By Steven Candia
With the return of peace in most parts of South Sudan and elections back at home drawing closer, Ugandan traders there have asked the government of Uganda to consider setting up polling centres there to cater for the huge Ugandan community.
The move, if granted, they said, will allow them exercise their constitutional right to vote given that most of them may not be able to travel back home to cast their votes in 2016 on account of their occupation.
The appeal was made on Saturday by the Chairman of the Ugandan community Konyokonyo market Hassan Iddi Mutebi during a meeting with the UPDF and army spokesperson Col. Paddy Ankunda at the Owino II Market, now renamed Famms Commercial Market in Juba. The modern market nearing completion built by Uganda traders there has cost so far over sh3b.
“Now that elections are near ask the government to consider opening polling stations here so that some of us can participate from here instead of having to travel back home. There is a big number of Ugandans in here,” Mutebi said. He hailed the government Uganda for sending and maintaining UPDF in South Sudan, a move which he said has revived and enabled business to flourish.
There are conflicting reports of the number of Ugandans in South Sudan. Prior to the conflict there was speculation that there could be up to 1.5m Ugandans there, though in an earlier meeting on Saturday, the Ugandan ambassador to South Sudan Maj. Gen Robert Rusoke put the figure at a paltry 50,000.
In the courtesy visit Rusoke said Uganda’s intervention by sending its troops to South Sudan had been misunderstood internationally. He however noted that relative peace had returned to most parts of the country.
“Ours was strategic humanitarian intervention but unfortunately that has been misunderstood,” Rusoke said, a view which Ankunda said needs to be understood. Uganda sent troops to South Sudan days after clashes erupted in South Sudan on December 15, last year pitting the former vice president Dr. Riek Machar against the President Salva Kiir, degenerating into a civil war and the international community calling for Uganda to pull out.
“The situation is largely fair on the surface but there are under currents that need to be properly handled,” Rusoke said as Ankunda said the UPDF will pull out its forces in a phased manner “once an intervention force under the Inter- Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) is in place.”
The Saturday meeting at the market was attended by among others Juma Nasser, a director; Hakim Mpalanyi, the Secretary General, Salima Mauwa, treasurer and Ketende Willy, the General Secretary Uganda Bus Drivers Association.
At the meeting in which the traders voiced their concerns, Ankunda assured them that the UPDF will desert the traders.
“The UPDF will not leave you here. We will stand by you,” Ankunda said and greed to channel their grievance to higher relevant offices in Kampala.