Save South Sudan from Fragmentation

This author had the pleasure of working with Doug Cosper, a veter-an American media professional at a UN radio station in South Su-dan. Cosper recently published on his website letters that he sent from the field to friends and family during 12 years of his sojourn in several developing countries training journalists. In one of his letters from South Sudan Cosper wrote: "Recently I edited a nice little fea-ture about a small tribe which ritually hands over chiefly power to a new generation every 15 years. This time it was only 13 years because the rain chief and bird chief (keeps the birds away from the fields) underperformed and had to go early. It was a sweet story - singing, dancing, drumming - all of it. And what a thoroughly civilized tradi-tion, I thought, handing control of the community over to the next generation periodically." Civilized tradition indeed but was, alas, not to be emulated by the new leaders of the young nation that was still reeling from three decades of war. A power struggle among the elites of the ruling Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) vying for the Party chair deteriorated into a full-fledged civil war in December 2013, barely two and a half years after independence from Sudan. Cosper had to be evacuated from Juba in that fateful month amidst one of his periodic missions there.

Early Gains and Losses

Some pundits believe that the seeds that gave rise to South Sudan’s descent into another war were sown long before its independence, leading them to claim that the regional leaders and international part-ners who helped in the birth of the new nation should have seen this unwelcome development of events coming. In spite of this oversight,however, the swift move by leaders of the region in the aftermath of the renewed violence that started with the emergency visit of the IGAD Council of Ministers to Juba on 19 December 2013 and their discussions with President Salva Kiir and other stakeholders plus subsequent diplomatic engagement by IGAD leaders and interna-tional partners might have avoided a genocide similar to the one that happened in Rwanda in 1994. Needless to say, there are still many signs of the war precipitating into massive displacements of the pop-ulation and exposure to starvation and deaths. The early intervention of the mediators, however, had, one downside to it: they dived into the task without clearly mapping out the context of the conflict, all the internal and external actors (apart from the obvious ones) that may escalate or deescalate the conflict and without assessing local ca-pacities for peace.

Talks about Talks

Apart from inking rededication agreements to the already signed but frequently violated Cessation of Hostilities Agreement of 23 January 2014, months of talks about talks produced nothing significant. This was compounded by the fiasco of the IGAD Leaders' Summit con-vened in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on 25 August 2014 at the height of the conflict. At the time, the event appeared as mere con-tinuation of the unprecedented number of the regional body's sum-mits that promised much but delivered little. It is, however, remem-bered for its drama and its far-reaching negative consequences as it significantly changed the course of the mediation and complicated the conflict.
The three South Sudan Those carrying the gun were exclusively allowed to negotiate the fate of the young nation.Special Envoys led by Ethiopia's former For-eign Minister, Seyoum Mesfin, the negotiators from the two warring parties, representatives of the international community supporting the IGAD-led peace process and journalists were anxiously waiting in one of the halls at the Ethiopian Prime Minister's Office, all to witness the outcome of lengthy closed door discussions of the region's seven heads of State and Government that were underway next door. The general expectation was that the leaders would en-dorse two documents: the Protocol on Agreed Principles and the Cessation of Hostilities Implementation Matrix. These documents,carefully drafted by the mediators, were the outcome of eight months of intense negotiations by South Sudan's warring factions - the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Government (SPLM-IG) led by the incumbent President Salva Kiir and its main rival Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) led by former Vice President, Dr. Riek Machar plus the former detainees that formed a third bloc.
Head of the beleaguered nation, President Salva Kiir was, of course, entitled to share a table with his peers at the closed session while the leader of the armed opposition, Machar, had to wait with his aides in a separate room. When Machar finally joined the Heads of State and the expectant witnesses, he was full of smiles as were the negotiators from both sides. His smile was not, however, to last long and he was visibly furious when the main document - the Protocol on Agreed Principles - was presented to him for signing. The document had been changed at the last minute by the leaders, or to be specific, by President Yoweri Museveni. The Ugandan leader who openly sided with Salva Kiir and sent his forces across the border to fight against Machar's forces was the author of the changes to the document, spe-cifically Articles 2 and 3.
Article 2 of the original text of the Protocol accorded President Kiir the status of Head of State and Machar, Head of Government as Prime Minister with the powers of each to be decided through nego-tiation. Museveni, who had called Salva Kiir to Kampala days before the Summit, succeeded in convincing the other regional leaders that the incumbent President should maintain both roles during the tran-sition period. The air in the room turned to confusion and gloom leading disgruntled Machar to refuse to sign. Satisfied with his handi-work and seeing his ally, Salva Kiir, sign and his other peers follow-ing suit as witnesses, Museveni took leave off the venue and hurried back home.
That was how the Protocol on Agreed Principles died, never to be tabled again in the negotiations that dragged on and off for another year more. This is also how the IGAD-led initiative gave way to more robust involvement of the international community under the IGAD-Plus, which included the AU, the UN, the EU, the Troika (US, UK and Norway), China and the IGAD Partners Forum (IPF).

