By Bereket Habteab,
The fighting between soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar broke out in mid-December and Uganda sent its troops several days later to fight alongside forces loyal to President Kiir. However, the mystery behind who is sustaining the rebels in the conflict has got a hint of an answer yesterday when Ethiopian Prime Minister called for Uganda to withdraw its forces and threatened “regional proxy wars … with no-end in sight” if they fail to do so.
East African regional bloc (IGAD) member states Sudan and Eritrea, however, supports Ugandan troops presence in South Sudan. In a joint statement they released from Asmara during President Al-Bashir’s state visit, they publicly thrown their support to the Government of Salva Kiir. Moreover, Eritrea sent yesterday its foreign minister to Uganda to affirm its solidarity.
Other IGAD member states are expected to have similar views since the intervention averts a forceful overthrow of an elected government and an escalation of the violence that would have resulted in the death of tens of thousands of innocent lives.
Rebel groups that took part in the IGAD brokered peace talk at the Ethiopian capital, however, threatened to block next round of peace talk if Uganda resists to withdrew its forces from South Sudan. Surprisingly though, Ethiopia joined the call and in fact increased its rhetoric against Uganda in recent days.
Ethiopian Prime Minister and Chairman of IGAD for the last seven years, however, do not seem happy of Ugandan support to Salva Kiir and some IGAD member states followed suit. Conveniently though, he finds it easy to blame Eritrea as one who support rebel leader Machar to destabilize South Sudan. The accusations were evident when visiting EU delegation met the Prime Minister two weeks ago.
However, yesterday’s pronouncement of “regional proxy wars” by this same Prime Minister shows Ethiopia’s shift from the blocks initial alliance behind President Salva Kiir. If regional countries like Uganda, Sudan, Kenya and Eritrea publicly offered their support to President Kiir’s government, how could there be a regional war, and with whom, unless Ethiopia puts itself on the side of the rebel leader Reik Machar. The million dollar question is why is Ethiopia want to destabilize South Sudan by protecting the rebels led by Riek Machar?
Recent reports from the International Crisis Group (ICG) shows an estimated 10,000 people have been killed in weeks of the conflict with as many as 850,000 displaced in various parts of the country. Had Ugandan troops not intervened in the South Sudanese conflict, tens of thousands of lives would have been lost.
Therefore, Ethiopia should play neutral if it wants to get the trust of the region and most importantly the warring parties. Protecting Riek Machar to prolong and benefit out of South Sudan crisis won’t be in its best interest. Ethiopia cannot benefit itself as it does in Somalia as South Sudan is no Somalia. Ethiopia, Keep your dirty hands off South Sudan.
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