Ugandan troops, which backed South Sudanese President Salva Kiir in the fight against his sacked deputy Riek Machar, are poised to start leaving South Sudan as part of a peace deal brokered by mediators.
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir signs a peace deal to end the fighting with his rival Riek Machar in August 2015
General Katumba Wamala, Chief of Defence Forces of the Ugandan People's Defense Force (UPDF) said earlier this month Uganda had between 2,000 and 3,000 troops in South Sudan, and had lost nine soldiers. The first troops were to leave Bor, the capital of Jonglei State, on Tuesday (20.10.2015). DW spoke to Fred Nyambera, an analyst familiar with the region.
DW: How is the departure of the Ugandan troops going to affect security in the areas in which they were deployed?
Fred Nyambera: This [withdrawal] is in accordance with the provisions of the peace agreement that was signed in August and therefore it shows political will to move forward because it is a requirement and it might fast-track other steps to be taken. When you talk about security, it is true there is a need for security arrangements which need to be discussed as stipulated in the peace agreement. I believe that the withdrawal - if there is a strong political will - should not have any security problems. But there is a need for these security arrangements to be fast-tracked.
One of the reasons why the UDPF [Ugandan People's Defense Force] was deployed in South Sudan was to ensure law and order at the request of South Sudan's government. Has this objective been achieved?
I don't think it has been fully achieved because right now the joint security arrangement is not in place. Pro-SPLA, SPLM security forces of the government of South Sudan - if there is no new conflict - are able to guarantee security. But if there is any break in the agreement, or if there is any back-tracking on the agreement, and the 'SPLA in opposition' decide to engage in more conflict then there will definitely be a gap in security. But if the political and diplomatic agreement stands, I believe that the forces there - though minimal - can sustain [security] for a period of time as they come up with a joint security arrangement.
Some say Ugandan troops are in South Sudan to protect economic interests. Does that mean that the withdrawal will place Uganda's economic interests in jeopardy?
There are regional interests - it's not only Uganda - Sudan also wants to protect interests in South Sudan. I would say Kenya has its own interests, Ethiopia has its own interests. So we would say that Uganda is just one of the players in South Sudan who have their proxy presence for one reason or another. My view is that the withdrawal of all external forces would minimize regional interests so that the focus is on South Sudan and their interests.
So it is a positive step towards looking internally into what is good for South Sudan and it might just fast-track the stability of South Sudan. Now, whether the interests of Uganda will be protected? Again, if there is political will and diplomatic and political agreements are sustained, then I don't think there should be any fear. Only if there is any breach on the agreement will the regional interests, including those of Uganda, definitely be in peril.
Various rebel movements, including foreign rebel groups such as Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army, have used South Sudan's rebel territory as a battleground for settling scores. Could the absence of Ugandan troops lead to a resurgence of these groups?
I believe that for a period of time there might be some temptation for these rebel groups to regroup themselves and cause some havoc, because of the vacuum that could be there. But then again I would say this insurgency is a regional problem and there are other forces that are facing them at a regional level because they cover DRC, Central African Republic and South Sudan. So I think the forces that are trying to inhibit their movements will still continue to do so. I don't see another immediate big fight at this point.
How do you assess the overall performance of Ugandan troops in South Sudan. Were they an asset or a liability?
When it comes to supplying some security and stability, I think they played a major role in not allowing the country to fall into total disarray, especially when this crisis started. I know they have been seen as some kind of a hindrance when it comes to diplomatic and political negotiations. Again, you talked about the 'proxy wars' and I would say that Ugandan forces being in South Sudan might have encouraged other countries to go there. For example, we know the moment Uganda forced its way into South Sudan, Sudan had some interests in staying there or playing a role there. And the fact that Ethiopia was engaged meant Eritrea would also want to have some presence there. So at a political, diplomatic level, I think it has helped things.
Fred Nyambera is Executive Director of the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa.
Interview: Isaac Mugabi