
On July 9, southern Sudan will declare its independence from Sudan in accordance with the terms of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the Second Sudanese Civil War, which lasted from 1983 to 2005. But with less than three weeks remaining before southern Sudan becomes the independent Republic of South Sudan, a growing problem threatens to complicate the process, and suggests that Sudan’s split may not go as peacefully as the international community had hoped. In the border state of South Kordofan, the rapid deterioration of the security situation and the region’s uncertain future could portend struggles ahead for Sudan’s two state future.
An ethnically and religiously diverse state, South Kordofan straddles Sudan’s North-South divide and includes the disputed sub-region of Abyei. South Kordofan is important not only for its oil deposits, but also for its fertile land, on which Nuba farmers and nomadic pastoralist Arab tribes depend for their livelihoods. Aside from its economic importance, the region has historically been central to the stability of Sudan, and is likely to remain so even when southern Sudan becomes a sovereign nation.
During the civil war, both sides sought control of the centrally located region. The regime in Khartoum, the capital, used it as a means to project control over the south, and the Southern People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) used it to extend the civil war to the north. Like southern Sudan, South Kordofan was one of Sudan’s marginalized peripheries. Southern Sudanese political and rebel leader John Garang, who died in a 2005 helicopter crash, advocated a concept of a united, secular, and democratic “New Sudan,” which resonated with the Nuba people of South Kordofan — many of whom joined the SPLA. The Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan rapidly became one of the frontlines of the civil war, witnessing some of the heaviest fighting. As part of its counterinsurgency strategy, Khartoum bombed the civilian population of this region indiscriminately; impeded humanitarian aid organizations from accessing populations in need; armed Arab tribal militias as proxies; targeted the land, livestock, water, and property of the local population to destroy their livelihoods; and forcibly relocated civilians into “peace camps” in order to separate them from the SPLA.
South Kordofan’s current instability can be traced in part to the failure of CPA implementation in this region. As stipulated in the CPA’s Protocol on the Resolution of Conflict in Southern Kordofan/Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile State, “popular consultations” were to be held through the elected state legislature so that the citizens of the state could address, and hopefully even resolve, any shortcomings in the agreement. As of yet, these have not taken place, due in part to the delays of the legislative and gubernatorial elections, which were held only last month. Consequently, many Nuba say they feel that the CPA was never fully implemented in South Kordofan, and that there is still no mechanism to address past injustices and local grievances. Perhaps most problematically, unlike southern Sudan, the CPA did not provide South Kordofan with the right of self-determination, which has left some Nuba feeling abandoned by its wartime allies. South Kordofan’s very serious problems — historical marginalization within Sudan and the ethnic tensions that have resulted from the civil war — are still not fully addressed.
In recent weeks, security in South Kordofan has deteriorated markedly. In mid-May, the internationally indicted war criminal and Khartoum-allied politician Ahmed Haroun defeated Southern People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) candidate Abdel Aziz Adam al-Hilu in the state’s gubernatorial elections. The SPLM alleged that the elections had been rigged and refused to accept the results. On May 19, a Sudanese army convoy north of Abyei was attacked. Two days later, the Sudanese Armed Forces seized Abyei in response. The Sudanese Armed Forces and southern-aligned armed groups have skirmished since early June. The growing violence has so far displaced tens of thousands of civilians in South Kordofan and has detracted attention from crucial eleventh-hour negotiations on post-independence issues, such as the future allocation of revenues from Sudan’s oilfields, which likewise sit astride the North-South border.
As a very fragile southern Sudan prepares for independence, there is ample opportunity for the resumption of conflict in South Kordofan to destabilize the incipient nations — especially considering that southern Sudan is already being threatened by armed revolts based in the neighboring Unity and Upper Nile states. If there is to be a sustained peace between Sudan and the Republic of South Sudan, the CPA as it stands will not be enough. South Kordofan still carries the politicized and militarized baggage of the civil war. The region and its unresolved problems will risk perpetuating low-intensity conflict along the North-South border. If Sudan is to be peaceful, so to must South Kordofan, finally, reach its own peace.