Uganda feels the heat from South Sudan

Uganda feels the heat from South Sudan

When South Sudan became the world’s youngest nation in 2011, we greeted it with excitement. Decades of warfare were finally over. We praised Sudan for allowing the South to go, and we praised President Omar Al-Bashir for handling the separation calmly, despite losing the country’s oil sources.

For Uganda, the successful peace talks and the creation of a new state meant that the Sudanese refugees long residing in refugee camps in Uganda would soon return home. (The photo above shows refugees returning to South Sudan from Uganda last year.)  Most importantly, it meant that Khartoum would end the support it had been giving Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Since the 2006 peace talks (initiated by Riek Machar, the current vice president of South Sudan), northern Uganda has seen relative peace.

We heard stories of the lost boys of Sudan, about the atrocities they suffered, and we were happy that they could finally rebuild their lives. We hoped that both stability and development would return to the region.

However, the excitement was short-lived. In the last couple of months, Sudan and South Sudan have been engaged in diplomatic feuds, and now the two countries are on the brink of war. South Sudan has accused Sudan of bombing the oil-rich border region. Political analysts in both countries warned of a conflict back in 2011, but the world didn’t listen. Instead the international community chose to focus on the creation of the new country.

When South Sudan captured the disputed oil town of Heglig from Sudan last month, the situation moved a step closer to all-out war, a war that could destabilize the larger region. Under international pressure, South Sudan withdrew from the oil town, but media reports say Khartoum continues to bomb its southern neighbor.

In Uganda, we’ve been keeping a close watch on the conflict. A war between the two Sudans is likely to bring a return of Joseph Kony into northern Uganda. When the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) was engaged in a civil war with the Khartoum government, Uganda supported the rebel group. In retaliation, Khartoum supported Kony’s LRA. So a spike in conflict between the two Sudans is likely to reignite those old alliances.

Various high-ranking military officials in Uganda have stated that Uganda could be pulled into the war in order to protect its citizens. An army spokesman declared that intelligence reports have showed that Joseph Kony has already made contact with Khartoum.

Kony has been on the run for over 26 years, creating havoc wherever he goes. The Ugandan army has failed to capture him; some critics say the government benefits from his status as an outlaw. When the world retaliated against terrorism, Uganda was quick to name him a terrorist and enlist U.S. help. Years later, and millions of dollars spent, Kony is still on the run.

The U.S. Special Forces sent to Uganda in October 2011 to assist in the hunt for Kony have admitted that tracking him in the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo is difficult. The problems they have encountered include dense vegetation that blocks the electronic signals from their equipment, thereby restricting their ability to use hi-tech gadgets to track the outlaws.

Moreover, it’s reported that Kony and his commanders have halted the use of high-frequency radios and satellite phones and are using runners to deliver messages instead, making it hard to intercept their communications.

Therefore, with Kony on the loose, and the two Sudans on the brink of war, Uganda has reason to be worried about its security. The repercussions are great: economic activities with South Sudan are already affected, and the number of South Sudanese fleeing back into Uganda is increasing. Leaders from South Sudan have reportedly appealed to Uganda to intervene, playing on the fear of Kony’s return. And if it feels threatened, Uganda is quite capable of engaging in war.