By Jack Khamis Taban
The IGAD, regional body charged with the peace process in South Sudan, AU, the Troika and the International community has the ability to bring about lasting peace in the Republic of South Sudan.
However, interests of various stakeholders seem to be above the peace and stability in South Sudan and the interests and aspirations of the South Sudanese people. The United States of America, the country that supported the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the ultimate cessation of the Republic of South Sudan has the ability to bring peace and stability in the country. Conversely, the US has taken South Sudan like one of its overseas state and want to drive the country to suite its interest and means to consolidate its dominance in the region and of course on the people of South Sudan and indeed the rest of Africa—a move clearly demonstrated by all American Administration in Washington DC. This was confirmed to the world by the reckless utterance of the former US Secretary of State John Kerry during his visit to Nairobi in August 2016 when he said replacement of the ousted First-Vice President by the incumbent is legitimate—without clearly understanding the circumstances under which the July fighting occurred. He (John Kerry) was quick to take side without critically diagnosing the problems. It was an unfortunate diplomacy on his part as Secretary of State and these utterances impacted on his past good intentions for South Sudan dating back to the liberation struggle when he was one of the Senators who wanted to see an end to the suffering and marginalisation of the Southern Sudanese people by the then Khartoum regime.
According to the compromise peace agreement signed by the government of Salva Kiir and the armed opposition in August 2015, the replacement of the FVP during the transitional period can only take place in the event of the post holder suffers mental infirmity or physical incapacity and the replacement shall be performed as per the terms of the agreement (Article 7 (7.3). Given the events that occurred in July last year, it can be seen clearly that the replacement of FVP did not correlate with the circumstances under which the former FVP was replaced.
With utter disregard to the agreement, the former US Secretary of State John Kerry’s irresponsible remarks sends signals to the government of Kiir that they can do whatever they want with the peace agreement and replace members of the opposition as they like. Mr. Kerry’s utterances also sent a false assessment of the unfolding situation to the rest of the World. It appeared the leader of the armed opposition was the problem when in reality was the government. The government then responded by selective appointment of the opposition members instead of the opposition nominating their members for endorsement of the Transitional National Legislative Assembly (TNLA) as stipulated by the agreement. Given Mr. Kerry’s utterances, the Obama administration erroneously assumed that Dr. Riek Machar is the problem for South Sudan’s stability and removing and replacing him with Taban Deng, who is seen to have good working relations with Salva Kiir, would bring peace to South Sudan. This was the biggest blunder made by Obama Administration in its attempts to bring peace in South Sudan. In fact, the cause of the spreading of the war to other areas so quickly following armed clashes in Juba. This is because most communities are dissatisfied with the current government and place their hopes only in the implementation of the peace agreement, which they believe would settle most of their grievances and usher in a lasting peace. This dream was shattered by what transpired in Juba starting from July 2016 to date coupled with the lack of understanding of the root causes of South Sudan problems by the regional groupings of East Africa and the IGAD/AU.
The US aims here is to maintain the weak government of Kiir in place in order to manipulate him and his group to suite American interests at the expense of the millions of suffering South Sudanese. It is clear from the chronology of events that led to the July 2016 fighting that all the peace guarantors were siding with the government of South Sudan. Dr. Riek Machar signed the peace agreement instantaneously as scheduled on 17 August 2015, while president Kiir signed, with reservations, on 26 August more than a week after—clearly indicating a lack of will to bring peace. In his speech during the signing ceremony, president Kiir stated clearly that the peace agreement was not meant to be implemented. There was no comment from the regional bloc nor the international community including the US that pose as sole the peace maker and godfather of South Sudan. The silence was concerning but some of us decided to wait and see hoping that they just wanted him to sign and later pressure him to implement the peace. Time has told us that that was not the case and perhaps president Kiir was told by the peace guarantors that the peace you are about to sign is not intended to be implemented but to lure Dr. Riek to come to Juba.
