The Implication of Cross Border Trade Disputes between Uganda and South Sudan on Regional Integration

6. 24. 2021

South Sudan's restoration of peace, combined with better security, led to tremendous trade growth with Uganda. An examination by South Sudan and the neighbors of trade values and volumes found that Uganda was the primary trading partner in South Sudan. The main objective of the research was to determine how trade impacted economies of the two countries and determine whether the trade is a major contributor to economic growth in South-Sudan and Uganda, to determine whether the cross-border trade dispute have adverse effects on the economies of Uganda and South-Sudan, and to find the factors of reducing/eliminating cross-border trade disputes. The study adopted the qualitative research method. The researcher found out that the dispute between the two countries and how solutions were handled. South Sudan's conflict with Uganda's government is that inter-territorial arrangement does not equal the benefits of cooperation.


South Sudan and Uganda have a history of cooperation that dates back centuries (TANABE, n.d.). As a result of the current South Sudan civil conflict, Uganda's political and economic well-being and bilateral relations have been compromised. Moreover, Uganda's contribution is critical to implementing the 2015 mediated resolution to the South Sudanese civil war, which was agreed to in August of that year. Uganda's participation in the political sphere is further aided by new commercial arrangements with South Sudan and with Uganda's hopes for market integration in the future. Compared to other priorities, including combating ongoing armed conflict, the Ugandan government places a high value on security issues that date back many years. However, there is some disagreement about the significance of this job because it dramatically affects Uganda's reputation and standing in the international community. Another possible problem with doing nothing is that it could lead to neighbors undermining the peace process if they do not realize its importance. The primary purpose is to determine the degree to which boundary disputes between Uganda and South Sudan have a profound effect on the two countries.

Research Objectives

1. To determine how regional trade has impacted the economies of Uganda and South Sudan and if the trade is a major engine of economic growth in both countries.

2. To see if cross-border trade conflicts have a negative influence on Uganda's and South Sudan's economies.

3. To identify elements that can help reduce or eliminate cross-border trade conflicts.

Research Hypothesis

Disputes over cross-border trade between Uganda and South Sudan have severe ramifications for regional integration and cooperation.

Research Questions

What are the ramifications of Uganda's and South Sudan's cross-border disputes?

Literature Review

South Sudan President Kiir made an order related to the increasing number of states in South Sudan, which has devastating consequences for the various communities within the country and Uganda. As a result of this order, South Sudan's state count increased from ten to twenty-eight (Kindersley & Rolandsen, 2017). As a result, it significantly escalated conflict between opposing groups and countries, including IGAD, the EU, the United Kingdom, Norway, and the United States, who pointed their fingers at President Salva Kiir for breaking the peace deal. Furthermore, because it has been reported that Dinka-controlled new states are encroaching on Nuer and Shilluk territories, animosity between the various ethnic groups has reached a boiling point. The conflict began when different Dinka tribes argued over their competing land claims, which many people believe are tied to constructing the new state border.

In justifying his decision, he argued that he had to implement a federal System government structure throughout the country and then disperse power and authority to the residents to help each other construct neighborhoods and towns. Once the decree is released, the reception and immediate repercussions will be intricately linked to ethnic identity, community property rights, and administrative geography. Despite numerous times since the 1990s, the same reasoning propelled South Sudan and Uganda's subdivision into even smaller and more ethnically defined local government units. In today's diverse population, ethnic tensions and competing claims to property have increased with newfound intensity at the state and local levels.

In the south of Sudan and Uganda, the past and contemporary efforts at decentralization have produced a nexus of governmental authority, ethnic identity, and land management, providing the preconditions for future conflict in the region. However, at the same time, the political significance of land ownership has risen due to decentralization (Brinkman et al., 2017). To say that value is shifting is to say that there are changes in how valuable various assets and resources are, with those changes related to urbanization and changing settlement patterns, reports of land grabs by powerful actors and external investors, and/or potential for or an expectation of commercial land use. Overall, the locals believe that, because of this, they will no longer have access to the land on which their livelihoods depend. Thus, it is vital to have a clear grasp of creating new land conflicts if one wishes to obtain a better knowledge of the intertwined concerns of national sovereignty, decentralized government, legal pluralism, economic development, infrastructure development, and service delivery.

The Relationship between Uganda and South Sudan.

