An anthropologist's take on Uganda and the Great Lakes region...

Monday, September 26, 2011

South Sudan in the Region

Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia all stand to benefit greatly from the recent independence of South Sudan. All three countries had a long history of engagement with the 2nd Sudanese Civil War, and with the 6-year political settlement that followed the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005. As a result, all three governments are now seeking to strengthen their diplomatic and commercial ties with Juba, in moves that will doubtless improve the security situation both within the new new country itself, and in bordering areas. These deepening ties will probably also result in the South Sudan being quickly incorporated into the EAC, which will in turn make Juba less reliant upon its current economic lifeline of oil exports through Sudan.

It is probably no coincidence that the largest national delegations to attend the 9th July independence celebrations in Juba were those led by Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, and Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia. All three are long standing allies of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) – which forms the basis of the new Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) – and as such, all were deeply involved both in the civil war, and in the peace process that finally ended it. Moreover, all three now regard the establishment of a strong state in Juba as crucial both to their own security interests, and for the general stability of the East African region as whole:

Uganda: Uganda was a key ally of the SPLM/A throughout the war, and provided major military and logistical support through the fighting. From the mid-1980s onwards, Kampala was also the hub for the SPLM/A diplomatic efforts abroad, and Uganda was also involved in the Machakos talks (in its capacity as a member of the IGAD sub-committee on Sudan). There is strong evidence that in recent months, Kampala has also been providing ongoing military assistance to the nascent GoSS. By engaging with Southern Sudan in these ways, President Museveni’s primary motivation throughout has been to secure his northern regions from insurgencies such as that of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). In the present context, his hope is that a more stable government in Juba will mitigate against the LRA ever being able to re-establish their former bases in Southern Sudan (from which they were expelled during Operation Iron Fist, in 2002). In addition, he may also be hoping that South Sudan will continue to support ongoing multi-national military operations against current LRA positions (in North-eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Central African Republic).

Kenya: Nairobi has also been a longstanding regional ally of the SPLA/M, having hosted the organization’s leadership and headquarters since 1991. From 2002 onwards, Kenya oversaw the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)-supported peace talks which resulted in the signing of the CPA (the talks were held in Machakos and chaired by retired Kenyan General Lazaro Sumbeiywo). Immediately following the agreement, in February 2005, Kibaki set up the Kenya Southern Sudan Liaison Office (KESSULO), ostensibly to monitor the implementation of agreement, but also as a conduit for Kenyan support into Southern Sudan. In the run up to South Sudan’s independence, KESSULO provided both commercial and legal advice to the SPLA/M leadership, and also channelled several million dollars worth of aid into the region, especially for purposes of training a nascent GoSS civil service. In so doing, the Kenyan government are partly motivated by a desire to eventually repatriate the 25,000 Southern Sudanese refugees who remain in their country (although this number is greatly down from the 100,000 who were based in Kenya at the height of the Sudan civil war, their ongoing presence remains a point of political contention in Nairobi). In addition, though, the Kenyan government also hopes that a more stable and prosperous South Sudan might have similar, ‘knock on’ effects in their own Rift Valley Province (which partly borders the new state, and which was the scene of some of the worst violence following the contested Kenyan presidential elections of December 2007). This is particularly an aspiration of Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who hails from Rift Valley.

Ethiopia: Addis Ababa was a third crucial ally of the SPLM/A, especially during the early part of the war, when they provided bases, training, and equipment to the rebel group. Following the rise to power of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPDRF) in 1993, the SPLM/A were expelled to Kenya. However, relations soon improved, and Ethiopia later went on to also be a key partner in the IGAD talks. President Zenawi has also gone on to support the nascent GoSS both diplomatically and militarily, ever since. Once again, the main concern relates to security, and in particular, the potential effects of renewed major civil war in Southern Sudan. In recent years, Ethiopia’s main security concerns have primarily related to Eritrea (following the border war of 1998-2000) and Somalia (following their invasion of that country, in December 2007). However, the thinking in Addis now seems to be that a resumption of fighting in Southern Sudan could vastly complicate those other situations, by providing opportunities that both Asmara and the Somali Islamic Courts Union (ICU) might be able to exploit. In particular, Zenawi appears particularly concerned that a renewed Sudanese war would require large numbers of Ethiopian troops to be redeployed along the country’s western border.

