South Sudan: The Phony Deal.

The Current Analyst

Both in terms of maintaining the integrity of the SPLM, state and peace building as well as democratization, the conflict is about the soul of South Sudan. Regional and international players have continued to ignore this at their own peril.

The Key Issue
The real identity of the conflict in South Sudan is political. It had to do with the transformation of the ruling party, the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement/SPLM/, the democratization of the state and peaceful transfer of political power through elections. While these were at the core of the political dispute within the SPLM,a different kind of power consolidation was happening around the Chair of the Movement and the President of the country, Salva Kiir. President Salva tried to circumvent the political challenge within the SPLM by trying to establish an autonoumse power base, dispensing party structures and using executive power. In doing so he was on his way to distance himself from the historic SPLM, attach with former National Congress Party/NCP/ heavyweights in South Sudan, flirt with Khartoum and compromise South Sudan’s sovereignty and independence. Thus both in terms of maintaining the integrity of the SPLM, state and peace building as well as democratization the conflict is in essence about the soul of South Sudan.

Though both camps belong to the same corrupt political establishment, the group led by or associated with Riak Machar seems to have some practical ideas, political clout and democratic intentions to take the country forward. Riak Machar is not an angel but he is not the Riak of 1991 as well. In the recent conflict he clearly fought for the democratization of the SPLM and entertained several progressive ideas on how to transform the country. Meanwhile, the group led by Salva lacks intellectual input, showed distaste to democratic governance, became heavily reliant on security institutions to resolve political problems and cannot genuinely represent the future of the country. This explains why it resorted to violence and mayhem. The political conflict in South Sudan was made violent by the killing of Nuers in the night of December 15 2013. This sheer act of brutality transformed or attempted to alter, the nature of the conflict. It led to the ethnicization and militarization of the conflict. The challenge is to reverse this unwanted trend, including the killing of Nuers in Juba that led to a cycle of revenge killings in many parts of the country. Underneath all these is South Sudan’s stalled democratization.

This introductory scene, which spans a period of six to twelve months, is pivotal to an understanding of the cause of the conflict, the solutions to the crisis and the way forward as well as the meaning of the recent peace process and conflict resolution mechanisms. Regional and international players have continued to ignore this at their own peril.

The Recent Deal

Rival leaders in South Sudan have signed a deal to stop fighting and establish a transitional government that will facilitate new elections. Peace is not guaranteed and signing does not mean practical implementation. Apart from media publicity and short term diplomatic victory the chances for peace are extremely low. Both leaders were not enthusiastic about the deal and mutual suspicion and animosity is high.

The reasons for this pessimistic scenario are described in the introductory scene stated above, which further include the following:

First, the deal is artificial because it was pushed by Washington under intense talk of sanctions and fails to address the real issues. Both leaders were not ready for it, rather they were forced to come to Addis and sign the document that they have never discussed it themselves. It was made under deadline, threat backed diplomacy and cannot have a chance of holding.

Secondly, hardliners from President Salva Kiir’s camp, such as the current Chief of Staff of the army Paul Malong don’t like the deal, believe they might be able to crush the rebellion and they will definately continue to frustrate it using war covertly.

Third, both leaders don’t have control over the combatants, particularly President Salva depends heavily on several foreign fighters that he cannot control which include Uganda, JEM and SPLM North rebels from North Sudan. Equally, Riek Machar cannot control war lords such a Peter Gadet though he can reign on them better than Salva could do to the disparate expatriate militias. No wonder, in terms of its make up and composition-partly related to the facts highlighted in the introductory scene- the rebellion is more South Sudanese than the government.

Fourth, the peace deal is not accompanied by a real plan such as political road map, timetable, and composition of transitional government.

Fifth, issues that led to militarization and violence, such as widespread killing of Nuers in Juba by the government soldiers have never been addressed. The two major ethnic groups have widespread grudges and suspicion it is not possible to move forward without dealing with transitional justice issues and a comprehensive truth and reconciliation commission that could slowly help build confidence and trust.

Finally, the plan lacks a strong implementation mechanism. IGAD is supposed to deploy a monitoring mission but it is frequently delayed due to the need for an authorization from the UN Security Council; even such a decision comes security in the ground will remain a challenge to the planned monitoring.

Whichever way things develop, one thing is clear. What we saw in the conflict in South Sudan, and what we are seeing now, is a fight for the very soul of the new nation which include the identity and democratization of the state.

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