Misconceptions regarding the crisis in South Sudan A focused analysis

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By Dr Lako Jada Kwajok

Chairman of NAS international Relations Committee

Ladies and gentlemen,

On behalf of the leadership of the National Salvation Front, and my behalf, I greet you and wish you the best in whatever you do and wherever you live.

South Sudan has never seen peace over the past 60 years or so apart from brief periods of relative calm. Some of us were born during the war, lived through it, and established families and kids while the conflict continues. Some individuals had registered as refugees in the neighbouring countries three times in their lifetime. They were refugees during the Anyanya war in the 60ties of the past century. They got repatriated following the Addis Ababa Agreement of 1972. But not for too long as they were back at the refugee camps following the SPLM/SPLA war of 1983. Many believed that the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 marked the end of their suffering. The South Sudanese flocked back to their homeland thinking that it was the end of the refugee life. Alas! Just two years after independence, they found themselves fleeing again and joining the refugee camps in the neighbouring countries. But it is different this time. Unfortunately, those responsible for causing the crisis are the very people who contributed significantly to the liberation of the country.

The international community has always been supportive of the South Sudanese people all through its modern history. The UN, the international Human Rights and Relief Organisations have done a commendable job and saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of our people. The same applies to some individual countries that have contributed immensely using their tax-payers funds to help the needy in South Sudan. In that regard, the US had done far more than any other country in the world. It’s often dubbed the midwife of South Sudan’s independence. The United Kingdom, Norway, the European Union have generously contributed to helping the people of South Sudan.

Despite the long history of conflict in South Sudan, there appears to be plenty of misconceptions about the state of affairs in the country. Some if not all the major players in South Sudan’s affairs seem to harbour wrong understanding about some factual matters. There was a time when the war was raging in South Sudan while the International Community didn’t want to know. It was the time when it was called the forgotten war and that period had left a gap in the memory of the international community that led to part of the misconception. The situation was indeed made worse by the ethnically dominated think-tanks in Juba that continue to feed the West with erroneous information. But the main culprit is the government of South Sudan under the influence of the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE), that remains steadfast on its campaign of misinformation.

There are five issues, could be more, which have brought up a lot of misconceptions among the regional powers and the international community at large. As expected wrong conclusions and misinformation would undoubtedly generate misguided policies.  In the case of South Sudan, it resulted in political, economic, and military backing being accorded to the government by some in the international community.

I want to elaborate on the following issues:

1. The issue of legitimacy:

There’s a widespread misconception that the people elected president Kiir as President of South Sudan.  The fact of the matter is that Kiir was elected in October 2010  as President of the Government of Southern Sudan and Vice President of the Republic of Sudan.  The independence of South Sudan only happened on the 9th of July 2011 following a referendum.  Elections were never carried out, but the SPLM Party somehow managed to hang onto power without a victory through the ballot box. The South Sudanese were overwhelmed with the joy of independence and some never paid attention to the breach of the constitution where Kiir became the first President of South Sudan without being elected. The same applies to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) as Kiir appoints the majority of the MPs. The insult on democracy even got much worse as President Kiir extended his term in office along with that of the NLA twice, in July 2015 and in July 2018 while the Khartoum peace talks were underway. 

In essence, what we got in South Sudan is an unelected President leading a de facto government. But being in power for so long brings along numerous advantages. And in our part of the world where the state controls the press and the media, and where voicing out your opposition against the regime could amount to signing your death warrant, the outsiders could easily reach erroneous conclusions regarding public support. The extent of the brutality of the government against dissidents is shown by what befell a poor citizen in Maridi before the war broke out in  December 2013. He was shot dead for voicing out his support for federalism. The government even imposed a media gag against discussing federalism.

Right now, there’s no political entity in South Sudan that could claim full legitimacy. In a free and fair democratic election, the Sudan People’s Liberation Party (SPLM) would most likely lose because of its appalling record. The trio of insecurity, lack of economic growth with failure to pay the salaries of the government employees for 6 to 8 months, and plunging the country into civil war that was uncalled for – would drive people away from any ballot box carrying the name SPLM. 

The legitimacy factor comes in when we consider the influence of the regional powers and the international community on the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS). It’s not a secret that the mediators employed coercion and intimidation during the peace talks. It was so bad that at one point delegates were made to sign an agreement under duress. It raises questions regarding the durability of the R-ARCSS since its signing was not out of the free will of those who signed it among the opposition. Likewise, it raises questions about the wisdom of backing a peace agreement which is not only fundamentally flawed but maintains the status quo with the perpetrators in the driving seats. The R-ARCSS is one of a kind even by African standards. It does not equate with the peace deal that was struck between the warring parties in Sierra Leone in July 1999 under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The major difference between the two is that accountability was upheld in the above peace deal. 

2. The SPLM Party: 

The popularity of the SPLM increased after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005.  That popularity peaked when Dr John Garang arrived Khartoum in July 2005, and before the unfortunate helicopter crash that led to his demise. Transformation of the SPLM from a guerilla Movement into a ruling party was accompanied by a gradual but relentless erosion of its popular base. It’s because the SPLM failed to fulfil its promises to the people. The famous SPLM slogan of bringing towns to villages turned into a joke as many towns have become like villages due to the neglect of the inherited infrastructure. The length of tarmac roads is less than 300 miles in the entire country. The Americans built the longest road (Juba – Nimule road). In April 2018, General Daniel Awet Akot, the Presidential Advisor on Military Affairs, said the government was not functioning citing the nonpayment of government employees for more than six months. He urged his folks to abandon all government positions and go back home to cultivate. The above shows that even the SPLM top leaders have lost faith in the way their government is running the country. But the divisions within the SPLM party that led to the break-up and the resultant civil war have dealt a massive blow to the party’s popularity. The disconnect between the party and the grassroots is quite apparent as there’s no real political discourse between the party MPs in Juba and their constituencies.

