IGAD’s bias against the opposition

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Dr Ismail Wais, IGAD’S Special Envoy to South Sudan

Ismail Wais who? That would have been the answer given by the majority of the South Sudanese having been asked about the IGAD’s Special Envoy to South Sudan a week ago. Well, not anymore for the wrong reasons. The Djiboutian diplomat appears to have brought upon himself the condemnation of many people. His letter to the Chairman of the National Salvation Front (NAS) Lt. General Thomas Cirillo Swaka on the 1st of March 2019, triggered an uproar that is still reverberating through the South Sudanese political circles. It also dominated the discussions in social media and among the ordinary people. Many described the contents of the letter as condescending, threatening, and unbecoming of a diplomat let alone a peace mediator who is supposed to be neutral. 

I have always entertained the view that people who hail from countries that never fought a liberation war, like Dr Ismail Wais, usually don’t understand how precious is the fulfilment of people’s aspirations. Some of the IGAD’s member States obtained their independence without a hard-fought liberation war. These regional players may not fully appreciate what it takes to liberate people from all forms of oppression. As such, they may not know what kind of metal the South Sudanese are made of. Perhaps Dr Ismail Wais and those behind him need to read a little bit of history about South Sudan. It could save them from an inevitable embarrassment.  

They are messing with people who stood up against all invading aliens for centuries and prevailed. The South Sudanese are not about to be cowed into submission by a dysfunctional organisation such as IGAD. Our folks are resolute in their struggle to bring about the federal system of governance that would devolve power to the people and States. They remain steadfast on course in their quest to realise a just peace and not the fake one under IGAD’S coercion and intimidation. Therefore, the veiled ultimatum and threats from IGAD against the non-signatories of R-ARCSS would fall on deaf ears.

IGAD’s bias was evident from day one of the High-Level Revitalisation Forum (HLRF) of the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS). It showed in the coercive language towards the opposition while patting the government on the back. It even started before the commencement of the HLRF in the pre-forum consultations with the government, the opposition groups, and the rest of the stakeholders. The IGAD Council of Ministers endorsed the pre-forum consultations report submitted by Dr Ismail Wais in a meeting at the sideline of the AU-EU partnership summit in Abidjan, Cote D’Ivoire on 28/11/2017. The pre-forum consultations report was supposed to be the basis for the peace negotiations as it contained the views of all the stakeholders.

In no time, Ismail Wais found himself embroiled in discord with the Juba regime. Kiir criticised him in a letter to the Chairman of IGAD for failing to consult and take the views of the so-called Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU). He was also unhappy that the South Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation was not invited to the meeting. Following that confrontation, IGAD and Ismail Wais actions leaned heavily in favour of the government’s position. The stance by IGAD not to allow renegotiation of ARCSS 2015 which was the government’s position, had cast doubt on the success of the peace talks from the outset. IGAD never exhibited neutrality nor facilitated the ideal environment for achieving a comprehensive peace agreement. 

The creation of the new 32 States was a clear violation of ARCSS 2015. IGAD did nothing about it. It encouraged the regime in Juba to commit more violations that led to war breaking out in July 2016.  While Dr Riek Machar was hotly pursued and bombarded by helicopter gunships to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), IGAD kept asking him to return to Juba and resume his duties in the TGoNU. The culprit was never in doubt, but IGAD avoided naming it which raised questions about the credibility and integrity of the entire organisation. 

In July 2018, while the peace talks were underway in Khartoum, Kiir extended his term in office for further three years until 2021. It was a repetition of the unconstitutional extension of his tenure in office in July 2015. While the Troika and others in the international community condemned the illegal move by Juba, IGAD kept silent on both occasions. Finally, IGAD was exposed as a biased peace broker when it employed coercion, intimidation and even forcing the opposition to append their signatures to an agreement under duress. Many South Sudanese politicians would have preferred a peace mediator other than IGAD due to conflict of interests. The majority of the IGAD member States have vested interests in South Sudan and would do whatever in their capacity to maintain the status quo.

But IGAD has got a big problem at hand. It does not have the money to “walk its talk”. The fact of the matter is that IGAD was born broke, remains broke, and will continue to be broke in the foreseeable future. Then, how would it execute its threats against the non-signatories of the R-ARCSS? All that it could do is to replicate the Machar’s house arrest scenario against the leaders within its reach. But that would not silence the guns as we have seen the war went on unabated while Machar was in captivity in South Africa.

Labelling the non-signatories of the R-ARCSS as peace spoilers is a scapegoating strategy adopted by IGAD to cover up its failures and the glaring flaws of the R-ARCSS. Also by doing so, it aims to derive some “justification” for curtailing the activities of the non-signatories of R-ARCSS. IGAD hopes the measure would deliver the funds from the donors. But restricting the opposition leaders is no guarantee that the much-needed funds would arrive nor that the opposition would cease to exist.

 Two significant events took place over the past week, or so that poured cold water on R-ARCSS. In their Pastoral Message, following their meeting between the 26/02/2019 and 28/02/2019, the Catholic Bishops of South Sudan communicated the following to the public:

– The concrete situation on the ground demonstrates that the R-ARCSS is not addressing the root causes of the conflict.

– The peace which is being spoken of is not a true and lasting peace.

In a separate development, the National Dialogue (ND) Committee held a regional dialogue conference from 25th February 2019 to the 2nd of March 2019 in Wau. The vast majority of the people of Bahr Ghazal region, where President Kiir and the SPLM party enjoy support, demanded the implementation of federalism as the system of governance in South Sudan. They opposed the current decentralised form of governance where the national government controls powers. The ND is the brainchild of President Kiir and the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) who are opposed to federalism. Hence, the massive support for federalism in Bahr Ghazal is a big blow to them. It’s a confirmation that federalism remains popular across the board in South Sudan.

The above account is in line with the stance taken by the non-signatories of the R-ARCSS. Therefore, it’s logical and convincing to say that they have the support of the majority of the South Sudanese people. The views expressed by the members of the clergy and the Bahr Ghazalean people are critical to the outsiders including the donors because they reflect an unadulterated public opinion.  The message sent from the two events to the donors and the international community is that funding R-ARCSS would be a grave mistake. In the absence of funds which constitute the single most crucial factor, Dr Ismail Wais’s threats would end up lacking relevance.

Lotole Lo Luri

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