Samuel Ouga and Raymond Baguma caught up with Garang De Mabior. Full interview below;
Question: You have talked about Uganda’s presence in South Sudan. To what extent is it a destabilising factor?
Answer: I don’t want to be misunderstood. It has become a destabilising factor but I believe in the intentions of Uganda when they went in. Uganda has been there for South Sudan during our liberation. I don’t think Uganda had malicious intentions when they went into South Sudan. They went in with the intention to avert genocide and State collapse. They also went at the request of several international actors and Government of South Sudan. But there is always a difference between theory and practice.
Although Uganda intended well when they entered South Sudan, unfortunately the Government of South Sudan has abused the goodwill of Uganda. The destabilising factor is not coming from the intentions of Uganda; but from the misuse of the Government of South Sudan of Ugandan goodwill towards our people.
The presence of Uganda gives the Government of South Sudan an incentive to continue the war. So, this is how it has had a negative impact. But at the same time, we don’t have to always look at the negative. If we look at how Uganda’s presence can be positive, 80 percent of the forces of South Sudan have defected to the opposition. The effective force that is propping up the regime in Juba is the UPDF.
The UPDF’s presence can be utilised by the Ugandan government because it gives them influence on the Government of South Sudan. Uganda has the ability to persuade the Government of South Sudan to negotiate in good faith since they are the ones propping up the regime. If the Government of South Sudan is not serious about peace, then Uganda can say, ‘We did not come here to prop you up. We came here for the people of South Sudan that we have been standing by ever since the liberation.’
Question: You have had interactions with a number of officials including the Presidential advisor on security, Gen. Salim Saleh. Have you shared this with him? And what has been the outcome of the discussions?
Answer: I don’t want to give too much because this is the initial stages of our coming to Uganda. But like I said before, the presence of UPDF in South Sudan is one of the obstacles in the peace process right now. In seeking peace, we come on a mission to have dialogue with Government of Uganda on how we can expedite the peace process and move forward. What is preventing us from signing the matrix is the presence of Ugandan troops. So, we come to discuss bilateral issues between the Government of Uganda and our SPLM.
Question: Would you say that the outcome of the meetings has been positive?
Answer: Definitely it has been positive. The atmosphere has been very friendly and it is reminiscent of our past relationship with Uganda as brothers and sisters in the struggle. The children born of the same womb sometimes have misunderstandings and quarrel but will always get back together and find a way. So, this is what we are trying to do and the atmosphere is there. So, we are hopeful that we shall continue with the dialogue and we shall find a way to overcome the obstacles that are right now in the peace process. We believe Uganda has a big role to play. And we want Uganda to come on board because Uganda has been involved at the level of Heads of State of IGAD and the council of ministers. But we have been rejecting Uganda’s presence as observers like the other IGAD countries are because our argument was that Uganda is part of the conflict. So how can they come as mediators? But seeing this impasse of the withdrawal of UPDF, the presence of Uganda in South Sudan is a reality that has to be dealt with. So, we want to find ways with Uganda to see how we can break this impasse and move the peace process forward. We recognise highly that the important role that Uganda could play in bringing peace.
Question: Do you think it will happen?
Answer: I am confident it will happen because everybody wants peace. Uganda wants peace in South Sudan. I don’t think Uganda is in South Sudan because they love war. So, anything that will bring peace is what we all want. We are hopeful this relationship will only grow.
Question: The Uganda government spokesperson in a statement said that you had accepted the UPDF presence until the IGAD force is deployed. Is this true?
Answer: It’s true; but it is not something that we discussed here (in Kampala). It’s not an outcome of our dialogue in Kampala. It is something that is enshrined in the agreements that we have signed in Addis Ababa. We accepted that Uganda would withdraw as soon as the hybrid force of IGAD is deployed and Uganda would withdraw immediately so that a gap is not created where chaos can recur.
Question: After all these fits and starts at the talks in Addis Ababa, do you still believe political dialogue can work given the differences you have with the Government of South Sudan side?
Answer: Dialogue can work; but the intransigence of the Government of South Sudan right now is because of their belief that UPDF will be in South Sudan forever. But if Uganda begins to use their influence, it will break this intransigence and South Sudan will negotiate in good faith. By bringing Uganda on board in the peace process, it will move the process forward.
Question: The sanctions by EU and US, what effect are they having on the search for peace in South Sudan?
Answer: It’s not having a lot of effect because the people who have been sanctioned are of little consequence in decision-making and financing of the war. These are low level people. For example the commander who has been sanctioned on our side does not travel. So, by saying that you cannot come to America, he does not go to America anyway. The other army general on the Government side is not the big fish. What would work better would be if countries like Uganda and Kenya came on board. A lot of these people who are big fish in South Sudan have assets in Uganda and Kenya. They have billions in bank accounts in Kenya. If the Government of Kenya wants to make targeted sanctions against selected individuals, then it would have a bigger impact. We welcome the sanctions to be equally applied on both sides because we on the opposition side have nothing to hide. We welcome it, if it will speed up the peace process. But if it is sanctions that are going to hurt the people and not have an effect on the major players, we would not want the people to suffer sanctions for the sake of their leaders. We want the leaders to be sanctioned.