After signing the peace, the ball was thrown in the court of Dr. Riek Machar giving him pressure to return to Juba for the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity in line with the peace agreement. Dr. Machar bowed to the pressure and return to Juba in April last year even before completion of the security arrangements, most importantly demilitarization of the capital as required by the agreement. Taking this risk by travelling to Juba with less than 1,300 soldiers against over 10,000 government soldiers. The tribal militias of Dinka origin showed the determination of the opposition leader to bring peace and stability to the country. The long awaited return was seen by many especially the disadvantaged non-Dinka tribes as a relief where their grievances would be resolved alongside of the peace implementation. This optimism was short-lived and soon all hell broke loose on South Sudanese who suffered deaths, displacement and lootings. The worst has just started.
On 2nd July 2016, a prominent SPLA-IO officer, Lt. Col George Gismalla was gunned down by government security officer following the killing of Capt. Domach Khaot. While most South Sudan were expecting the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) headed by the former Botswana President Festus Mogae to issue a statement condemning the act, to the dismay of many, the commission went mute on the matter that would be the trigger of the yet another bloodbath. In October 2016, President Kiir warned that he could directly take over command of military operations in the Yei area of Central Equatoria indicating his inclination to defeat the SPLA-IO militarily. With each event, it was clearer at least for analysts, if not for everyone, that the plan spearheaded by the Obama administration which also was supported by the region was to lure the opposition leader to Juba in the name of the peace and assassinate him. This was a miscalculated move by the so called peace guarantors who seem to support the government of Kiir more than addressing the root causes of the South Sudan problems.
Unknowing to them, this set the precedent to ignite one of the fiercest war that would threaten the unity of South Sudan and the stability of the region. If not salvaged, South Sudan will decent into a protracted civil war with devastative effect on the integrity of the country and the stability of the region.
In November 2016, the South African based South Sudanese activist and international human rights expert at the University of Pretoria’s law department, Miamingi mentioned that alienating the opposition leader can only fuel conflict in South Sudan. In fact this could create a power vacuum and create smaller self-defence rebel groups across the country with no umbrella organization and leader to unite them. Indeed, less than a year down the line, we are seeing emergence of a number of rebel groups including the National Democratic Movement (NDM) of Dr. Lam Akol and National Salvation Front (NAS) of General Thomas Cirilo who resigned recently from his position as deputy chief of staff for Logistics.
In addition, smaller self-defence groups and opposition parties have been formed by dissident opposition leaders. One of such parties is the National Movement for Change (NMC) formed by the former governor of Western Equatoria, Joseph Bakasoro who is currently based in the US. Without an umbrella organization and leader, negotiation with such numerous groups is a mammoth task and attaining a lasting peace under such a volatile situation is impossible leading to further emergence of warlords controlling specific territory and thus Somalization of the Republic of South Sudan by the government of Kiir and his foreign allies whose interests are overriding the interests of the majority of the South Sudanese people.
Like other previous US governments, the authors believe Obama administration has a phobia for stronger African governments and influence of China in Africa. This reason is behind their support for weaker governments so as to control them remotely to achieve their interest in the respective countries and the African continent at large, perceive Dr. Riek as strong and threat to advancement of their influence in South Sudan. Such weak governments are the government of President Kiir formed on tribal basis with no technocrats to steer the country on the path of development and prosperity. Kiir once said, ‘his problem in the country is the elites’. In fact, one become an enemy just because one want to advice the government or provide guidance on governance or standard operations as far as work ethics are concerned. Typical example is the dismissal of Dr. Luka Biong, Head of Peace and Development at the University of Juba from his position and his subsequent expulsion from the Country. Dr. Biong is now a Global Fellow at Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) in Norway. His intellectual services and indeed those of the rest of the South Sudanese people who were forced to flee the country are no more. The government believes the gun can solve the economic and social problems in South Sudan.
The Obama administration perceived Dr. Riek as a strong leader and an obstacle to their influence in South Sudan. Majority of South Sudanese look at him as the man who can bring reform to South Sudan and clean the current mess. Dr. Riek mended his relationship with Bor community after openly apologizing to the community about the atrocities committed by his Nuer community in 1991. Together with the Former Detainees, they were trying to bring internal reforms within the SPLM which was resisted by Kiir and his group. For Kiir and his entourage, this would bring an end to their rule and ultimately terminate their tribal agenda driven by the Jieng (Dinka) Council of Elders (JCE). In fact, some circles of the South Sudanese people now brand the JCE as ‘Jieng Council of Evils’ given all its evil intentions towards the rest of the tribes.
