By : Elhag Paul
The international community, African Union, regional organisations and the so called ‘elite’ of South Sudan are jubilant with the formation of the Revitalised Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGONU) on 22nd February 2020. However, the only group less jubilant about this agreement are the people of South Sudan who are still in a state of collective shock and unaware of what is being done in their name. Few in the international community share the pain of the people of South Sudan and they have fairly expressed the reality of the situation in the country such as Andrew Edward Yaw Tchie of King’s College London in his article, ‘South Sudan: Root Causes of Ongoing Conflict remain untouched’ (http://theconversation.com/south-sudan-root-causes-of-ongoing-conflict-remain-untouched-133542) and some scholars and diplomats reported in the article, ‘Western diplomats fear yet another collapse of South Sudan peace deal’ written by Justin Lynch and Robbie Gramer of Foreign Policy, (https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/03/05/south-sudan-peace-deal-diplomats-fear-collapse/). It is unfortunate that the ongoing euphoria for the formation of RTGONU may be short lived due to the fact that nothing materially has changed in South Sudan to usher in a true peace.
The creation of RTGONU in reality is a reset button to return the country to the situation in South Sudan pre-July 2013 when President Salva Kiir bullishly sacked Dr Riek Machar as First Vice President. It must be remembered that from 2005 till July 2013 Machar had been the first Vice president throughout that period and both President Kiir and Machar indulged in abuse of power in South Sudan that ended in war. So how can a return to the chaos of ethnic domination, rampant corruption, disappearances of people, blatant lawlessness and so on be called a return to peace? Do you remember the alliance of Nuer and Jieng in 2012 aided by the power of the state to cleanse the Murle people? The problem between the Murle, Nuer and Jieng is primarily a problem of cattle rustling, this is further exacerbated by the fact that two of these groups have state resources at their disposal. Therefore, in an ideal situation it requires a neutral government that should protect all, regardless of ethnicity. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Please see, ‘South Sudan Monitor’ of February 2012, especially the section subtitled ‘A State in Crisis: Jonglei’. Were President Kiir and Machar not buddies in that process of abuse of state power? Both basically failed to protect civilians and stalked tribal conflict in line with their own interests. What about Machar’s threat to Equatorians in April 2011 following the first Equatoria Conference held at Nyakoroun from 14th to 16th April when he questioned if the Equatorians want to bring Kokora back by demanding regionalism/federalism.
Before delving deeper into this ignis fatuus of peace, it is essential that people refresh their memories about how the agreement of R-ARCSS was achieved. The values being promoted in a proposed solution often directly correlate with the outcome, and have a fundamental impact on the experiences of the groups affected. R-ARCSS is a product of diplomatic violence whose interests are the interests of the international community, regional bodies and the kleptocratic so called ‘elites’ of South Sudan with the interest of the people of South Sudan ignored and not considered. The ideology behind the region’s contempt for South Sudan’s sovereignty flows from the belief that South Sudan is a political market place where everything is a ‘free-for-all’. Thus, the countries in the region pursue their interests which coincidentally converged with that of the current ruling elite in South Sudan at the expense of the people.
In short it is an agenda that is in direct conflict with the interests of the South Sudanese people aided and abated by the ethnic war lords so called ‘elites’ in South Sudan. This corrupt lot are happy to be in power even if South Sudan sinks so long as they are plundering the resources of the state unhindered. At this point, perhaps the South Sudanese people need to think carefully about Hilary Clinton’s advice during the International Engagement Conference for South Sudan in Washington on 14th December 2011. Hilary said referring to South Sudan’s natural resources, “We know that it will either help your country finance its own path out of poverty, or you will fall prey to the natural resource curse, which will enrich a small elite, outside interests, corporations, and countries, and leave your people hardly better off than (than) when you started.” (http://statedept.brightcovegallery.com/detail/video/1327695669001/international-engagement-conference-for-south-sudan) This prophetic advice was also repeated by Reuters News article, ‘Clinton warns South Sudan of “resource curse” with oil wealth’ by Andrew Quinn (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-sudan-south-develoment/clinton-warns-south-sudan-of-resource-curse-with-oil-wealth-idUSTRE7BD1UW20111214).
R-ARCSS appears first and foremost to be an experiment in governance with the sole objective of how to use divisions to further the plundering of a country with rich resources. The structure of the government it promotes says it all. The incumbent President is elevated to a supreme ruler with five vice presidents, two thirds of MPs in the legislative assembly giving it an unchallengeable power base while disempowering the opposition by granting it First Vice Presidency and a third of MPs in the assembly. This is something that has not happened in the history of any country in the world? Genocidaires rewarded with absolute power. Yet the international community, African Union and the regional organisation unashamedly call it peace deal. The truth is that this is a surrender deal in favour of a partial ethnic government in Juba and the promotion of chaos in South Sudan. Now that history has been made with this model in South Sudan, Africa should be prepared to see it applied throughout the continent in political disputes in the future.
