The open—and hidden—war between Sudan and Uganda

Strained relations: Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni. FILE 

The disclosure that Khartoum has filed a complaint with the African Union (AU) and the Great Lakes bloc over Uganda’s alleged support for rebel insurgencies against Sudan is both in keeping in script and an escalation of relations between the two countries, which have over the years enjoyed frosty relations.

Sudan’s Foreign Affairs ministry undersecretary Rahamtalla Mohamed Osman Tuesday told journalists in the Sudanese capital that the government was "waiting for the AU's response to its complaint."

"When we receive the AU's response, then every session will have a different discussion," he added, referring to planned cool-down talks.

But in rebuttal, Ugandan Foreign Affairs minister Henry Okello said his country had no intentions of overthrowing the Sudanese government and was not supporting any rebel group with the intention of regime change in Khartoum. Mr Okello added that Sudan would have no chance of succeeding if it in retaliation sought to prop up rebels against Kampala.

Sudan accuses Kampala of supporting and sheltering rebel movements against its government. This latest episode is only in keeping with strained relations between the two countries, which share a border to Sudan’s south.

Khartoum has in regional institutions recently filed a series of complaints against Uganda after Sudanese opposition parties and rebels signed a charter dubbed the "New Dawn" in Kampala last January and who's implied aim was to topple Omar al-Bashir’s regime.

'New strategy'

The rebels’ meeting in Kampala led the Sudanese government, through the speaker of the country’s national assembly, Ahmed Ibrahim Al-Tahir, to announce that Sudan was also working with opposition groups in Uganda to bring about "positive" political influence to the country, though it did not mention which opposition groups it would work with.

A Sudanese Foreign Affairs spokesman intimated to this writer that Khartoum would adopt a new strategy in dealing with the Ugandan government if Kampala continued with its "hostile positions" towards it.

Sudan and Uganda have for decades traded accusations of supporting each side’s rebel groups. Kampala says that Khartoum is providing support and refuge to the once-feared Ugandan rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

Khartoum on the other hand says that Kampala has become a haven for Sudanese rebel leaders.

"To mount pressure on Khartoum to stop its alleged support to the LRA rebels, Uganda for more than two years opened its territory for various Sudanese rebel groups," an African diplomat in Khartoum who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue said.

Denied links

But a Sudanese political activist spoken to denied any cooperation between rebels and Ugandan government. He however admitted that many leaders of the rebel movements and opposition parties visit Kampala from time to time, but described this as normal due to historical relations between the two nations.

"There is a big difference between the existence of the Sudanese opposition leaders in Uganda and the hosting of the LRA leader Joseph Kony, who is indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes against the civilians in Uganda, South Sudan, Congo and Central African Republic," he added on condition of anonymity.

The activist further claimed that the Sudanese government was purposefully threatening the regional peace and security by its support to Kony.

Relations between Sudan and Uganda deteriorated some years back when Kampala accused Khartoum of supporting the LRA which operates in South Sudan’s Western Equatorial and in the neighbouring countries of Congo and the CAR.

Sudan had in the past admitted to using LRA rebels to fight the insurgency in southern Sudan before the signing of a peace agreement in January 2005 with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), which was supported by the Ugandan government. The SPLM is now the governing party of South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan in July 2011.

Not worked

Former US President Jimmy Carter tried to mediate a peace accord between Sudan and Uganda in 1999, in which the two countries agreed to take steps to restore diplomatic relations and promote peace in the region. But this peace accord seemed to have not worked and since then there has been little by way of serious bilateral relations between the two nations.

Two years ago US President Barack Obama authorised the deployment of approximately 100 well-equipped special American troops to Uganda to help regional forces capture--or kill –Kony and other senior LRA leaders.

The rebel leader remains frustratingly elusive, but Uganda believes the group’s main hiding places straddle both Sudan and the Central Africa Republic. Some reports and satellite images showed that Kony is hiding in south Darfur close to the border with CAR, but Khartoum has denied those claims.

Strategic analyst Mohamed Aljak in an interview said that Uganda has always protected its interest of dominating the eight-million strong consumer market in South Sudan. Mr Aljak pointed out that the Ugandan workers occupy most of the jobs opportunities in South Sudan right now.

Mr Aljak also blamed the Sudanese government for losing the chance to united Sudan and avoid the separation with the South despite the overlapping of the two countries regional and international interests.

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