However, it is also worth pointing out that although Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia have been strongly in favour of the creation of an independent South Sudan (given the factors described above), other nearby states have been less impressed by the development. In particular, elements in Mogadishu who oppose the recognition of Somaliland as a sovereign state have been downright alarmed by the African Union’s (AU) complicity in a move which overturns a long established legal principle on the continent that colonial borders should never be redrawn (because of the problems that this would create). Similarly, Kinshasa may now also have cause for concern, especially if the creation of South Sudan were to reignite discussion over the sovereign status of, for example, the Kivus or – more importantly – Katanga.

Yet it is worth pointing out that in addition to these geo-political considerations, several East Africa government are also now eyeing-up the economic potential of an independent South Sudan. In the period leading up to independence, economic ties had already deepened significantly, as for example, in the fact that between 2006-2008, Ugandan exports into South Sudan grew by 300%, to US$250 million pa (making it Uganda’s largest export market. With little manufacturing industry of its own, South Sudan is likely to remain dependent on imports for some time to come). In addition, hundreds of Kenyan entrepreneurs began to set up operations in Juba, and other Southern Sudanese urban centres.  And the next few years will likely see these ties expand much further still. In particular, trade with all East African countries will be hugely boosted by South Sudan’s eventual entry into the East African Community (EAC). In April, outgoing EAC Secretary General Juma Mwapachu described South Sudan’s entry into the bloc as a question of ‘not if, but when’.

For one thing, the accession of South Sudan into the EAC would make it much easier to integrate the country into regional transport plans, which are widely expected to boost economic growth throughout the bloc over the next two decades. Indeed, the Kenyan government already regards South Sudan as a critical element of their plan to build a new deep water port at the Lamu archipelago (one capable of taking ships bigger than those that can be currently accommodated at Mombasa). Given the location of the Lamu project, close to Kenya’s northern border with Somalia, it is already anticipated that goods moving into and out of South Sudan will account for a significant proportion of the port’s overall cargo flows. In addition, plans are also afoot to incorporate South Sudan into the UN Economic Commission for Africa’s (UNECA) and Africa Development Bank’s (ADB) Trans-African Highway Network (THAN), through the construction of a feeder highway into Juba (either from Kampala or, more likely, from Northern Kenya). When completed, the THAN aims to establish a network of continuously-metalled roads that transect the entire continent from North to South, and East to West, and which will act as international trade corridors. Finally, South Sudan’s entry into the bloc will also bring it into the EAC’s plans to develop a new regional rail infrastructure. The EAC Secretariat recently announced that they plan to invest US$25 billion in road and rail over the next 10 years (although it is not yet clear how this will be financed, or whether it will be enough to pay for the current designs).

However, potentially the most significant economic implication of South Sudan’s independence relates to oil extraction. At present, South Sudan sits on an estimated 80% of all of the former (united) Sudan’s oil reserves. Yet at present, this can only be exported northwards, either through a pipeline which runs to Port Sudan, or to refineries in the north, and as a result, the new nation remains entirely dependent on the north for its major revenue stream (and vice-versa). Moreover, Juba has to date failed to agree a mechanism with Khartoum as to how the revenues from this ‘division of labour’ will eventually be divided. In this context, then, both Uganda and Kenya, in particular, are pressing for advantage, Uganda through a plan to expand its proposed refinery at Hoima, in Western Uganda, to allow it to process some of South Sudan’s oil as well (construction of the refinery is due to begin next year), Kenya through a proposal to build a new 1400 km pipeline from Juba to its planned Lamu facility. Both plans are currently attracting widespread international investment interest.