One may argue that Uganda's interactions with South Sudan, which would eventually become an independent country, were multinational from the start (Leonardi, 2020). Various governments have been founded on both sides of the border to maintain control over the region's numerous ethnic groups since colonization began. To maintain imperial authority over the borderlands, the establishment of a joint imperial boundary program was necessary. Following the 1940s Equatoria rebellion, many South Sudanese kids attended Ugandan schools. They relocated to Uganda as the Equatoria's central authority has exacted revenge on them by expelling them from their homeland. These individuals' route to a better life was eased by their successful efforts to flee South Sudan's continuous turmoil and reach Uganda, where they were welcomed and provided with free schooling. This sparked two contemporary trends: South Sudanese refugees taking advantage of Uganda's educational system and citizens of both nations looking for new areas to live and work.

Sudan was afflicted by a series of internal crises from 1963 to 1972, followed by another conflict that began in 1983 and lasted until 2005. Sudan and Egypt, the two nations that aided South Sudan during the first conflict, were on excellent terms with South Sudan throughout the second crisis. Israel built weapons and military support distribution networks through Ethiopia and Uganda in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War as conduits for militant groups in South Sudan. Ugandan refugees in South Sudan have increased in number since the 1970s, and the Ugandan army also operates in the region. The second civil war made heavy use of proxy warfare. At the start of the 1980s, a Sudanese rebel organization and an Ethiopian rebel organization collaborated (1983–91), but they gradually became tired of one another and increasingly resorted to proxy combat. Following the assassination of John Garang, the first SPLM/A chief of staff, the relationship between Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) was significantly improved.

Throughout Sudan's civil war, the Khartoum government armed and trained numerous rebel groups and factions in northern Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Among these factions was the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) (Leonardi, 2020). Sudan-Uganda relations grew heated in the 1990s because of this coordinated effort. Hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese refugees were present in camps in Uganda during the SPLM/years an operation in southern Sudan, providing the SPLM/A with a base of operations. Sudanese officials' increased commitment to resolving the civil war strengthened relations between Khartoum and Kampala. To support the Ugandan army fighting on the ground in Sudan, the Ugandan and Sudanese presidents, Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, and Bashir Omar Museveni, respectively, aided it in its pursuit of the LRA. Meanwhile, Museveni increased the pressure on Garang to negotiate a resolution to Sudan's civil war.

Following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, the Ugandan and South Sudanese governments developed even stronger ties. Due to Khartoum's increased activity, the risk of foreign infiltration into South Sudan has increased, forcing South Sudan to be considered as a buffer zone against foreign invasions and an additional layer of border protection for Uganda (Leonardi, 2020). International donors provide most of the help to northern Sudan. Museveni teamed up with the SPLM/A and other rebel organizations to wage proxy war and pave the way for future cooperation and economic integration. Despite the US refusal to back Uganda's aspirations in South Sudan, Uganda's operations in the so-called "global war on terror" did not appear to conflict with US goals.

Between 2005 and 2009, approximately half a million South Sudanese refugees returned to their home country, while only a tiny proportion decided to remain in the host country (South Sudan). As a result, many wealthy Ugandans purchased a property in Kampala and other northern Ugandan cities and enrolled their children in Ugandan schools. Commercial and economic ties have been strengthened in the aftermath of 2005. Despite the lack of a formal economy or commercial sector capable of absorbing this amount of money, South Sudan earns hundreds of millions of dollars in oil earnings each year. In Juba and the surrounding towns, there was a massive influx of traders and merchants. While traveling from Uganda to the United States in quest of work in construction, they have been joined by small-time sellers, motorcycle taxi drivers, carpenters, and masons. Ugandans in South Sudan outnumber the amount of investment flowing into Uganda by a large margin. Before the present conflict, an estimated 5% of Uganda's total population lived in South Sudan, amounting to around one million Ugandans.

Due to the South Sudanese dollar's small size, interconnectedness, and complexity, its impact on the Ugandan economy cannot be determined. According to data supplied by the International Alert non-governmental group, approved Ugandan exports to South Sudan increased from $50.5 million to $245.9 million between 2005 and 2008. However, illicit shipments increased from $9.1 million to $929.9 million during the same period. Although the transition is gradual, it has a considerable impact on Uganda's economy, which is predicted to be worth at least $26 billion (Analytica, 2017). Northern Uganda's markets were saturated with small dealers and laborers, which meant that these consumers' economic activities were highly dependent on additional market participants. In addition, trade agreements and memorandums of understanding between the two countries facilitate commerce and enable governments to collect taxes. Additionally, Uganda's growing integration into the regional economy is likely due to the country's leadership's strategic objectives rather than the populace's willingness to accept risks.

