For 6 years now South Sudan has been going through a peace process that can only be compared to a circus with provisions of the peace deals violated regularly and revitalised without any improvement in the process. The latest circus is now on the issue of formation of the revitalised government of national unity. Such government should have come into force in May 2019 but it could not be formed due to the fact that the provisions of the revitalised peace agreement on security and states and their boundaries were not implemented. So, it was postponed for 6 months until November 2019 to allow for these provisions to be implemented. November 2019 came without the provisions in question being implemented and so there was nothing. Again, it got postponed for 100 days which will expire in February 2020. It remains to be seen whether a government of national unity will be formed by then. The signs do no bode well for it.
The failure of peace building in South Sudan is the making of SPLM/A nurtured by IGAD and supported by the international community with the people of South Sudan left in a state of perpetual shock from the gruesome lawlessness in the country. The collective mental state of South Sudanese people since the conflict began has been frozen at the shock stage. It has been unable to progress into the second stages of anger and acceptance of the tragedy that is taking place in the country. The consequence of this stalled grieving process may spell disaster for the future of South Sudan without a genuine peace process which at the moment is lacking.
The topic of collective grieve is a subject in its own right and needs articulation on its own. That is for another time. For now, this article will centre on the issue of government of national unity.
Unlocking peace in South Sudan is not complicated or complex at all. It is easily achievable if there was a will. The truth is that there is no will because the competing and conflicting interests inside the country, the region and the world at large have not converged. To achieve peace in South Sudan it necessitates a genuine participatory approach and a decisive move away from the current model of peace making obsessed with resource sharing within the SPLM mainly in favour of two ethnic groups.
If IGAD and the international community persist with their current policy it is unlikely that peace can be achieved in South Sudan which means that in the long run the conflict in South Sudan gradually may destabilise the entire region due to affinity of the people in the neighbouring countries. It is unreasonable to think that the current situation in which the majority of South Sudanese people are subjected to brutal oppression can continue without their kith and kin in the neighbouring countries getting fed up and reacting in support of their relatives. After all these African borders are artificial colonial constructs created in Berlin in 1884.
President Salva Kiir violated the constitution of the SPLM Movement by consistently refusing to hold an SPLM convention in 2013 in which the highest organ of the movement would choose a new leader. At the time there were few contenders viz: Dr Riek Machar, Mr Pagan Ammun, Mrs Rebecca Nyandeng Garang, Mr Wani Igga and others. President Kiir’s violation of the SPLM internal processes ignited the political conflict in the movement that translated itself into a military show down in Juba on 15th December 2013. What took place in Juba was horrifying and it is captured in the report of The African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan.
So no matter how supporters of the Juba regime would like to present President Kiir as a peaceful person, he is squarely responsible for starting the war in South Sudan and all the people who died and got displaced are his victims. Of course, the president is not alone. Behind him was the JCE machine that has to a considerable extent shaped South Sudan into an ethnic kingdom.
President Kiir now feels confident to the extent that he announced their success to shape South Sudan in their own ethnic image in his speech in Lobonok. Please see, President Kiir’s Speech at the SPLM retreat at Lobonok, South Sudan’ (https://paanluelwel.com/2018/12/06/president-kiirs-speech-at-the-splm-retreat-at-lobonok-south-sudan/)
There should be no mistake, the current ruling ethnic group is determined to achieve complete control of the country. The only thing that stands in their way to achieve their sole objective was ARCSS and now R-ARCSS. The two contentious issues of security arrangement and the number of states and their boundaries threaten to unravel the core plans of the so called rulers to achieve total control of the country. So President Kiir’s deceptive diplomacy of paying lip service to the formation of a unity government has one intention which is to evade the undoing of the regime’s grip on state power.
