South Su­dan, Uganda locked in bor­der dis­pute

Long-run­ning, vi­o­lent is­sue threat­ens trade, se­cu­rity

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY IOAN­NIS GAT­SIOU­NIS

KAM­PALA, UGANDA | Grace Asamo was shocked when sol­diers from South Su­dan de­tained her and eight other mem­bers of the Uganda par­lia­ment.

“They at­tacked our ve­hi­cles with stones and guns and told us not to re­turn,” said Ms. Asamo, who rep­re­sents the East­ern Re­gion of Uganda.

The Ugan­dan law­mak­ers said they were within the rec­og­nized boundaries of their own coun­try, while the South Su­danese sol­diers had strayed across the bor­der.

The as­sault on the Ugan­dan leg­is­la­tors on a fact-find­ing mis­sion last week was the lat­est flare-up in a lon­grun­ning bor­der dis­pute that dates back years be­fore South Su­dan be­came the world’s new­est na­tion in July 2011.

The squab­ble, which South Su­dan in­her­ited from Su­dan, is threat­en­ing se­cu­rity and trade be­tween Uganda and its north­ern neigh­bor.

The bor­der re­gion, rav­aged by war, has a his­tory of land-grab­bing, il­le­gal con­struc­tion, de­for­esta­tion, kid­nap­pings and rack­e­teer­ing.

The row has also be­come an out­let for South Su­danese frus­tra­tion over an in­flux of Ugan­dan mer­chants. Seventy thou­sand Ugan­dans are es­ti­mated to be work­ing in South Su­dan.

Uganda, like most African na­tions, ad­heres to post-colo­nial borders, which would have found the Ugan­dan leg­is­la­tors in­side Uganda at the time of the at­tack.

How­ever, many South Su­danese claim tra­di­tional boundaries, which place por­tions of Uganda some 10 miles in­side the South Su­dan state of Cen­tral Equa­to­ria.

Sarah Bol, the top diplo­mat at the South Su­danese Em­bassy in Kam­pala, said the Ugan­dan leg­is­la­tors had passed il­le­gally into Kajo-keji county in South Su­dan at the time of the at­tack.

Ms. Bol and Am­bas­sador James Mugume, per­ma­nent sec­re­tary in Uganda’s For­eign Af­fairs Min­istry, said Ugan­dan Pres­i­dent Yow­eri Mu­sev­eni and South Su­danese Pres­i­dent Salva Kiir will re­solve the is­sue within next sev­eral months, although no of­fi­cial meet­ing date has been set.

Vi­o­lent bor­der dis­putes erupted even be­fore South Su­dan gained its in­de­pen­dence from Su­dan.

Ten­sions flared in 2005, when Su­danese au­thor­i­ties stopped Ugan­dans from con­struct­ing a road and com­mu­ni­ca­tions tower along the bor­der.

Sixty-five Ugan­dans have been mur­dered in the bor­der re­gion since 2007, ac­cord­ing to the Joint Ac­tion for Re­demp­tion of Uganda Traders in Su­dan.

Ugan­dan au­thor­i­ties ac­cused Su­dan of de­tain­ing and tor­tur­ing 20 Ugan­dans in 2009.

Ms. Bol dis­putes the fig­ures and said Ugan­dans are wel­comed in South Su­dan where they are gen­er­ally safe to work. She said Ugan­dan me­dia of­ten sen­sa­tion­al­izes bor­der in­ci­dents.

Even if a boundary is agreed upon, ten­sions are un­likely to ease.

Law en­force­ment in South Su­dan is weak, and re­sent­ment is high, as Ugan­dans rush in to fill jobs that South Su­danese, hob­bled by decades of war with Su­dan, can­not do on their own.

Food short­ages al­lows Ugan­dans to sell pro­duce at dou­ble what they can fetch back home.

South Su­dan is now Uganda’s largest ex­port mar­ket, as Ugan­dans cut in­roads into agri­cul­ture, light man­u­fac­tur­ing and con­struc­tion.

South Su­dan cit­i­zens cross­ing into Uganda ben­e­fit from ed­u­ca­tion, health and other ba­sic ser­vices. Uganda’s pri­vate sec­tor is re­port­edly lob­by­ing for the con­struc­tion of a rail­way to link the coun­tries.

Fred­er­ick Ssenonga of the Joint Ac­tion for Re­demp­tion of Uganda Traders said in­tim­i­da­tion, rob­bery, shoot­ings and stolen funds are part of the cost of do­ing busi­ness in South Su­dan. He claims to have lost $142,000 in con­struc­tion in­vest­ments and that both gov­ern­ments have failed to up­hold the law.

Ms. Bol said a vi­cious oil dis­pute be­tween South Su­dan and Su­dan has sapped the new na­tion’s abil­ity to es­tab­lish se­cu­rity and rule of law. Tribal ten­sions in the east­ern part of South Su­dan are also cre­at­ing in­sta­bil­ity.

South Su­dan of­fers “high risks and high prof­its,” as Mr. Mugume de­scribed trade prospects in South Su­dan.

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