With the virtual collapse of the 2015 peace deal, South Sudan’s civil war has acquired dangerous new dimensions as the government recruits ethnic militias. A new approach is urgently needed, argues Fred Oloch.
South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, is bullish that his newly found rapport with former rebel negotiator, Taban Deng Gai, who he appointed as the vice president in August, is working and that they are busy implementing the August 2015 peace agreement.
The government believes that power sharing with the rebel leader Dr Riek Machar could not work because he was acting like a parallel president, and that his new partnership with Gai has moved the implementation process forward, with the establishment of cantonment areas for troops, the reconstitution of parliament, the election of the Speaker and the establishment of the electoral review committee.
But facts on the ground tell a different story as the civil war has morphed into a larger anti-Dinka campaign spreading to the three Equatoria provinces that were previously peaceful.
Insecurity has increased as the government recruits ethnic militias commonly known as Mathiang Anyoor to defend itself.
The chairman of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Yasmin Sooka, at the close of last year warned that there is already a steady process of ethnic cleansing underway in several areas of South Sudan.
In the meantime, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which mediated the peace agreement, seems to have left the people of South Sudan to their own fate – especially after fresh fighting erupted in Juba in July last year.
Former Botswana president, Festus Mogae, who is the chairperson of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) tasked with overseeing the implementation, has been struggling as the government continues with business as usual, as if the main partner in the peace agreement, Dr Machar – who is in exile in South Africa – no longer matters.
Jervasio Okot, a South Sudan political analyst based in Kenya, says that it is time for the international community to face reality and accept that there is no implementation going on, and open a new chapter by reviewing the whole agreement and its implementation mechanisms.
A number of concerned parties have been brainstorming on the way forward, as both the Kiir government, which signed the agreement with 19 reservations, and rebel leader Dr Machar concur that the agreement has collapsed and there is a need to revisit some articles that are difficult to implement, such as the security arrangements and the existence of two armies with different commands.
Lam Jok, the Sudanese Peoples’ Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) representative in Kenya is convinced that Kiir has essentially thrown aside the agreement and is operating unilaterally with the help of Mr Gai, whom the opposition say defected to the government and does not represent the armed opposition. He suggests renegotiation of the agreement in a neutral country if South Sudan is to move forward.
But John Andruga Duku, who is in charge of foreign organisations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will have none of it. “The South Sudan government will not accept renegotiations because the international community rejected our reservations before President Kiir signed the agreement. The implementation process is progressing well and the only challenge is that donors have refused to fund certain aspects such as economic, judicial and constitutional and civil service reforms,” says Duku.
There is growing pressure for the African Union (AU) to take over the process from IGAD, which has failed to enforce the timelines due to conflicts of interest of frontline states like Uganda, Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia.
Prof. Mamdani, who was a member of the African Union Commission of Inquiry under the leadership of former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, which investigated the causes of the civil war that broke out in December 2013, says AU trusteeship would oversee the appointment of a few executives to conduct a constitutional review; and establish an independent judicial system which would prepare the country for a general election.
The incoming AU chairperson has the challenge of pushing for the establishment of a hybrid court to try those who have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes, as recommended by the Obasanjo commission.
In November 2014, the US had drafted a proposal for UN Trusteeship known as the United Nations Assistance Mission for South Sudan, which was to be headed by a special representative of the UN Secretary General. The mission was to advise the government and people of South Sudan on political dialogue and national reconciliation; strengthening institutions of governance; assisting in the electoral process; judicial and legal reforms; and protecting civilians and ensuring security.
The challenge remains as to whether both Kiir and Machar can be excluded from the transitional government, so that they stay out and prepare for elections, which had been slated for 2018 in the agreement, but are now in doubt given the missed timelines.
Gabriel Changson Chang, chairman of the South Sudan Federal Democratic Party, who broke away from Machar after the signing of the agreement, says the international community should support the setting up of a truly inclusive Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) without Kiir and Machar. Chang says that in the event that the two leaders are to continue to participate in the TGoNU, then it should be clear that they are doing so only in a caretaker capacity and are not to contest any future election. The possibility of placing South Sudan under some form of international supervision is gaining influential backers. But the government has made it clear it will resist any attempt to impose trusteeship or protectorate status on South Sudan.
Instead, Kiir is now pushing for the National Dialogue, which starts with collating grievances from the grassroots and will culminate in a national conference to discuss the South Sudan challenges and recommend the way forward.
Critics say the dialogue is meant to circumvent the setting up of the hybrid court to try those who have committed war crimes.
The US has already imposed sanctions on individuals like the chief of general staff of the South Sudan army, Paul Malong Awan. But IGAD countries have been hesitant to impose sanctions due to vested business interests in South Sudan.
Dr Cirino Hiteng, one of the former political detainees who is also a signatory to the peace agreement, believes that it is only a UN Trusteeship that can rescue South Sudan from its current crisis, since experience has proved that Kiir and Machar cannot work together – yet there would be no peace without an all-inclusive government that also includes the former vice president.