South Sudan is home to a variety of conflicting objectives, and as the initial research established, Uganda has had a variety of interests in the country. As a result, it is feasible that security concerns will outweigh economic concerns in the long run. By building a cooperative relationship with Juba, the Kampala administration hopes to prevent armed factions or military forces from endangering Uganda's stability in South Sudanese territory. Political stability facilitated commerce, while expansion of transportation infrastructure boosted commerce and military reach. However, the civil war had a detrimental effect on the political landscape.

Methods and Findings

The study used a qualitative research approach. This was found to be effective because it captures information relevant to the research topic. Qualitative study also helps in developing theories that describe the realities as well as explaining social facts. The qualitative research approach is also in with the primary purpose, evaluating the implications of cross-border trade disputes between two countries in East Africa and its effects on regional integrations.

The study also adopts an exploratory research design by appraising sources known by using a thorough literature review. More specifically, sources discussing the topics related to the research question of this study were selected for analysis. Selected studies were subjected to inclusion and exclusion criteria. For instance, language was one of the criteria used to select relevant studies to be appraised. Ideally, only English studies were selected, while those other studies that had topics aligned with the topic of this research published in English were excluded. The other criterion used to select studies is the time when the study was published. Only sources published within the last decade (2011-2021) were selected for analysis. Databases such as Google Scholar were utilized for the extraction of sources. Google Scholar is one of the essential databases for researchers because it only contains academically appraised and approved references.  This implies that this study did not rely on gray literature more than peer-reviewed sources. Consequently, a total of six studies were selected for analysis based on the objectives of the study.

The Findings

The Current Civil War Poses Difficulties

This civil conflict took an all-or-nothing turn when President Salva Kiir Mayardit and Vice President Riek Machar began fighting in 2013. Roland and his team concluded that (2015) the conflict broke out in Juba in December 2013. By January of the following year, it had expanded to other Unity, Jonglei, and Upper Nile. The conflict not only added to South Sudan's financial difficulties but also served to worsen them. A massive influx of new refugees and undocumented migrants came to town, together with a decreased flow of oil and revenue. It has been reported that the economy has been in freefall since the beginning of the year, Rolandsen et al., (2015).

These issues all bode ill for the future of the global economy, with inflation rising to levels unseen since the Great Depression, trade barriers being strengthened, and the trading community coping with a scarcity of hard cash. The economic status of Uganda's agricultural and agricultural processing sectors has been undermined. A peaceful solution to the issue has proven to be incredibly difficult to discover. Despite continuous protests and dissent from the various parties to the dispute, a deal, officially known as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Member Agreements, was eventually signed between July and August of 2015, thanks to the coordination efforts of the so-called Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) constellation.

If violence has ceased, it is not yet apparent if the agreement will last due to the persistence of fighting even though both sides have agreed to a truce. In addition, opposition representatives believe that a new presidential decree splitting South Sudan's ten states into 28 violates the deal that was struck in 2013. Nevertheless, Uganda's participation to calm the unrest in South Sudan when the unrest began was applauded by the administration. To ensure the security of Juba Airport and to help evacuate the inhabitants of Uganda, the foreign minister of Uganda tasked the Uganda People's Defense Forces (UPDF) with securing the airport and aiding in the evacuation (Rolandsen et al., 2015). Once it was clear that the operation would involve combatting insurgents in and around Bor, Jonglei's capital, the mission became much larger. Later in December 2013 and early January 2014, the UPDF launched several airstrikes from the air. The attack on Juba is believed to have halted rebel movements in that area.

Other nations and neighboring countries have approved of Uganda's participation in the peace process. However, various concerns have been expressed, including whether the deployment is justified and how much effort will be devoted to the mission. Although fighting had evolved into a more subdued, low-intensity conflict by the early part of 2014, the war had devolved into small, scattered engagements. South Sudanese troops who had held positions at Juba Airport and the Bor Road have been moved to give their skills to the South Sudan Armed Forces' education program. The deployment of Ugandan forces for peacekeeping efforts was not permitted because of their involvement. Instead of Uganda, a key member of IGAD in the August Framework Agreement, the nation did not play a significant part in the agreement (Rolandsen et al., 2015).

Security Is Deteriorating

Some researchers say that Uganda should discontinue its military presence in Juba and focus on local issues (Apuuli, 2020). It is commonly considered that by embracing the UPDF, the Juba administration was strengthened, and the opposition-government relationship was severed. Museveni pursued a ceasefire proposal in 2014, in part because he maintained contact with both parties. As a result, certain opposition members, notably the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (splm-io) leader Salva Kiir, were permitted to open an office in Kampala. Even as new information emerges, the question of Uganda's authority over Kiir remains unresolved. Museveni's closest associates and influential political outlets had previously been members of the splm faction of the g10 group, sometimes referred to as the "former inmates" (Analytica, 2017). On the other hand, by isolating Juba from the rest of the world, Museveni has consolidated his power in that region. Museveni's relationship with Kiir had deteriorated, with Museveni irritated by what he perceived to be Kiir's ineffective and obstructive leadership.