From the above it would seem that on the surface there has been an entire SPLM/South Sudan problem. To understand it requires looking at the problem holistically and this brings us to examine the involvement of IGAD and all others. The involvement of IGAD from the word go would have been helpful but IGAD has had its own objective of promoting the economic interest of its member states. This coincided with the interest of President Kiir’s ethnic group’s agenda which is to shape South Sudan in their own image. Dr Luka Biong, former minister in President Kiir’s government and a self-identified “member of gun class” , the ethnic group terrorising South Sudanese people threw a spanner into the works by asserting that the solution to the problem of South Sudan is in the reunification of the SPLM/A Movement. IGAD latched onto this questionable proposal and so the root causes of the problem in South Sudan got decontextualized and pushed out of sight. Please see ‘IGAD’s inadequate strategy in South Sudan’ (https://southsudannewsagency.org/index.php/2014/04/14/igads-inadequate-strategy-in-south-sudan/) and ‘To achieve peace in South Sudan SPLM/A must be scrapped’ (https://southsudannewsagency.org/index.php/2013/12/29/to-achieve-peace-in-south-sudan/)
IGAD’s adoption of Dr Biong’s poison as policy was translated into exclusion of the people of South Sudan from being represented in the peace talks that followed. IGAD constantly in pursuance of its member states interest and SPLM/A’s interest has openly worked against the people of South Sudan. Were IGAD to have been an impartial mediator it would have, from the start, consulted widely with the people of South Sudan and no doubt it would have found out that the people of South Sudan would have wanted something totally different.
During that time when the conflict broke out, it was suggested that President Kiir and Dr Riek Machar should move aside and allow a caretaker government led by someone who was neither a Jieng nor a Nuer to allow for healing of what the regime of President Kiir did in December 2013. As I write now, this position still holds water. The Jieng and Nuer can not trust themselves and it is only someone who hails from a different ethnic group that can provide a real solution to the problems of South Sudan… Please see, (‘President Kiir, Riek and the SPLM are the problem of RSS’ https://southsudannewsagency.org/index.php/2014/05/07/kiir-riek-and-the-splm-are-the-problem-of-rss/)
IGAD’s negative and destructive role in South Sudan’s problem is in promoting Dr Biong’s prescription of a solution that secures the selfish interest of the ruling ethnic group and that of its member states coupled with its dirty role in fomenting divisions among South Sudanese opposition groups. It may be unfair to put the blame solely on IGAD. The South Sudanese opposition itself is also to blame. It is composed of weak opportunistic and self-serving leaders with no principles. These so-called leaders on seeing carrots and sticks dangled in Khartoum in September 2018 they sold out instantly undermining the bigger interest of South Sudan.
IGAD through Dr Ismail Wise behaves like am imperial power over South Sudan. It disregards South Sudan sovereignty and an example to illustrate this behaviour can be found in its detention of SPLM-IO’s leader Dr Machar. In its blatant collusion with the genocidal regime in Juba, IGAD has until today kept Dr Machar in detention. The question to ask is: Where does IGAD get the power to detain a South Sudanese citizen? Who gave it that power? What are its grounds for detaining Dr Machar? Since when has a mediator become a prescriber of detention? Does this act of IGAD show any recognition of South Sudan sovereignty? What specifically has Dr Machar done that he deserves to be detained? This duplicity of IGAD has turned out to be a real disaster for the people of South Sudan specially in prolonging the conflict and suffering of the people.
Were it not for the fact that South Sudan is an example of hell on earth and innocent people continue to lose their lives on daily basis, the bickering over the implementation of the peace agreement would be such a magnificent entertainment. Since the first signing of peace agreement following the ethnic cleansing of the Nuer people in Juba on 15th December 2013, it was abundantly clear that importing a neo liberal model of peace, that was making its way into a newly born country without any foundation in elite politics was just a fantasy with huge consequences for the people of South Sudan. One of those consequences is the ongoing arguments over the formation of a government of national unity without an end in sight.
The first peace agreement called Agreement for Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS), the predecessor to R-ARCSS was signed on 17th August 2015 in Addis Ababa by Dr Riek Machar with President Kiir rejecting to sign it. President Kiir’s rejection was preceded by Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) two articles attacking the agreement as a sell out and threatening a war. President Kiir later on was dragged by IGAD and the international community kicking and screaming to sign it on 26th August 2019 in Juba. So from the start it was crystal clear that the government in Juba had no intention whatsoever to honour ARCSS, let alone the revitalised version because it presents an obstacle to the ruling ethnic group’s plan to shape South Sudan into an ethnic state. Please take time and read: ‘JCE Response to the Latest IGAD Proposal on Power Sharing’ (http://www.southsudannation.com/response-of-the-jieng-council-of-elders-to-the-latest-igad-proposal-on-power-sharing/) and ‘Position of the JCE on the IGAD-Plus Proposal Compromise Agreement‘ (http://www.southsudannation.com/the-position-of-jieng-council-of-elders-on-the-igad-plus-proposed-compromise-agreement/) The behaviour of President Kiir and JCE during this time provides a good pointer to the government’s thinking. The regime was not happy with the agreement and it was going to do whatever had to be done to undo it. President Kiir swiftly set out to undo the agreement by issuing decree 36/2015 in the first week of October 2015 creating 32 states to replace the 10 constitutional states in violation of ARCSS.
