Days ahead of the signing of a truce by the warring South Sudan parties in Addis Ababa, Sudan (Khartoum) and Ethiopia criticised Uganda’s role in the crisis.
As the East and Horn of Africa grouping, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) met in December to find a solution to the South Sudan crisis, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni sent in his army.
On Tuesday, an army spokesman said the Uganda military had helped President Salva Kiir’s forces recapture rebel-held Bor and other key towns in South Sudan’s oil heartland.
However, a few hours after Ethiopia reportedly expressed unease at what it, Khartoum, and others saw as Uganda’s rash decision to jump the gun on the South Sudan crisis, Igad agreed to send a 5,500-strong intervention force to South Sudan.
What happened? Perhaps the surprise is that Addis made the criticism at all, given that, according to diplomatic sources, Uganda, the lead contingent in the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, had led the diplomatic effort to bring Ethiopian forces into Amisom.
Ethiopia is deeply resented in Somalia, being seen as a predatory and brutal occupier. Ethiopia needed to join Amisom first, because it gave its role in Somalia some diplomatic cover, but most importantly because it could no longer afford its unilateral expeditions.
It is therefore unlikely that it was throwing a co-conspirator in Somalia under the bus, and risking losing a key supporter in a project that will face criticism.
Secondly, this model of unilateral intervention, then getting an AU, Igad, or UN Security Council anointment of your military action, seems to be becoming the new regional norm.
Uganda and Rwanda have done it many times in the DR Congo. And in the case of Uganda, South Sudan too. Kenya did the same when its troops invaded southern Somalia to hunt down Al Shabaab militants in October 2011. It became part of Amisom nearly a year later.
The Igad decision gave Uganda’s unilateral mission in South Sudan a belated blessing.
However, beyond this elope-and-marry-later approach, is something bigger. Until mid last year, the only East African Community member state that was not in this peacekeeping and rebel-fighting business was Tanzania.
Dar es Salaam lost its innocence when it took the lead in the UN Force Intervention Brigade in eastern DRC that is credited with helping beat back the M23 rebels.
So we have Uganda in CAR, South Sudan, Somalia, and DRC. Rwanda has just sent troops to CAR, but it has been in Darfur and South Sudan for a while. Kenya, Ethiopia, Burundi (and Djibouti) are in Somalia. And the latter two might well dip their toes in South Sudan waters soon.
Together, these eight countries have used their militaries to build a security wall stretching from the tip of the Horn, into Central Africa to the border with West Africa, and southwards to the border with Southern Africa.
If we focus on the single wars in Somalia, CAR, and South Sudan, we won’t see the forest — the most radical remake of the security architecture in Africa. What’s next?
Charles Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group’s executive editor for Africa & Digital Media. E-mail: [email protected] Twitter: @cobbo3