Regardless of how tense relations between Kampala and Khartoum are, Juba controls the competition because of their rivalry. Typically, those who say Uganda is assisting armed rebels in Sudan and hindering the repair of relations between Sudan and South Sudan believe the government is assisting rebel troops in Sudan. South Sudan has established a forum for collaboration with Khartoum and assistance to Ugandan insurgents because of this move (Analytica, 2017). In addition, Sudanese authorities have been accused of providing logistical support to the LRA and facilitating Joseph Kony's ultimate return to northern Uganda. According to some analysts, Uganda's engagement in South Sudan is a ruse intended to explain why Uganda has remained in the country for so long.

Uganda was given 45 days to withdraw from the deal, which was completed on September 10, 2015. Cortical cortex cerebral (analytics) Museveni's power has been eroded since the number of Ugandan military soldiers has decreased considerably. Given the likelihood that the entity overseeing the peace deal's implementation will be mainly composed of Ethiopian forces, it is quite likely that this entity will be external. South Sudan is an island unto itself, and no other country wishes for it to secede. When warlords dominate a territory, anyone in the area is at risk of becoming a victim. The organization will become susceptible because of the loss of a business partner and an investment opportunity while also creating an unsafe environment for opposition fighters to undertake attacks.

In contrast to the growing tensions between Juba and Kampala, which have aggravated relations between Uganda and South Sudan, violence along the Uganda-South Sudan border is a contention source between the two states. The long-standing conflict over scant resources has gotten worse in the disputed borderland areas of Yumbe, Moyo, Adjumani, and Lamwo. Without a recognized border demarcating the area, the problem has gotten worse, which is exacerbated by the lack of a recognized border. In September 2014, because of the country's census, which established the dividing line between Moyo and Kajo Kejji, a critical face-off occurred on the Uganda-Tanzania border (Analytica, 2017). Local officials who attempted to enter the disputed zone were met with outrage by the South Sudanese populace, who believed they had been duped.

Thousands of residents were compelled to flee their homes and communities, where their property was pillaged and plundered, and ten people were slain. Following the outbreak of violence in June in regions south of Magwi, Uganda, another conflict erupted in August when Ugandan Defense Personnel (UPDF) forces crossed the border without permission from Kampala. Because these instances were unrelated to the civil war, lawlessness has increased, resulting in border conflicts that did not previously occur (Analytica, 2017). It is in Uganda's border towns where regional peace and economic progress are most visible, and this is the most effective defense. While it is necessary to maintain border demarcations to promote steady intercultural encounters, the current political system does not place a high premium on delineation. As a result, we may see an uptick in confrontations near the border.

A Collapsing Economy

For nearly a decade, South Sudan has been battling an economic disaster. Peace was achieved in 2005, and the region now operates on a subsistence basis (Adeba, 2021). After that, the government's primary source of revenue became oil production, resulting in an economy entirely dependent on imported goods and labor. The government has depleted all possible financing streams because of the massive impact of 2014's oil price decrease (Mwareya, 2018). The problem has only gotten worse because of the war. As a result, South Sudanese pounds cannot be traded for Ugandan shillings, thus cutting off the money flow.

In December 2013, many Ugandans fled South Sudan. Small-scale dealers, particularly those who are more mobile, have returned (Wawa, 2020). South Sudan's economic instability would have a detrimental impact on Uganda, jeopardizing the livelihoods of many Ugandans. In addition, Uganda's political and social connections are being impacted by the economic crisis. Foreign traders have become more competitive as their purchasing power has dwindled. More corporate contracts and reimbursement payouts rely on long-term personal contacts, as governments harness those ties to bolster neo-patrimonial trade networks.

To address South Sudan's growing trade deficit and stimulate economic growth, the government has compelled foreign companies to form joint ventures with local partners and firms to hire local suppliers and subcontractors. The government has prohibited foreign Boda-boda drivers, increased discriminatory restrictions, and popularized xenophobia against targeted traders (Tjemsland, 2017). If the South Sudanese resistance is re-established, Uganda's business prospects will be harmed.