The current prevarication of the government on the implementation of R-ARCSS specially the security sector reforms and the issues of the states and their boundaries is the continuation of the regime’s plan to destroy the agreement. They do not believe in this agreement whatsoever but their pretence is to buy time until such a time that they feel capable of confronting the international community.
But how was ARCSS achieved? IGAD which self-appointed itself as a mediator from the onset of the conflict worked hard to side-line the people of South Sudan by excluding all the relevant political groups that matter in the country and this was based on the policy preached by Dr Biong and adopted by IGAD: unity of SPLM as a solution to problems of South Sudan. Dr Riek Machar unfortunately participated in advancing this process by telling IGAD that it was only him and President Kiir who could bring peace with the other groups used for consultation only. As a result, all the other pollical groups representing the people of South Sudan were given token representation in the Addis Ababa talks without any support. It was not a surprise that they soon withered and disappeared from the scene.
Dr Machar’s lack of foresight and feeble political judgement consequently boosted the flawed policy of unifying the SPLM/A as a solution to the conflict in South Sudan. This wrong framing of the solution for the conflict reduced the talks to simple problem of reconciliation in the SPLM/A ignoring the real problem which has its roots in the fact violent ethnic groups hijacked the state of South Sudan on 9th July 2011. IGAD and the international community knowingly or unknowingly by accepting and adopting the policy of reunifying SPLM/A as a solution to the problem of South Sudan legitimised the hijacking of the state of South Sudan by violent rivalling ethnic groups.
Thus, consequently the people of South Sudan (overwhelming majority, 62 ethnic groups) got marginalised in participating in finding a solution that suits them in their own national problem. How could such a policy and the agreement (ARCSS) emanating from it be a solution is anyone’s guess? Even if ARCSS was to work, which it did not, as evidenced by the events of July 2016, it was/is only a matter of time before the whole thing crumbles.
For any mediation to succeed in South Sudan, it is absolutely important for it to factor in the local social experiences of all the various ethnic groups through their representatives if peace is to be attained. The current circus of unachievable government of national unity is simply the manifestation of the failures of the imposed neo liberal model of peace making centred around power sharing among the very group(s) responsible for the devastation of the country. It goes without saying that one cannot solve a problem without dealing with the very local factors that generated it in the first place.
So the solution to South Sudan’s problems as I have untiringly said in the last 6 years is first, the current policy of reuniting the SPLM/A as a solution must be discarded in favour of focusing on the root causes of the conflict. The suitable model to be adopted is an inclusive participatory approach that brings all the people of South Sudan to the table in a neutral venue devoid of intimidation and partial mediation. Secondly, President Kiir and Dr Machar as a necessity must not be part of any transitional government. The reason for this is already articulated in ‘President Kiir, Riek and the SPLM are the problem of RSS’ (https://southsudannewsagency.org/index.php/2014/05/07/kiir-riek-and-the-splm-are-the-problem-of-rss/) Thirdly, representation in the talks must be based on equal representation in terms of delegates of all the political groups. Fourthly and importantly, there must not be pressures on time limit to the talks. The talks should be allowed to continue to allow the people to address all the concerns they have no matter how long it takes. Fifthly, funding should not be a problem. The government of South Sudan should use the oil money to fund the process of solving the problem they created. The international community should not be asked to fund the talks. South Sudan has more than enough resources to fund such talks and if truly President Kiir and the JCE are true about peace they must let the resources of the country be used to bring peace to it. If the government of South Sudan refuses to fund the process, the international community should create an account where money from sales of oil are deducted directly for the purpose before reaching the coffers of the state.
[The truth hurts but it is also liberating]
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