Months of protests in Sudan led to the ousting and arrest of Omar al-Bashir last week. Ugandan authorities have been monitoring the developments in Khartoum closely, with Kampala saying it could offer Bashir asylum. Sunday Monitor's Frederic Musisi talked to State minister for International Relations Henry Oryem Okello about the state of affairs in the region.
So, what does government make of the developments unfolding in Khartoum?
We are closely monitoring the volatile and rapidly moving situation in Sudan, and we look at the developments with keen interest. It is our hope that soon there will be formation of a structure that is acceptable to the Sudanese people. It is our hope and desire that the will of the people will be reflected by those who will be composed in the new establishment.
Secondly, we monitor the situation in Sudan closely because Sudan is a neighbour, and as such our hope is that the country remains intact; that the current transition does not in any way fragment the country along lines of so many parties or different groupings.
So is the Ugandan government condemning what happened to Bashir, because your position has not been clear?
We are not condemning. It is the African Union that has condemned the coup. We as Uganda support the wish and views of the people of Sudan to able to determine the affairs of their country.
Between early 1990s and 2005 relations between Uganda and Sudan were, to say the least, at worst to the point of the two countries nearly going to war. How had the relations picked up?
It is true that relations between president Omar al-Bashir and President Museveni, between the early 1990s to mid-2000s were very hostile. This came about because president Bashir, armed, assisted and supported the Lord's Resistance Army to fight the government of Uganda and to cause mayhem in northern Uganda, and hence rightly President Museveni was upset, which explained the hostilities and bad blood between the two leaders.
However lately, two years or so ago, the two leaders had put their differences aside and decided to look at the bigger picture in terms of peace and security in the region. As a result, the relationship had been built where Bashir had managed to visit Uganda several times and President Museveni had managed to visit Khartoum two times.
Those high-level reciprocal visits had marked establishment of cordial visits between the two countries, and by the time Bashir was toppled we had a good working relationship to the extent that Bashir was a co-signatory to the South Sudan peace agreement, which was a good job done.
And that warrants granting Bashir asylum as you're quoted in the papers?
Well, Bashir has not asked to come to Uganda and we have not asked Bashir to come to Uganda, but what I'm saying is that if he applies for political asylum in Uganda, his application would be considered, and if the President after weighing so many factors considers his application as suitable or not.
Since the International Criminal Court through your ministry has always asked you to arrest Bashir, why didn't you arrest him the last times he came to Uganda?
We couldn't and cannot arrest Bashir. Bashir played a very pivotal role in maintaining peace in South Sudan. Without Bashir, South Sudan wouldn't have been at peace the way it is.
He was major guarantor of peace agreement, which included reaching out to some people who were his enemies in the past. It would have been foolish for Uganda to arrest Bashir which would have jeopardised not just diplomatic relations but peace and security in the region. Therefore, the benefits of him coming and leaving as he pleased outweighed the benefits of arresting him.
Does that mean government forgave him [and his now former government] for supporting the LRA in as much as the Ugandan government likewise reinforced SPLA?
You see, in order for us to move on; in order for the relationship to be established, one had to give in something.
That said, he was co-guarantor to last year's peace agreement together with President Museveni. Where does his ouster leave the South Sudan peace process?
The peace agreement is intact. The leaders of South Sudan have given commitment that they will continue respecting and giving the agreement weight and guarantee, in the same spirit Bashir guaranteed it. There was a delegation that went to Khartoum this week and the new leadership gave that guarantee.
It is a known fact that Bashir reinforced Dr Riek Machar as President Museveni does with president Salva Kiir. With one key element out don't you think that alters the equations has implications to the peace process?
Not exactly. You see there are institutions in place that are guaranteeing the peace process and not just individuals. The institutions in place have already accepted this arrangement. It is not a question of Museveni or Bashir; it is a question of whether institutions are willing to continue with the arrangement after weighing this relationship.
Okello Oryem's take on Key issues
It is more than a month since the Uganda-Rwanda border was closed. What exactly is happening?
President Kagame and most of the senior leadership in Rwanda grew up, were educated and lived in Uganda. They were also part of the National Resistance Army, and eventually returned to their country. The relationship between the two governments is intricate, that whatever quarrel or misunderstanding it is, it cannot reach such a magnitude that it cannot be talked about or resolved. I normally refer to the ongoing feud as inconsequential as far as Uganda is concerned.
Rwanda recently made some demands like kicking out some businessman they think is anti-establishment
There is a Rwandan who has a tobacco factory in West Nile. President Museveni has called this gentleman, they have talked, and the gentleman has said he is in no way involved in any activities against Kigali. He even told the President that his business in Angola is bigger than that in Uganda, and, therefore, we hope that this assurance can comfort Kigali. Nonetheless, President Museveni told this Rwandan, that if it is possible, he finds a buyer of his asset in Uganda.
On feud blowback effects to the region
It does. For example, there was a non-tariff barrier to trade, tourism and other opportunities, so the row is not healthy, and hope that the Rwandans will act and this matter is put to rest.
On arrests and deportation of Rwandan nationals
Rwandans are in our Constitution. We as Uganda welcome all nationalities to visit, settle and do business as they please. We don't single out Rwandans as stubborn people. However, we are saying when they come to Uganda they should abide by the laws of Uganda. If we find these to have breached the laws, we have a right to arrest them and send them back.