A New Refugee Flow

Around 160,000 South Sudanese have been forced to evacuate their homes and seek refuge in Uganda because of the fighting (Margini, 2020). They have been allocated farmland in northern refugee communities. Thousands of unauthorized migrants are stranded in Kampala, Arua, and Gulu, and they receive little foreign support. Refugees and locals clashed violently in early 2014 over scarce resources – particularly water and land – and the conflict worsened partly because demonstrators complained about Operation of Dignity. There was some bloodshed in two of the settlements' two primary ethnic groups, the Nuer and the Dinka. International organizations have increased water capacity and erected new points, while the Ugandan government has strengthened law enforcement capabilities and introduced new conflict resolution programs. According to a UNHCR poll, 30% of the UNHCR's funding is committed to aiding host communities (Margini, 2020). The freedom of movement within and between towns has resulted in a decrease in inter-ethnic conflict.

Even though the migrants pose only a little demand on the Ugandan government, many donors and Ugandans have been discouraged because of donor fatigue and the rise in public unrest in the country's major cities. Prior to this, Ugandan cities were predominantly populated by relatively wealthy members of the South Sudanese minority who relied on remittances from family. Refugees are increasingly viewed as a burden in Uganda, while opportunities are dwindling and harassment is increasing in South Sudan. Since the commencement of the refugee crisis, public opinion has evolved from gratitude to displeasure with refugees. Outsiders are discouraged from working in cities due to local perceptions of them as foreign intruders; they wish to be treated as local citizens yet are compensated more for rent and shopping than natives. They talk about Ugandans' opportunities in South Sudan, even though they had lost much of their belongings.

While Both Influence and Peace Are Necessary, Influence Is Often Chosen

Since the collapse of South Sudan's oil-dependent economy, the neighboring nations of Uganda and South Sudan have been concerned about security. Now, it appears that the concerns of displacement, migration, and violence along the border are within the realm of acceptable expectations (Margini, 2020). Uganda's goal is to keep Juba out of the hands of terrorists and to keep Uganda's fragile Northern provinces safe from foreign invasion and occupation. However, South Sudan's critical role in Uganda's foreign policy and the region's broader political events should not be overlooked.

Due to Museveni's leadership, the Great Lakes region has received significant government attention. Islamism and Uganda's role as a mediator in Burundi are the country's primary foreign policy objectives. Furthermore, regional security is more likely to be managed by the president and his advisors (who do not have the role of foreign minister) than by the foreign minister. This implies that multiple concerns cannot be addressed concurrently. Considering Uganda's upcoming presidential election, this will help to divert President Museveni's attention away from South Sudan.

A Method toward Resolving the Two Nations' Disagreement

Uganda's participation in and support for the igad accord shows a preference for a negotiated settlement over South Sudan’s separation (chol, 2020). Despite the agreement's significant promise for long-term peace, it is likely to erode President Museveni's grip on the Juba administration. Uganda lost its most influential vehicle of influence with the University's closure for the Development of International Trade. Additionally, it is stipulated that government jobs designated for Splm-IO leaders will be assigned to the organization's leaders. Sudan and Ethiopia will be approached for direction and help due to the alleged antagonism between the two countries. With South Sudanese sovereignty on the table, a crucial topic that will need to be addressed soon is how much control Uganda is willing to give in exchange for South Sudanese peace and stability.


This paper aimed to find out the impact of the boundary conflict between Uganda and South Sudan on the two nations. Other objectives included: 1), to determine how regional trade has impacted the economies of Uganda and South Sudan, as well as if the trade is a major engine of economic growth in both countries, 2), to see if cross-border trade conflicts have a negative influence on Uganda's and South Sudan's economies and 3), to identify elements that can help reduce or eliminate cross-border trade conflicts. Regarding the impact of the conflict on the economies of the two nations, studies appraised in this paper revealed that the two nations' economies have been on a downward spiral, particularly that of South Sudan. The sources also showed that South Sudan’s reliance on oil was hit hard when oil prices increased, interfering with the trade between the locals and the states.

The cross-border conflict indeed has an impact on the economies of the two nations. For example, one of the studies indicated that Boda operators in Uganda were affected, particularly those from South Sudan operating in Uganda. Furthermore, South Sudanese in Uganda expected to be treated equally as Ugandans running small businesses in Uganda, but this was not the case, as Ugandans overcharged the majority of South Sudanese in Uganda for necessities. Finally, based on the third objective of this paper, research has shown that the only way to end the conflict between the nations is by promoting peace over the influence of confident leaders like Museveni. More specifically, Museveni's influence in South Sudan must end for leaders such as the South Sudan President to control the issues occurring within the country and across the border.

Author: Tamburo Michael Renzi


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