Due to the controversial nature of this political experiment, it was clear that it would not be accepted by the stakeholders in South Sudan and so it was necessary for it to be imposed through diplomatic violence. Hence, the best way to achieve it was to use the dictators in the region: notably the deposed President of Sudan, General Omer Hassan Al Bashir and General Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. These dictators got paid for their services through building their own interest into the agreement. Reports filtering out from the talks at the time in Khartoum from the representatives of the various South Sudanese parties was shocking. Some reported that they were told in no uncertain terms that they would be deported to Juba if they refuse to sign the prepared documents that turned out to be R-ARCSS. Under duress, the representatives of South Sudanese signed R-ARCSS. So, R-ARCSS technically is an illegal document. But, the representatives of South Sudanese people should not have accepted the charade. What they needed to have done was to agree collectively not to proceed with the process. Unfortunately, Machar being the leader of the largest group in the opposition went ahead and signed the document without factoring in the consequences of his action. Now with his appointment as the First Vice President, ironically, he finds himself under the protection of President Kiir’s tribal forces (Mathiang Anyoor) who ruthlessly pursued him to Democratic Republic of Congo in July 2016. Do you see the folly? R-ARCSS itself stipulates that the security sector must be reformed before formation of the government. This has been pushed aside by international and regional pressure that only want to see a government formed regardless of the consequence. What does this portend?
President Kiir in his speech at the swearing in of Dr Riek Machar as First Vice President on 26th April 2016 said, “Your Excellency, President Festus Mogae, Chairman of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, Your Excellency President Oumar Alpha Konare, Special Representative of the African Union, Your Excellency First Vice President Riek Machar, Your Excellency James Wani Igga, Vice President of the Republic, Your Excellencies, it is nearly 28 months since my brother Dr. Riek Machar left Juba in the aftermath of the incident of the 15th of December 2013. Personally, I am very happy to welcome and warmly receive my brother Dr. Riek Machar Teny to Juba to be with us, and I have no doubt that his return to Juba today marks the end of the war and the return of peace and stability to South Sudan.” (https://radiotamazuj.org/en/news/article/full-speech-of-salva-kiir-after-swearing-in-of-machar-as-south-sudan-s-vp). The talk of end of the war and the return to peace turned out to be empty words. In July of that year President Kiir authorised his Chief of the army General Paul Malong Awan Anei to launch a vicious attack on Machar’s forces turning Juba, the capital of the country into a battle field risking the lives of innocent civilians. Machar had to flee for his life ending in DRC. Most importantly, the international community, AU and the regional body charged with the peace making zipped their mouths. To date they have not condemned President Kiir for violating ARCSS and exposing the population of Juba to unnecessary risk.
Now again on 22nd February 2020 President Kiir in line with R-ARCSS swore-in Machar as the First Vice President while singing similar song he sang in April 2016, but this time he appeared to emphasise reconciliation and forgiveness between his ethnic group, the Jieng and Nuer of Machar. President Kiir said, to emphasise their class: “We must forgive one another and reconcile,” “I also appeal to the people of Dinka (Jieng) and Nuer (rival ethnic groups) to forgive one another.” (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-51562367). It is interesting that President Kiir acknowledges that they are the problem of South Sudan and yet they do not see themselves as accountable for the massive destruction they brought to the entire people of South Sudan.
Machar on his part had this to say, “For the people of South Sudan, I want to assure you that we will work together to end your suffering.” This remark is so lamentable as it clearly emphasises the “we” versus “them”. Machar now appears comfortable in reunion with his SPLM colleagues to the extent that he affirms their separate privileged class will end the suffering of the people.
The pronouns “we” and “them” that Machar uses to emphasise the difference between themselves and the people of South Sudan is not new. They all along seem to believe that they are entitled to their reckless behaviour with the resources and the lives of the people of South Sudan with impunity. Although President Kiir admits to destroying the country, he and his rival Machar refuse to right the wrong by resigning and leaving the political stage in the country for others to put it right. The international community and the regional organisations are wrong to impose these hopeless impostors (or SPLM) on the people of South Sudan. President Kiir and Machar are the ultimate symbol of ethnic politics that have obliterated the fibres holding South Sudanese society together and they are unlikely to bring any peace to the people but the contrary – more suffering and chaos.
What is the way forward then? R-ARCSS should be revisited under a different name and widened to include the people of South Sudan (those inside the country, those in the refugee camps in the region, those in the Diaspora, paramount chiefs and kings, all the political parties, civil societies and faith-based groups). Without such an encompassing conference devoid of diplomatic violence in a truly neutral environment addressing the root causes of South Sudan’s problems, peace will remain an illusion and the sufferings in the country will continue. The root causes of South Sudan’s problems are three-fold and they are at the core of the issues bedevilling peace and fuelling violence. Firstly, events in Anyanya 1 war from 1962 to 1972 and secondly emergence of SPLM in 1983 with violence and destruction of social norms and thirdly events from January 2011. President Kiir and Machar are key players in the second and third parts of the root causes of the problem of South Sudan. So neither President Kiir or his own administration, nor Machar or his own administration, as before and after 2005 to 2013 and now again under R-ARCSS, are fit or helpful to providing a solution to the conflict in the South Sudan. The curtain on the theatre should fall on them both.
It is erroneously assumed and was falsely argued in Addis Ababa and later on in Khartoum in 2018, that there can be no peace without President Kiir and Machar, then a suggestion or compromise should be that both be allowed to be part of an interim administration only. Preferably as deputies to an untainted head with moral authority. Additionally, they would be required to disband their tribal militia of generals, and should not be allowed to contest any elections after the interim period for a decade. South Sudan is bigger than any person or organisation regardless of who he/she is, whether SPLM and or not etc. Thus, President Kiir and Machar should not think of themselves as Imatong mountain or Kuruk mountain that cannot be removed either now or with time organically. Kiir and Machar, get out and let the people of South Sudan have their well-deserved peace.
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