Unmasking the politics of collusion and double standards in South Sudan (Part 3)

Uhuru Kenyatta (l) and William Ruto (r)

Image copyrightAPImage captionMr Kenyatta (l) said he would now try to have the case against his deputy, William Ruto (r), dropped

The Panel of Experts on South Sudan submitted its long-awaited report to the UN Security Council on 09/04/2019. It was the second “bombshell” that shocked many South Sudanese because the kidnapping of the two victims, late Dong Samuel Luak and late Aggrey Idri remained a topical issue in the political and social circles across the country. The wide publicity of the two abductions made many people dismiss the possibility of what had happened to them. Hence, the confirmation of their execution by the regime was quite horrific and mind-boggling to many people. It’s an affront to human rights and international law. What are the chances that such a flagrant act of brutality could have occurred in the absence of regional collusion and collaboration? Not a chance. The regime is undoubtedly encouraged and emboldened by having “good friends” in the neighbourhood.

A group of Kenyan MPs who were campaigning to ban the South Sudanese opposition from being hosted in Kenya visited Juba in November 2016. The group was led by Mr Asman Kamama, the Chairperson of the National Security Committee at the time. It was reported that a member of the delegation, Mr Ababu Namwamba told the First Vice President, Taban Deng Gai three words; “we have delivered” referring to the deportation of James Gatdet Dak, the Former spokesperson of Dr Riek Machar. It was also reported that the government of South Sudan gave the visitors 10 million USD for their services.

Furthermore, many South Sudanese were extremely dismayed by President Kiir decision to donate 10 million USD to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election campaign at the end of March 2017. It happened at the peak of the economic meltdown in South Sudan. Kiir’s out of the blue generosity wasn’t for nothing. The famous phrase “there is no such thing as a free lunch” pops up in our minds. Perhaps the other phrase ” scratch my back and I will scratch yours” sounds more befitting in this particular setting. It’s unthinkable that such a move could have occurred in a government of institutions where financial accountability reigns. I doubt it very much that President Uhuru Kenyatta could reciprocate in kind what President Kiir did for him. The emerging democratic institutions and a relatively independent judiciary in Kenya would prevent such an unlawful move to happen. It reinforces the view that President Kiir uses the coffers as his private property.

As for Uganda, there’s a lot of finger-pointing and accusation of involvement in the disappearance of Opposition leader, Justice Peter Abdul Rahman Sule and Lt. General Elias Lino Jada in Uganda in August 2015. Some even say that Uganda had a hand in the demise of General George Athor in December 2011. One could comfortably assert that the relation between Juba and Kampala is a matter of mutual survival. On the one hand, the Juba regime would have rapidly collapsed without the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) intervention at the end of December 2013 and early January 2014. On the other hand, Uganda’s economy is “booming” because of the unprecedented Trade Deficit between it and South Sudan in its favour. 

The current pillage of the South Sudanese natural resources is reminiscent of what the Democratic Republic of Congo went through in the 90ties of the past century. Former President of the DRC, Laurent-Desire Kabila filed a case against Uganda in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague in 1999 accusing it of plundering natural resources and committing crimes against Humanity when it invaded the eastern part of his country. In December 2005, the (ICJ) issued a ruling in favour of the DRC and ordered Uganda to pay $ 10 bn in damages. 

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Dwelling into the activities of Uganda within South Sudan is beyond the scope of this article. Perhaps a few figures would give the reader a sense of what is going on across the border between the two countries. It’s a fact that Uganda does not possess commercial gold mines, yet it built a gold refinery worth over 20 million USD in Entebbe in 2016. Ugandan gold exports soared by a staggering 85,000 per cent, jumping from a paltry of 443,000 USD worth of gold in 2014 to an estimated 377 million USD in 2017.  The Ugandan “Gold Rush” seems to have started following the UPDF intervention in South Sudan. Is it a mere coincidence?!

