War-lord Gen. Museveni as “peace broker”?
South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, lies in a dangerous neighborhood.
It is surrounded by countries with leaders who are warlords and dictators; some have been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for mass killing of their own people. These leaders, under the cover of the Inter-Government Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional body in Eastern Africa which includes the failed state of Somalia, are now seeking to re-brand themselves as statesmen and peacemakers but deep down they are all warlords and dictators.
The “old” Sudan, the most important and strategic neighbor to South Sudan, is headed by President Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir, an indicted war criminal at the ICC in connection to alleged crimes committed in the Darfur region. He is now busy pursuing his brand of peace of killing his political opponents with South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit.
And the President Kiir appears to be listening and taking notes. Gen. al-Bashir is aware that South Sudan is one of the few countries he can visit without fear of arrest and transfer to the ICC. He needs South Sudan to remain in a state of chaos and in need of his support, hence his recent visit to Juba to discuss a joint armed force to protect the oilfield.
Meanwhile, the Darfur conflict remains unresolved as women and children continue to be killed by al Bashir’s army and proxy militias.
The other unstable neighbor to South Sudan is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The other IGAD warlords have periodically sought to capture and rule a slice of the huge DRC territory. One of the proxy armies, the M23 was recently defeated by the United Nations Intervention Brigade, with the DRC soldiers tagging along. The DRC state is currently kept afloat by the United Nations peace-keeping force. Gen. Joseph Kabila, who faces a plethora of armed opposition groups, as other IGAD leaders, has used the ICC to get rid of his political opponents while protecting his soldiers and political allies from investigations and prosecutions.
Recently he has joined a group of African leaders making wild allegations that the ICC targets Africa (read bad African leaders). It is believed that since 1996, more than five million Congolese have been killed by the country’s own forces and by proxy militias of the governments of neighboring Uganda and Rwanda. Some estimates of the deaths exceed eight million.
The ICC is currently investigating atrocities that have occurred in the DRC. Only a few weeks ago, one of the armed militias attempted, without success, to seize power by force in Kinshasa. In the process, many civilians were killed.
Gen. Yoweri Museveni, the dean of dictators, who seized political power in Uganda in 1986, has supervised the slaughter of more than 500,000 civilians in the various wars he has fought from Uganda’s Luwero region, through the eastern and northern parts of the country.
Outside Uganda, as commander-in-chief of the Uganda Peoples Defense Force (UPDF), President Museveni is responsible for many more civilians murders carried out by his soldiers and proxy militias in the South Sudan, the DRC and the CAR.
Like Gen. Kabila of DRC, Gen. Museveni has also used the ICC to solve some of his political problems while fiercely defending members of the UPDF from investigation and prosecution by the ICC. Recall that he once asked then U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to block the ICC’s investigation of the UPDF’s alleged crimes in the DRC. He has also been implicated in U.N. reports in crimes against Congo committed by Uganda’s military or militias it supports including the recently-defeated M23.
Currently, Gen. Museveni is the leading critic of the ICC; and yet he is the first African head of state to refer a case –Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army– to the ICC. The United Nations Group of Expert Report has identified President Museveni role (he is commander-in-chief) for the murders, looting and pillage in the DRC.
South Sudan’s other neighbor; the Central African Republic (CAR) is currently being “ruled” by a war lord Michel Djotodia who cannot provide security even in the country’s capital, Bangui. The French and African Union (AU) soldiers are responsible for keeping him in power. Ethiopia, like Uganda and the CAR, has a government that came in power through the use of military force.
For over 20 years Ethiopia’s ruling party has used the army to suppress the political opposition while periodically rigs elections to remain in power.
Like South Sudan, the so-called liberation army in Uganda, DRC and Ethiopia have transformed into ruling political parties without discarding their undemocratic and dictatorial tendencies.
In Kenya the situation is different from the traditional military regime’s; yet, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto are currently facing charges of crimes against humanity at the ICC for the mass killings that took place after the December 2007 presidential elections. What is particularly unique about Kenya is that unlike many criminal jurisdictions in the world where an accused must resign his post while investigations and prosecution are in progress, until the case is concluded, even for minor offences, those charges with serious crimes including murder and forceful population dislocation are free to remain in office.
When this principle begins to trickle down, the entire state machinery may be run by suspects or accused persons.