Déjà Vu

What followed this fiasco was a protracted conflict that is reminis-cent of the pre-independence liberation war led by these very same gun-toting actors and non-inclusive peace talks being brokered by outsiders.

Bereft of a shared political program and a desirable liberation philos-ophy, the SPLM factions, before and after independence, focused on militarization of the society so much so that the UK think tank Chatham House's Jeremy Astill-Brown de-scribed the post-independence South Sudan society as “not a country with a military but a military with a country.” With even this default tendency to employ force as a means to realize their objectives and bedeviled by internal rifts, the SPLM factions could not attain a con-clusive military victory.

This same pattern is being replayed in the current conflict. The SPLM/SPLA elite also created a parasitic social class that bloated its members' wealth beyond proportions. These elites continued their dependency on the international community that they could not nur-ture stable, self-sustaining and representative institutions of govern-ment. Failure of the SPLM elites to nurture institutions or cater to their peoples' basic needs was also another feature that pervaded the pre and post December 2013 developments in South Sudan.

Non-Inclusive and Elitist Process

The IGAD mediation and the much more expanded IGAD-Plus peace process were characterized by what a Canadian conflict analyst, John Young calls a "top-down approach of peace making". The many phases of the peace process were inclusive in name only. Though the civil society, faith-based organizations, women group and other polit-ical parties graced the consultative meetings, they were excluded from the grist of the negotiations, which were reserved to the three SPLM factions.

Those carrying the gun were exclusively allowed to negotiate the fate of the young nation. Interestingly, the two warring parties, whichThe South Sudan peace process was a litmus test that challenged IGAD’s unity of purpose as a regional conflict resolution mechanism.were tooth and nail bickering on all issues - big and small - through-out the talks, were united in their position of excluding other stake-holders from the negotiation. They were successful in this as a result of the mediators' tendency to appease the belligerent parties. IGAD and its international backers were apprehensive of seeing another failed state that could add to the region’s instability. This policy of putting up with the "lesser evil" to avert a "more sinister" one with-out circumventing the forces that were relentlessly working towards that end was bound to fail. The warring parties were smart enough to take note of this weakness of the third party actors and played along. It is no wonder, therefore, that the power-sharing formula, which was driven by the logic of sharing spoils among the belligerent elites and not laying down the foundation for a vibrant political process, led each warring party to squabble over the size of its share of the cake.

The peace process was also bedeviled by divisions between those who wanted to embrace a peace deal and those who were bent on fighting it out to victory in both camps. The army leaders wielded immense personal control that rendered metamorphosing of the mili-tary into a professional force impossible. This proved to be a major challenge not only to the protracted conflict before the signing of the peace deal in August 2015 but also to its unraveling only two months after the formation of the Transitional Government of National Uni-ty.