The Obama administration convinced the neighbouring countries during John Kerry’s last leg tour to East African in August last year—a move intended to alienate Dr Riek Machar after realizing that the latter still has overwhelming support from the people of South Sudan and Taban Deng has only his followers who are confined in Crown Hotel in Juba.
The intention of the Trump administration towards South Sudan is yet to be seen. It is the authors’ believes that president Trump will base his actions on well-informed analysis of the South Sudan problems. Without army to canton, the current FVP Taban Deng Gai has no control over the SPLA-IO forces and war rages on even much more than in the first two years when fighting was concentrated in the Greater Upper Nile (GUN). Alienation of Dr. Machar has an adverse downturn on the conflict and shifted the dynamics with a devastative effect on the country. South Sudan is slowly moving towards Somalia situation and hence the Somalization.
Thinking that they have deprived the SPLA-IO from its leadership, the government can now move in with various approaches to annihilate the movement. These include an all-out war in the opposition strongholds, bribes, and recent abduction and deportation of opposition officials, activists and several vocies opposing the regime from the neighbouring countries. Will these approach work? This seems to have the opposite effect. Given their plans to dominate and remain in power for years to come as it appeared on the JCE document that was recently leaked and went viral on social networks, the Kiir administration has turn their guns on areas that had been peaceful before the July fighting. The fighting has so far slashed in Greater Upper Nile and shifted to Greater Equatoria region and Western Bahr el Ghazal state from where millions of people have been displaced both internally and externally into Uganda and Sudan.
The UN has warned that the South Sudan conflict has reached a catastrophic levels and the UN advisor on prevention of genocide Adama Dieng also said “strong risk of violence escalating along ethnic lines, with the potential for genocide.” The protracted conflict also led to declaration of Famine in parts of the country by experts in February 2017.
In conclusion, the current mess in South Sudan is squarely blamed on the US Obama Administration and it’s accomplices in the region with Kenya and Uganda having bigger share of the blame given their direct and visible collaboration with the crumbling Kiir’s regime. Eygpt recently loading Juba regime with more weapons in support of the war.
Despite opening their doors to millions of South Sudanese people Uganda and Kenya need to do more to save the lives of their neighbours instead of siding with the brutal regime of Kiir. A good neighbourliness today determines that of the future generations. Uganda and Kenya should not ruin the relations of the future generations by spoiling the current through offering unjust support to Kiir whom they all know is the root cause of the current suffering of the South Sudanese. There will be no peace in South Sudan should the neighbouring countries continue to take side with the government in Juba that has been accused of killing, raping, kidnapping, arbitrary arrest and torture, displacement of millions and using food as a weapon of war. Although Sudan and Ethiopia’s denial of entry for the opposition leader was seen as negative, they try to appear to be neutral. However, the recent visit of the Ethiopian Prime Minister to Juba was a matter of concern to the peace loving population of South Sudan.
The stance of Sudan against abduction and deportation of members of the opposition is commendable. Ethiopia is also doing great by protecting political asylums seekers, journalists and activists who seek refuge in that country. Within IGAD countries, Sudan remains a neutral partner with seemingly good intentions to end the sufferings of their sisters and brothers in South Sudan. A lasting peace can come to South Sudan if peace brokers are genuine and desist from taking sides with Juba regime that is directly responsible for the suffering of the innocent majority of the South Sudanese people. This is only through a renewed peace negotiation involving all parties to the conflict and wider stakeholders. Elders and elites in South Sudan should not be seen as enemies but contributors to the peace—the people are looking for.
The National dialogue called by the government is going to be an illusion when sections of South Sudanese including individuals seen by the government as hostile are not included in the process.
Jack Khamis Taban
A concerned South Sudanese living in Hai Amarat, Juba, South Sudan.
Categories: Articles & Analyses