Finally, the creation of Southern Sudan will almost certainly also affect current international debates over management of the Nile River, which have so far seen disputes between Egypt and Uganda and Ethiopia (the latter two of which plan to build major hydroelectric facilities on the White and Blue Niles, respectively). However, it is not yet clear how the government in Juba will position itself vis-à-vis these disputes (or the wider issue of Nile management in general).

In recent months, much of the commentary on South Sudan's independence has focused on the new state's relationship with its more powerful northern neighbour. Certainly, Juba's diplomatic agenda will continue to be dominated by its relationship with Khartoum for some time to come. Nevertheless, it is as well to remember that the genesis of South Sudan also has highly significant regional implications.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2009

It is now almost two years since a group of young Ugandan MPs within the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) tabled the notorious private members bill, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The bill proposed increased sentences for all forms of homosexuality, and the death penalty for any act of 'aggravated homosexuality' (defined in terms of 'serial offending', sex with a minor, sex with a person with disabilities, or sex for an HIV+ individual).

Led by David Bahati, MP for Ndorwa West, this reactionary political gesture challenged the public views of their party's leader, President Museveni, and his government's avowed commitment to social equity. As a result, the bill was immediately disowned by several senior ministers. However, Bahati and his conspirators used skillful PR and a sympathetic media to build popular support for the draft legislation. Their rabble-rousing may also have been tolerated because it served to distract public attention from growing social and political unrest.

In late 2009, the President attempted to squash the proposal by issuing an executive order against it, in which he claimed that the legislation had become a ‘foreign policy issue’ (given the widespread condemnation that it was by then receiving from donors, and from the international human rights community). He also appointed a special parliamentary committee that found '99 per cent' of the draft legislation to be either 'unconstitutional' or 'redundant'.

However, despite these, and other, legal rulings against it, the bill continued its passage through parliament, bolstered by the homophobic content of some popular radio stations, and print media outlets. One key forum for this sentiment became the radio ‘phone- in’ show, in which callers would typically take it in turns to berate either an individual gay man, or gay people in general. The print media – especially the tabloid press – also dedicated a growing number of articles to the subject. This toxic media environment reached its zenith in October 2010, when a tabloid newspaper called Rolling Stone published the photographs, names, and addresses, of 100 allegedly gay indviduals – including one Anglican Bishop – alongside a banned headline that read: ‘Hang Them’. 

For a thoughtful examination of this poisonous media environment, and its implications for Uganda's LGBT community, see BBC Radio 1 DJ Scott Mill's documentary on the subject, which was first broadcast in February 2011. The first part of Mill's film can be viewed here:

But encouraged by this media response to his plan, and by the support that he was receiving from certain sections of the Pentecostal-charismatic (P/c) Christian community, in early 2011, Bahati and the others attempted to revive their bill. With dissent growing around Museveni’s twenty-five year incumbency, the timing seemed right. Whether by cynical manipulation or unhappy political coincidence, the timing was in fact potent. In January 2011, just weeks before Museveni’s seventh election win, a prominent gay-rights activist called David Kato – who was one of those named in the Rolling Stone list – was brutally murdered at his home in Kampala. In one particularly shocking aspect of the case, fighting then broke at Kato’s funeral, when the presiding pastor delivered an anti-gay sermon. 

This time the international furore reached heightened proportions, and led in May this year to a major campaign putting pressure on the Ugandan parliament. As a result, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill’s passage was again blocked (this time on a technicality). However, reflecting just how emboldened the NRM's 'young turks' have become within the current (9th) parliament, it seems likely that Bahati and the others will again attempt to revive the draft legislation. Either way, the wider homophobia remains.

Earlier this year, Dr. David Mills and I were approached by members of All Our Children, an education charity with which we are involved, to comment on the current situation regarding both the bill and wider homophobia in Uganda, and to think through its implications for individuals and agencies who are working in the country. Our discussions on the subject eventually led to us drafting a 'briefing paper', and this has now been published on All Our Children's website. In this paper we look at the background to the current bill, and also at some of the wider historical, political and cultural dimensions to homophobia in Uganda. We hope that the paper - which can be downloaded here - will be of interest and use for a wide range of actors currently engaged in the country.