About the same time, Addis Ababa was also host to another South Sudan peace talks to try to settle the deadly conflict that was running for over four years between President Kiir's Government and General David Yau Yau's Cobra Faction. This home-grown process was initiated and facilitat-ed by South Sudanese religious leaders and elders. Contrary to the much- publi-cized talks between the SPLM factions, however, this locally driven process was not given the attention of the regional leaders and inter-national actors nor did it enjoy media spotlight.The negotiators gave in to an imposed peace that they knew only too well they were not to adhere to.

Divergent Interests in the Region

Competing interests in the region and international backers of the talks not only contributed to the slow pace of the peace process but also complicated implementation of the peace agreement. IGAD put itself on the conflict map as Uganda openly aligned itself with one party to the conflict by sending troops to South Sudan to fight along with President Kiir's forces and played a neg-ative role in emboldening the Government in Juba to defy peace efforts. Uganda's old foe, Sudan, also had a dubious position as being one of the mediators and a partisan widely held to be secretly supporting the armed op-position. These divisions put IGAD in a precarious position as a trusted mediator and failed to effectively speak with one voice. The South Sudan peace process was a litmus test that challenged IGAD’s unity of purpose as a regional conflict resolution mechanism.

Although the new robust initiative of the IGAD-Plus helped dilute the rift within IGAD and eventually resulted in the August 2015 Agreement, the international community itself repeatedly advanced competing positions. Divergent positions by the Troika led by the US on the one hand and China and Russia on the other led to UN Security Council resolutions that fell short of imposing an arms em-bargo on the warring factions that, according to an AU Human Rights Commission report, presided over horrific attacks on civilians, including forced cannibalism, killings, mass rape and other atrocities. Competing interests over South Sudanese oil is believed to be the driver behind this divergence between the global powers, particularly the US and China. The warring parties manipulated these divisions and left no stone unturned to achieve their parochial interests at the expense of the interests of their people.The peace deal was reduced to a postponement of the full-fledged war - and briefly at that.

Agreement Signed in Bad Faith

Anxious to avert any UN resolution to impose sanctions and possi-ble trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC), the negotiators gave in to an imposed peace that they knew only too well they were not to adhere to. The Agreement for the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCISS) provided for a 30-month transition and 3-month pre-transition period with state power being shared mainly by the two warring parties who shed a lot of each other’s blood without integrating their armies for most of that time.The mediators, obsessed with striking a deal, were in the business of managing, as opposed to resolving, the conflict. They emphasized the need for ensuring negative peace, i.e., the absence of armed conflict as opposed to a peace that would embrace inclusive and participatory politics as its key component and geared towards addressing the structural problems. This approach lent lip service to institution-building thus reinforcing the influence of individuals who were bent on undermining institutions.Egypt also has an axe to grind when it comes to Ethiopia's interests and its actions are emboldening Kiir to play Cascius Clay.

Sheer mistrust between the warring parties, particularly between the two Principals, coupled by influence of hardliners in each group, also contributed to the unraveling of the arrangement. The loyalty en-joyed by the SPLM factions mainly emanated from ethnic and re-gional allegiances. Individuals wielded huge influence through mech-anisms that lay outside party struc-tures. This explains General Paul Malong Awan's central role in the incidents that led to the post 8 July situation. The controversial Gen-eral Malong Awan who has amassed influential position through polygamous marriages did not hide his distaste of Machar, openly objected to the latter's return to Juba following the peace deal and threatened violence when that hap-pens. It did not come as a surprise, therefore, that General Awan was the one who ordered attack on Machar's residence on 10 July 2016, leading to the Vice President's flight out of the country.

This left the peace agreement without a major partner and signaled a return to war. The peace deal was reduced to a postponement of the full-fledged war - and briefly at that. As one policy analyst Dade Des-ta rightly argued, the peace deal effectively imported the war to the capital, Juba. After his flight from the capital, leader of the SPLM/A In Opposition, Riek Machar escaped first to Democratic Republic of Congo, then to Khartoum from where he declared armed resistance saying the peace deal is dead and that the TGoNU is no more.