These same leaders, under the cover of the regional body Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), met on 27 December 2013 in Nairobi to discuss the crisis in South Sudan.
Concerned about their own dictatorial track record, the IGAD leaders squandered an opportunity to demonstrate neutrality when they blindly supported President Salva Kiir against his former Vice President Dr. Riek Machar without first examining the root causes of the conflict and determining which party was at fault.
By issuing threats against Machar, through Gen. Museveni, and taking sides with the principal antagonists, the IGAD leaders demonstrated their common dictatorial credentials and democratic deficit.
There is still a way out to the South Sudan political crisis which is being wrongly addressed by military means.
For a credible and lasting peace in South Sudan, individuals with high moral standing who respect human values from amongst past and present leaders need to be considered for appointment as chief mediators by the African Union (AU) or the UN.
South Sudan needs honest brokers and not the current tainted IGAD leaders.
One of the persons who enjoy respect from the antagonists is Kenya’s former foreign minister Mr. Kilonzo Musyoka. He was a key player in the negotiations leading to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CAP), and agreement that led to the creation of the Republic of South Sudan. Similarly, Gen. Daniel Opande, another impartial participant at the negotiations leading to the CAP is a neutral general respected by the antagonist.
Former OAU Secretary General, Salim A. Salim is another suitable candidate. He has an excellent track record for tackling difficult problems during his tenure.
Ghana’s former President John Kufuor is yet another candidate with respectable democratic credential.
Africa is not short of talented mediators. It is unreasonable for the AU to send or permit unfit war-mongers to meddle in the South Sudan peace process.
What the AU and the UN can do for South Sudan is to look at stable countries with democratic credentials like Botswana, Tanzania, Namibia, Ghana or Senegal and tap mediators from any of those countries.
On the other hand, it is neither shameful nor un-African to go outside the African continent and seek the best peace mediators from any part of the world.
There are many competent and credible mediators in the Nordic region with excellent track record. The Norwegian mediators negotiated the Oslo Peace Accord which provided a framework for negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO); Finland was the wide-wife for the independence of Namibia and Sweden provided the technical support to Kofi Annan’s team in addressing the 2007/2008 Post Election Violence (PEV) in Kenya.
The Nordic countries can provide the much needed neutrality in the morbid IGAD.
In negotiating peace, occasionally mistakes are made and it is only natural to correct past mistakes.
It was, for example, an error for the UN to request President Museveni to mediate in the South Sudan conflict. Uganda is already too involved in South Sudan going back to the mysterious death of John Garang De Mabior, the architect of South Sudan and long-time leader of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and its armed wing. He perished while flying back to Sudan when the helicopter Gen. Museveni loaned to him crashed, after the two had met in Uganda.
Uganda must be kept out of South Sudan’s conflict. How can it be brokering peace, while actively fighting on Kiir’s side by deploying troops there?
President Museveni is neither an honest broker nor does he have a democratic credential. He is simply one of the many war lords on the Africa continent who has used force to achieve and retain political power. Over the years, he has tried to re-brand himself as a statesman yet most informed people are aware that he is a war monger, remains a warlord and a danger to the people of the Great Lakes Region.
The NRM, like the SPLM are “liberation” armies that failed to successfully transition to multi-party politics which accepts the separation of party and state. The NRM and the SPLM have remained undemocratic, dictatorial and has continued to use force, rig elections and retain power.
They have refused to recognize the separation of powers between the executive, parliament and judiciary as stipulated in the constitution.
What Dr. Machar demands is similar to demands made by opposition leader Dr. Kizza Besigye in Uganda. Both seek reforms of the electoral law, an establishment of an impartial police force and an army with a national outlook. Instead, President Museveni has consistently threatened, arrested, tortured and detained Dr. Besigye and other national politicians opposed to his regime. President Kiir is following the many bad examples of his mentor, Gen. Museveni.
The undemocratic way in which President Kiir runs the state and the SPLM in no different from how President Omar Hassan al-Bashir runs Sudan, President Museveni rules Uganda, President Kabila stumbles along in the DRC and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn controls Ethiopia.
They are not the right people to act as South Sudan mediators.
The people of South Sudan deserve better.
Obote Odora is a Consultant in International Criminal Law