Support for the party continues to plummet further due to particular policies such as land grabbing. 

3. The ethnic misconception: Some in the region and the international community seem to harbour the wrong notion that there’s a majority tribe in South Sudan. They are not to be blamed as the JCE, and some elements within the government of South Sudan continue to feed the international community with such false claims. The fact of the matter is; there’s no majority tribe in South Sudan. There’s one large tribe that forms less than 25% of the population. Also, it does not inhabit one of the three historical regions of South Sudan where the capital is situated. The combined population of the largest tribe and the second on the list does not even form a majority. The reason for bringing up this topic is because some in the region and the international community seem to accept the current ethnic hegemony in South Sudan as a reflection of being a majority. But it would also imply that the SPLM party has become the monopoly of one ethnicity serving its interests. Such a notion poses a significant risk to the future of the country. It’s not how the succession of power is meant to be. The essence of political activism is for members of the public to join political parties, Movements or Organisations that have programs aiming to fulfil their aspirations. Tribal politics would lead to nothing but the disintegration of the country.

4.  The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) peace mediation: Many believed that the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in opposition (SPLM IO) made a grave mistake by accepting IGAD’s peace brokerage in 2015. It was a miscalculation of the highest order with far-reaching consequences. The reasons are: (a) The majority of the IGAD member States have vested interests in South Sudan and would not stop at anything to maintain the status quo.

(b) In January 2014, Uganda, which is an influential member State, became a party to the conflict by sending thousands of its troops to fight along the side of the government’s forces.

(c) The incarceration of the SPLM IO leader in South Africa for over a year was a move unheard of in contemporary history. The peace mediator unlawfully adopted the roles of a judge, a policeman, and a prison warden. The SPLM IO Chairperson of the National Committee for Foreign Relations, Stephen Par Kuol, stated on 07/03/2019 telling the world that Dr Riek Machar remains under house arrest in Khartoum despite signing the R-ARCSS. 

(d) Some of the IGAD’s decisions are outright flawed. For example, making Uganda and Sudan as peace guarantors while the entire world knows their vested interests in South Sudan; is unprecedented. 

(e) IGAD has got no resources to fund its operations. It depends on the Troika group of nations (the USA, the UK, and Norway) for funding. Some would remember the considerable delay in transporting the SPLM IO  forces to Juba in 2016 because IGAD didn’t have money. And now, the R-ARCSS is behind schedule because of a lack of funding among other things. Lack of funds is an inherent problem within IGAD which had a negative bearing on the entire peace process. In such a situation, keeping the costs down by cutting corners instead of doing the right thing becomes the order of the day. 

5. A new conflict in the making: The number of states is ten (10) as stipulated in ARCSS 2015 which are the states present before the conflict erupted in December 2013. In a clear violation of the agreement he signed, President Kiir issued on the 2nd of October 2015 the establishment order number 36/2015 for the creation of 28 new States. He further increased the number of States to 32 on the 15th of January 2017. IGAD was silent in the face of these outrageous violations to the peace agreement it brokered. Instead of putting pressure on the government to revoke the illegal new States – IGAD introduced the Independent Boundary Commission (IBC) that legitimises the new States. It’s ironical that IGAD keeps saying that there’s no renegotiation of ARCSS 2015 while it inserts into the agreement the IBC that was not there in 2015. There’s a great concern because the IBC is tasked with the demarcation of tribal boundaries. It’s something unheard of in Africa and perhaps in the entire world. There are a good number of tribes that extend beyond the borders to the neighbouring countries. The tribes – Nuer, Anyuak, Acholi, Ma’adi, Kuku, Kakuwa, Azande, and others have a presence in the neighbouring countries. Now, how would the IBC demarcate the borders of such tribes knowing that they are the same people divided by colonial borders? It would seem that the demarcation would stop at the borders.  But is IGAD not opening a Pandora’s box that encourages the establishment of tribal enclaves at the expense of national unity? It’s certainly a worrying matter to the overwhelming majority of the South Sudanese people who are yearning for unity in diversity.

The National Salvation Front (NAS) participated in the peace talks with an open mind and in good faith to reach a just and sustainable peace in the Republic of South Sudan. Our negotiating team showed reasonable flexibility and gave concessions particularly in signing the security arrangements. However, NAS couldn’t sign the final R-ARCSS because it failed to address the root causes of the conflict. Federalism has been the demand of the people since the Juba conference in 1947. That demand has been reaffirmed by the people of Bahr Al Ghazal in the recent regional dialogue conference that took place in Wau last month. Our support for the total overhaul of the security sector and the army is unwavering. We believe that there will be no real reconciliation and healing without full accountability. Also, accountability is crucial for starting afresh with a good chance for establishing a government of institutions in the Republic of South Sudan.

Thank You April 2019

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