During the negotiations, the Government and the armed opposition vehemently opposed the deployment of external forces invoking the sanctity of sovereignty. While the position of Kiir's faction to resist international troops to help implement the agreement was predicta-ble, the fact that Machar's group also shared the same view turned out to the latter’s detriment. As it turned out, Machar later lamented the absence of adequate protection for his life and his team in Juba and having been sidelined by the international community, he has called for armed resistance against the regime. This reminds the au-thor of an incident in Wau, South Sudan in which two young resi-dents who wanted to settle their differences through a fist-fight de-cided to do it on the outskirts of the town to avoid police "interference". One of the young men had a motorcycle while the other had no such a resource. So, the latter had to be piggybacked on the former's motorcycle in order to reach their dueling destination. Who won the duel and as to whether the two used the same means to return home afterwards is an anti-climax.

Far-reaching consequences

The repercussions of the flawed peace process and the protracted conflict have been devastating, particularly for the people of South Sudan. With the social fabric in tatters, the nation hangs by a thread. Millions find themselves at the brink of hunger. The economy is in free fall. Frontier Economics and its research collaborators predict that if the conflict lingers on for the next 2-3 years, it will cost South Sudan between 22.3 billion to 28 billion US Dollars. This does not include the opportunity cost that peace could have engendered.

The spill-over effect of the conflict to neighboring countries of the region is enormous: Further destabilization of South Sudan means enhancing proliferation of weapons and massive militarization in a region that is already awash with firearms. It also increases the likeli-hood of local spoilers seeking external meddlers from near and far, who may wish to advance their agenda of destabilizing the region as a whole. “In the Horn of Africa,” says EU Special Representative for the Horn of Africa, Alexander Rondos, “the failure of one state to manage itself is like a bullet that ricochets through the region”. More influx of refugees means adding to the already heavy economic and security burden being borne by Ethiopia, Uganda, Sudan and Kenya – countries hosting most of the South Sudanese refugees.

Continued deterioration of the situation in the new nation implies further postponement of the resolution of outstanding post CPA is-sues between Sudan and South Sudan like the oil transit squabbles, the status of Abyei and border demarcation, among others. Portrayal of negative image will repel foreign trade and investment and slow down regional economic integration.

In a strong appeal to the region and the international community, one of the peace partners, the Former Detainees, recently issued a statement in which it identified the current state of South Sudan as resembling that of the former Yugoslavia. "If the trajectory of these disturbing developments is not altered, we fear that South Sudan could, within a short span of time, descend into genocidal carnage, total chaos and eventual disintegration," the statement read. This is could not be dismissed as farfetched as violence is spreading to areas that were relatively peaceful before signing of the peace deal like Greater Equatoria and Greater Bahr el-Ghazal. Disturbing develop-ments are unfolding like destruction and burning down of villages, homesteads, deliberate destruction of crops, food stores, arbitrary arrest and killing of civilians. The economy is in free fall registering a record three digit levels of inflation and unable to provide livelihood.

Conflicting Signals

A confidential letter from the UN Secretary-General for Peacekeep-ing Operations revealed that the South Sudan Government had been undermining a UN Security Council decision to deploy an additional 4,000 peacekeepers. This is compounded by Kenya’s decision to withdraw all its 1000 troops that are already in the UN Mission in South Sudan following the firing of the Mission’s Force Commander, Kenyan Lt. General Kimani Ondieki. Former SPLM Secretary Gen-eral, Pa’gan Amum Okiech described this delaying and dodging moves of the Government as Kiir's "rope-a-dope strategy of fakery and delay" drawing an analogy from Mohammed Ali the greatest and famous boxing tactic inside the ring. Salva Kiir knows he is not alone in this and despite readiness by Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda to avail the needed force, the Government is dragging its feet. Egypt, current chair of the AU Peace and Security Council, was one of the countries that abstained on the issue of sending the RPP in the UN Security Council. Egypt also has an axe to grind when it comes to Ethiopia's interests and its actions are emboldening Kiir to play Cascius Clay.

