Is President Yoweri Museveni our Friend or a foe?

President Museveni of UgandaPresident Museveni of Uganda

By Mabior Riiny

“If it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, then it must be a duck! In what appeared to be a slip of a tongue, President Museveni once told gathering in Freedom Hall around 2015 that he “thanked President Salva Kiir for killing South Sudanese” before he retracted the joke, but it was truly a bad joke.

In November last year, Uganda troops entered South Sudan, killed five South Sudanese soldiers and wounded others, our government didn’t respond to this unprovoked attack and didn’t demand explanation. In less than two months, South Sudanese soldiers were ambushed inside South Sudan by Ugandan army, two soldiers were reportedly killed and their bodies taken by the Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) before they were handed over to the SSPDF in what the spokesperson termed as ceremonial handing over of the dead bodies.

And as if this humiliation wasn’t enough, President Museveni termed South Sudan as a laboratory where bad leadership is tested. And yesterday, he doubled down by calling South Sudanese as “blue people”. This “blue people” reminded me of my Kenya high school teacher who once told our class that dark people turn blue when they are dead. A desk-mate turned around and asked me “Mabior, would you turn blue when you die”. I retorted back that why would the colour matter when you are dead? But I felt embarrassed anyway.

Why this humiliation?

For President Museveni and his government to feel good and appear to be doing well, they have to compare themselves with South Sudanese. It is self aggrandizement. These attacks are informed by our dependency on Uganda on all fronts. This is five fold: Uganda army knows the weaknesses of our South Sudanese armies (Opposition and SSPDF).

The fissures within our army wouldn’t allow unified defense of our country and people. This is because Uganda army lent a shoulder in 2014 when SPLA buckled under the weight of SPLAIO assault and UPDF helped in beating back marauding ‘White Army’. The second reason is that, under this peace agreement, the Uganda army is one of the custodians of the R-ARCSS. In this arrangement, the Ugandan soldiers were brought in as Peace Monitors under CTSAMVM, in what was termed as Monitoring and Verification Teams (MVTs).

They must have gathered enough intelligence about our army and its weaknesses concluding that we cannot mount strong defense. The third one is arms embargo, we are not allowed to replenish our army with new guns and consequently we cannot effectively defend ourselves.

The fourth one is economic factor. With our economy entirely dependent on Ugandan exports including eggs and vegetables, there is possibility that Uganda can easily struggle our economy. This needs no further explanation. Lastly, we have our refugees in Uganda, and we shall always think twice before we could mount any resistance to any humiliation coming from Uganda.

What could have angered President Museveni?

First before and during days leading to Ugandan elections, majority of South Sudanese netizens stood firmly with Uganda Oppositions and particularly Bobi Wine. This must have irked President Museveni and the Ugandan government. Museveni believes we are unthankful lot after all the supports he gave us. And this could be the reason he hurled these barrages of insults.

Second, Museveni is using a diversionary and populist tactic to divert attention at home because he has squandered all the trust Ugandans have for him. He could be attacking South Sudanese as a way of winning support from nationalists at home. He wants to appear tough! And he must be using South Sudanese as scapegoat to ease the pressure at home. The other explanation is our current cozy relationship between South Sudan and Sudan.

This could be one of the factors that angered Museveni because he believes South Sudan was his circle of influence and I think he might not be happy with our leaders.

How does Uganda benefit from South Sudan economically?

According to United Nations COMTRADE database on international trade, Uganda got 900 million dollars from exports to South Sudan before 2014 and 500 million dollars in 2020.

The drop is due to political crisis in South Sudan.  This hard currency props up Uganda’s economy. South Sudan is also supporting close to a million Uganda economic “refugees”, starting from bodabodas, taxi drivers, NGOs workers, masonries, house-workers, teachers, street vendors you name them.

This also contributes to Uganda’s economy from the hard-currency sent from abroad. South Sudanese have also invested heavily in Uganda employing thousands of Ugandans. Therefore, it boggles minds why we are at the receiving end of Museveni’s anger. A breakdown in our relationship would harm both countries, it is a double-edged sword.

It is therefore important our government brings this to the attention of President Museveni and his henchmen who believe they are indispensable to our existence. Our patience should have limits.”

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