By Vincent Kimbugwe
I have been following debate about the intervention of UPDF in South Sudan following political and military crisis there that brought it to the brink of implosion.
I would say the debate is about the moral of the timely regional peace effort under the auspices of IGAD and in particular the promptness of a regional Statesman, President Yoweri Museveni. He dispatched UPDF to guard key installations and rescue Ugandans living and working in different places in South Sudan at the time.
It is important to regard UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s request to President Museveni to help reconcile the warring parties.
Despite all these good intentions, a section of Ugandans, especially from camps opposed to NRM, are fast at criticising the President. I am amazed by their blatant inability to correctly read political, social, economic and military trends. Reading from his speech in the New Vision of January 16, 2014, I am convinced as ever before that President Museveni will continue to understand these issues better than his opponents.
The President points out that conflict in the Great Lakes Region are a result of colonial manipulations of the indigenous castes and of wrong foreign and domestic policies. For South Sudan, he points to the failure of their people to have ideological clarity, poor political organisation and indiscipline within SPLA ranks. He counsels that a political problem will not be solved militarily. That only trade and infrastructure development will spur economic development and bring together the people of the Great Lakes Region. True.
I know many businesses in Kikuubo and downtown Kampala who have been adversely affected by the on-going conflict. One mobile money operator told me that he had been paying 150 suppliers and customers on behalf of South Sudanese traders and reaping good commission weekly.
That business came crushing like a pack of cards. This is not to mention the thousands of Ugandans who were trading in South Sudan and repatriating money here on weekly basis. Manufactures are also suffering. The ripple economic effect alone goes far and wide. It follows, therefore, that UPDF’s intervention to protect lives and our business interests can only be criticised by crazy people.
The attitude of the founding fathers of the United States of America was that of non-interference in the political wars of medieval Europe but by 1776, Madison and Jefferson had both realised that the policy of neutrality, was no longer tenable. Isolationism as a polestar of American diplomacy in the formative years was changing very rapidly because Great Britain was a major Sea power and was, therefore, in position to interfere with American trade with Germany. Indeed it was not until Germany invented the sub-marine that they managed to guarantee trade with the Americas between 1915 – 1916. The argument here is that trade is key to interstate relations and, therefore, a justification for interventions such as this of UPDF in South Sudan.
President Wilson justified American intervention in World War II against Germany among others, with protection of US commercial interests. Wilson argued that “we sent those men over there because free people everywhere were in danger and we had always been, and will always be the champion of right and liberty”. During the League of Nations meeting after the war, he observed that “…. It is international justice we seek not domestic safety only”. Compare the views of the two Presidents and there are a lot of similarities.
The 1882 American civil war for the Union records show that almost three million men served in the federal forces - 15% of the population then. A higher percentage stepped forward to defend the confederacy. Abraham Lincoln’s call for 500 000 volunteers was answered by 700 000.
Throughout the war, the bulk of the Union force was made up of volunteers not draftees. An American journalist observed that “before the war, our patriotism was firework, a salute, a serenade for holidays and summer evenings. Now the deaths of thousands and the determination of millions of men and women show that it is real”. A father from Indiana asked his 16 year old son why he insisted on enlisting for this war. The son, Theodore Upson, replied “Father, we must have more soldiers. The Union your ancestors and mine helped make must be saved from destruction. I can go better than others. I don’t feel right to stay at home any longer”. A much older man from St Louis, Henry Hitchback in his 60s remarked “I could not stay at home and let other men do the fighting and run the risks while I was safely making money and enjoying the fruits of their toils …”. An Irish traveler and trader begged for admission into the federal army observing that “The prosperity of this country is our prosperity too”. Uganda, this is the kind of spirit we ought to have.
Finally, the one reason that should galvanise us into supporting President Museveni and UPDF is the need to ensure a stable, peaceful and developing South Sudan for the wider positive ramifications that will spur faster economic development in the region and beyond. Remember both Sudan and South Sudan applied for full membership of the East African community creating the potential for a wider regional economic block that will also minimize conflicts and the balkanization of Africa.
The writer is a lecturer at Kyambogo University \ and former MP contestant Mawogola County
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In defence of UPDF intervention in South Sudan