Festus Mogae, Chairman of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, the body overseeing implementation of the Agreement, recently said the peace deal is still "alive" and urged for the re-inclusion of all partners of the deal – the armed opposition included - in a newly reconfigured agreement. But, senior US officials, including John Kerry have shunned Machar who still commands a significant, albeit a dented one, fighting force claiming that the replacement within the SPLM In Opposition was done in line with the peace agreement. US Permanent Representative to the Security Council Sa-mantha Power distanced herself from Machar saying that he did not openly renounce violence following his flight from Juba. The UN Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations says if the South Su-dan Government continues to obstruct deployment of the force, it risks an arms embargo. Against this suggestion, US President Barrack Obama issued a decision on 7 October 2016 to continue US military assistance to the troubled nation. Such lopsided or, at best, conflict-ing signals being sent by the international community are, therefore, likely to further complicate the situation.

Many Prescriptions for the Same Problem

In light of the skepticism surrounding implementation of the peace deal, some South Sudanese like Pa’gan Amun have proposed a UN Trusteeship to pull the country out of its current mess. International experts like Princeton Lyman, a former US Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan and Kate Almquist Knopf, Director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies also recommended variants of trustee-ship models like the ones employed in Kosovo and East Timor. These proposals basically advanced the idea of putting the almost failed nation on life-support by giving the UN and AU an executive mandate to administer the country until such time as vibrant home-grown institutions take over. Others were for a body of technocrats to be selected to preside over a period of transition to be followed by plebiscite to elect a democratic government. These influencers look more like what Rebecca Hamilton branded as “a band of policy wonks that sold South Sudan to Washington” that included Ted Dagne, an Ethiopian American whose UN-financed career as advisor to Kiir on corruption issues ended after the letter he authored accus-ing 75 government officials of stealing $4 billion USD resulted in a serious backlash from the suspects.

Both these proposals are, however, unlikely options when it comes to South Sudan. The external institutions not only tend to be paternal-istic but they are also at a disadvantage in terms of understanding the issues and their dynamism, while the technocrats are less likely to achieve legitimacy from their people.The international community needs to apply a political ‘acupressure’ particularly on the major players.

Cosper lets us in to his tete-a-tete with the radio reporter on the aforementioned story of the chiefs: "... it turns out he left out the part where the new generation leaders kill 45 members of the old leadership when they refused to step down. They burned their bodies in the presence of the police and governor. It's a tribal issue, he ex-plained matter-of-factly - no complaint was filed". However horrific this is in terms of re-solving societal contradictions, it is not far re-moved from the highly entrenched violent mar-tial values that are characteristic of the South Sudanese society that disrupted such peaceful continuity of change. Any meaningful effort at finding sustainable solution to South Sudan's protracted and complex conflicts, there-fore, should not only be sought at the grassroots level, particularly at the level of local chiefs and religious leaders who are far more re-spected by their constituencies but should also take such internal contradictions into consideration. That partly explains why the AR-CISS has faltered while the locally driven peace process that was signed at about the same time in Addis Ababa has brought to an end the deadly conflict in South Sudan's largest state, Jonglei.

To make South Sudan faction leaders live up to their commitments, the international community needs to apply a political ‘acupressure’ (from the Japanese complementary therapy, which helps relieve symptoms by applying pressure with the thumbs or fin-gers to specific pressure points on the body), particularly on the ma-jor players as opposed to the targeted sanctions that were imposed on few military leaders.

The most decisive task, and one likely to bring about enduring re-sults, is for the South Sudanese citizens themselves: they need to stop owning the bad guys in their tribes – the corrupt officials who are insatiably sucking the teat of the new nation’s sole cash cow (oil), shift their support from war mongering leaders to those working to expand the positive spaces in their communities, distance themselves from those who encourage patronage of tribalism and militarization and embrace nation building based on civic discourse and common ground, reach towards each other and build bridges along the chasms created by divisive elements, live beyond tribal and other parochial interests and see one another not as enemies but as allies building their future now.


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