UNDERSTANDING SOUTH SUDAN’S MILITARIZED POLITICS AND THE WORRYING CULTURE OF THE REGION’S ‘PEACE DEALS’

“Therefore, the welfare of a republic or kingdom doesn’t lie in having a prince who governs it prudently while he lives, but rather in having one who organizes it in such a way that it may endure after his death” –   Niccolo Machiavelli in his letter to Prince Lorenzo Medici of Florence.

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5 years on, the youngest State in the world- Republic of South Sudan, is back to the state of unrest. Unrest that has characterized her history since attainment of independence of the larger Sudan in 1956. Unrest that has contributed to the suffering, poverty, displacement and death of millions of women, children and young men.

The main reason for this sustained conflict in the now 5 year old republic by the two main antagonistic factions- one led by President Salva Kir and the other by vice president Riek Machar remaining as vague as possible. But both have skillfully managed to introduce the usual ethnic card in the arithmetic, convincing the entire world that it’s a Dinka- Nuer conflict.

For starters, a brief piece of historical events will do.  

The first civil war was experienced between the years 1955 to 1972 when Southerners were demanding greater autonomy from the Sudan government. And a peace deal was brokered by the 1972 Addis Ababa agreement granting significant autonomy to Southern Sudan on internal issues.

The second civil war was witnessed from 1983 after the then president Jaafar Nimeiri attempted to impose sharia law in the country. In 1988 talks began between the government and SPLM/A- but was interfered with by a successful coup-de-tat by Omar Al Bashir who became president since then.

It is at this time that the spirit of self-determination coupled by religious and resource issues (especially in the oil rich Abyei region at the North-South border) by SPLM/A grew stronger- sustaining a civil unrest in the next fifteen years or so.

During this civil war, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army was led by the able Commander John Demabior Garang of Dinka ethnic group. But in 1991, a splinter group was formed by Commander Riek Machar- a Nuer who fell out with Garang at the time.  Riek Machar then joined forces with Omar Al Bashir forming another outfit- South Sudan Defense Forces.

But in 2002, 3 years before the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Kenya between the Government of Sudan and SPLM/A, Riek Machar was able to again join SPLA as a senior commander. It was evident that Southerners quest on self-determination was unstoppable. Machar had no option but to make that move.

In 2004, there was tension within the SPLM/A leadership as rumors had it that Dr. Garang had intentions of arresting and removing Salva Kir from the leadership. At the same time there were rumors that Salva Kir intended to quit SPLM/A to chart a new political arrangement in readiness for the new Republic. Until today, they still remain rumors.

But these tensions were able to be quelled at one SPLM meeting in Rumbek before the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Naivasha, Kenya in 2005. It is at this meeting that Garang and Salvar Kiir were reminded that they were the only two remaining commanders out of the seven who started the movement, and were urged to remain united so as to give guidance moving forward.

But in 2005, Dr. Garang perished in a tragic accident.


The current Dilemma in South Sudan.

In December 2013, the first civil war began in the newly born Republic of South Sudan. President Salvar Kiir had sacked Dr. Riek Machar from his position as vice president on allegations that he was planning a coup. At the same time, everyone from the Nuer ethnic group in Cabinet and in the Army were relieved off their duty.  On the other hand, Dr. Machar’s faction felt that that was simply an excuse for Salvar Kiir to justify his ethnic cleansing mission.

This leading to the formation of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement- In Opposition (SPLM-IO).

The tension between the two top principles goes back to the guerilla war period- The betrayals, resentment, and antagonistic beliefs.

After periods of negotiation by IGAD, AU and other International bodies, a peace deal was agreed in the formation of a Unity Government. An ‘all-inclusive’ Government. But this formula is proving not to be the best for sustainable peace.

The formula focuses on the immediate wants of the antagonistic principals, but not on the long time needs of the great people of South Sudan.

The current tension is affecting progress not only in South Sudan, but in the entire region. Refugee crisis, proliferation of ammunition in neighboring countries, mistrust among neighboring countries. And all these slows down development of the entire region.

So which way South Sudan?

Truth remains that millions of lives have been lost. From both Dinka, Nuer ethnic groups and even outsiders.At the same time, it is evident that both Salvar Kiir and Riek Machar remain indifferent in their hard stance. And both have been able to prove that they are indeed rigid students of militarized politics.

A simple fact remains that; Salvar Kiir- a Dinka on one hand believes that he is the chosen one since he is the only remaining founding commander of SPLM/A. While on the other hand Dr. Riek Machar- a Nuer remains ambitious that he is the best fit commander to lead South Sudan to the Promised Land. This remains a recipe for disaster.

So, to have sanity in South Sudan, IGAD and EAC now need to take charge! Time for one size fits all is over. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in Naivasha, Kenya was heavily borrowed from Kenya’s 2008 National Accord. Where the elites negotiate their share in the National Cookie Jar- But the common countryman is left poor, disillusioned, hopeless and easily vulnerable to pick up arms in the false hope of liberating himself.

With elections scheduled for 2018, South Sudan remains more or less a time bomb, and EAC now with the leadership of Maghufuli should walk the talk. IGAD should be firm in ensuring that militarized politics and guerilla tactics are abandoned by the two principals of the Unity Government-A Country can never be governed by military factions loyal to different masters. Especially during an election period.

Both EAC and IGAD should keep watch on the movement of ammunition in the region. And strict sanctions be imposed on members assisting in movement of these ammunition. The tragedy with arms is that they can easily proliferate borders increasing crime rates in neighbor countries or even enable the easy spill-over of wars across borders.

The ordinary South Sudanese needs to be empowered through a well negotiated strategy. This should stop being a two man- big man show, and an all inclusive approach should be sought. (For both Political elites and common countrymen)

Corruption by the Unity Government should be put on the radar by both IGAD and EAC ensuring that oil revenues trickle down to the village level to improve the economic status of the people- irrespective of ethnicity. The issue of who controls what resources should again be revisited.

External forces that mean no good to South Sudan, and by extension to the entire region, should be treated with the contempt they deserve. Individual African sellouts should also be put on the radar.

These are the times that the region need an empowered East African Standby Force to assist in peace keeping so as to present the presence of a region and not of single countries that might be viewed suspiciously.

 

South Sudan crisis is a regional responsibility- And sustainable regional solutions must be sought. Especially by the EAC which is ambitious to have a regional Political Federation.

 

 

 

 

 

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