Author: Duncan Abigaba
On April 2019, Omar Al-Bashir, the long serving President of Sudan was ousted in a military takeover announced by the then minister for Defence, Awad Ibn Auf, who headed the Transitional Military Council (TMC) before stepping down less than 24 hours later, due to pressure mounted by protesters, and handing over the reins to Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, a former General Inspector of the Sudanese Armed Forces.
Politically, the era of Omar Bashir was marred by the breakdown of the security apparatus in most parts of the country. In 1983, a contingent of South- Sudanese officers, renegaded and camped in the South, to create the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement/Army. They would fight for independence of the South until they were granted self-rule under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005, signed in Kisumu, Kenya, under the auspices of President Mwai Kibaki. The CPA translated into the Independence of the South in July, 2011. In Darfur and South Kordofan regions, the inhabitants of the region have endured marginalization and violence imposed by their Arab colleagues. In order to suppress the rights of those in the region, the Bashir leadership deployed and supported a local militia, the Janjaweed to superintend over the region, leading to gross violations of human rights and a genocide as put by the UN investigators.
The Sudan-Uganda relations go back to the 1970s during the Idi Amin regime. Amin, a Kakwa from Northern Uganda, is believed to have recruited heavily into Uganda Army youthful Sudanese, and heavily relied on them for sensitive assignments by placing them in command positions. When Amin was overthrown by Ugandans exiled in Tanzania, with the support of Tanzanian People’s Defence Forces (TPDF), most of his men fled to Sudan.
However, the regional peace and security landscape changed in 1986, when the National Resistance Movement/ Army led by Yoweri Musveni took over the reins of power in Kampala. The people of Northern Uganda had dominated state power and state institutions including the army since 1962. When the mostly western and southern dominated NRM/A ran over Kampala, the Uganda National Liberation Army soldiers led by former Chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Bazilio Okello, retreated into Sudan before crossing into Uganda to set up shop in the current Kitgum District under their new umbrella, Uganda Peoples’ Democratic Army (UPDA). Another spiritual woman, named Alice Lakwena, formed a Movement that marched from Northern Uganda, up to Jinja town, 80 kilometres east of Kampala until they were neutralized and she fled into exile in Kenya. Her cousin, Joseph Kony would pick up the ruins, and fight the Kampala government, certainly with support from Omar Bashir for 20 years.
When Museveni met US President Ronald Regan in 1987, the latter referred to him as a new breed of African leaders. It was a clear writing on the wall that the US had a new ally in the region, one who would play a role in stifling irritant states like Sudan while Uganda pursued her interests. These interests included the need to secure economic and military assistance, capacity building among others. Therefore, the US would fight its proxy war with Sudan using Uganda. Uganda aided the SPLM/A while Sudan provided logistical support to Joseph Kony. In 2013, a Ugandan officer of the External Security Organisation, Joseph Kisembo, was charged in the Kampala High Court for selling intelligence including President Museveni weekly briefs to the Government of Sudan. It was also rumoured that Bashir confided in another regional leader to be careful of Museveni, because Museveni had “facilitated the division of Sudan”.
With the ICC indictment of Bashir in 2009, and Museveni’s own human rights’ track record being scrutinized, the two grew closer in 2015, with Museveni visiting Sudan in 2015, and delivering a lecture on “The Challenges of Economic Development and Peace Building” to the cabinet ministers, diplomatic corps, academicians and civil society groups, and Bashir visiting Uganda in November 2017. Bashir’s party, the National Congress Party continued to provide technical and financial support to NRM until 2019.
The events in Sudan present a grim picture for Uganda. Bashir and Museveni had been the guarantors of the South Sudan peace process since the latest peace deal was reached, the NCP was providing financial and technical support to the NRM, Government of Sudan has been providing many scholarships to Ugandan students, Sudan has been the main importer of Ugandan coffee.
In Uganda it is hoped that the Forces for Freedom and Change Coalition (FCC), an umbrella group of opposition parties in Sudan, and the soon to be formed transitional government will soon issue a statement on the status of these programs so as to alleviate the prevailing obscurities regarding them and in doing so mitigate the fears of Uganda.
Duncan Abigaba is a Ugandan national who served as a research assistant to President Museveni between 2015 to 2017. He currently works at the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance and is also a 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow at Georgia State University.