The tragedy of the two political activists brings the two issues of conspiracy and accountability to the forefront of the political discourse. The above revelations could have a far-reaching influence on the political arena in South Sudan and future bilateral relations. It’s a wrong policy when you consider the fact that those who may seem to be the political underdogs of today could quickly become the leaders of tomorrow. The worry is that such events could affect the relationships between the people of South Sudan and their counterparts in those countries. A state of strained relationship at the government to government level coupled with an unfriendly one at the people to people level is not a long shot. Such a situation is neither advantageous for individual countries nor the entire region.

Here is an excerpt from Dr Carol Berger’s paper titled: “Ethnocide as a Tool of State-building: South Sudan and the Never-ending War”. Dr Carol Berger lived for several years in South Sudan since 2006 and worked as researcher/analyst for the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).  She wrote -“I would also note that attitudes within the international community appear to have shifted as the war approaches the five-year mark. Prevailing humanitarian narratives now stress the need to “go forward”, implicitly suggesting that individuals who raise concerns about the State’s military actions are somehow failing to support what they consider to be a constructive engagement with “peace-building”.

I believe the above sums up the attitude and perhaps the position of some in the international community. Those who are saying that the R-ARCSS is the Plan A and there is no Plan B, are not strangers to Dr Carol Berger’s characterisation. It leaves one to wonder whether those in the international community who used to occupy the moral high ground have, for whatever reason lost the compass that directs them to it.

 It appears some selectivity and preferential treatment does exist in the approach to similar situations across the globe. The international community through NATO was quick to bomb the Serbs for the massacre of 8,000 Bosnians. That was a necessary and lawful use of force to stop the perpetrators and save lives. But the ordinary people in South Sudan don’t understand why the international community wants President Kiir to remain in power and commit more atrocities against them.

Charles Taylor received what he deserves for the death of over 300,000 people. But is it morally correct to allow President Kiir and cohorts to escape accountability when the world knows they are responsible for the demise of hundreds of thousands of their people?

The list of similar situations is long. In West Africa, Former Chadian President, Hissene Habre was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Extraordinary African Chambers (a special court) in Senegal for crimes against Humanity, war crimes, and torture. The estimated number of victims exceeded 40,000 people. 

Ex-president of Cote D’Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo was dragged to the ICC for war crimes and crimes against Humanity. Gbagbo was acquitted and went home as a free man. Closer to home, Jean-Pierre Bemba, the former Vice President of the DRC warmed a prison cell at The Hague, but his conviction got overturned. 

President Uhuru Kenyatta of the Republic of Kenya had to go to the ICC to clear the charges against him. He was indicted in 2011 along with five others for crimes against Humanity in the aftermath of the post-election ethnic violence that engulfed Kenya in 2007 – 08. The indictment gave birth to the colloquial phrase “The Ocampo six” in connection to Luis Moreno Ocampo, the Prosecutor of the ICC. But President Uhuru Kenyatta and his colleagues did the right thing by going all the way to the ICC to clear their names. As it stands, the charges against President Kenyatta had been withdrawn while Vice President William Ruto and Radio Executive, Joshua Arap Sang clinched a partial victory. The Court dismissed the cases against them due to insufficient evidence but refused to acquit them.

Beyond our northern border, deposed President Omar al Bashir’s evasion of the Arrest Warrant issued by the ICC may be coming to an end. Bashir has been indicted for war crimes and crimes against Humanity in Darfur where over 300,000 people were brutally slaughtered.

The above account generates legitimate questions to the Troika group of Nations, the African Union, the European Union, and the UN by virtue of being the donors and facilitators of the R-ARCSS. South Sudan is Surrounded by countries that went through similar experiences in connection with ethnically-driven political violence. In all those cases, the international community dealt with the culprits appropriately.

The one million Dollar question is: What is the difference between the crimes committed by the above Ex-leaders in their respective countries and those committed by the current rulers of South Sudan? 

Hissene Habre, as stated above is serving life imprisonment in Senegal while President Kiir remains free to rule and roam the world despite being responsible for the killing of ten times the number of victims in the case of the former Chadian President. 

My answer to the question posed above is that there are no differences between a Bosniak victim, a Sierra Leonean victim or a South Sudanese victim. They are all human beings. The difference, though, emerges when the international community uses double standards to safeguard individual interests.

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Lotole Lo Luri

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