South Sudan: Reforms vital before power sharing
trueProfessor Mahmood Mamdani, the executive director Makerere Institute of Social Research and also a professor at Columbia University gave a talk on February 11 to the National Resistance Members of Parliament at their annual retreat at the National Leadership Institute, Kyankwanzi. Below is the continuation of his paper (Part One here) where he addressed, among other critical issues, the ethnic question and the shoddy Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005.
The story of the SPLA is told in two versions: one highlights its success, underlined by a ‘reconciliation’ strategy that prevented division between different armed factions by absorbing them into a single organisation.
Independence in 2011 is said to be the fruit of this strategy. The alternative version paints this as a strategy to buy time at the cost of fragmentation and fission, failing because the time earned was wasted away rather than used to introduce much needed political reforms. Thus, the way forward for the leadership was always to eliminate the internal rival before tackling the external enemy.
This strategy had a double cost. The blood-letting only postponed the militia problem. Externally, the SPLA came to rely heavily on support from neighbouring countries: at first Ethiopia, but then, above all, Uganda.
After being cut down to size, leaders of militias and their groups were absorbed into the army and given amnesty and rank. Regardless of how many times they defected, whether after months or years, the government continued to apply the same cure to the militia problem and with the same result.
LEFT-RIGHT: President Salva Kiir, the late John Garang and Kiir's former deputy Dr. Riek Machar
In the process, the size of the armed forces ballooned. Guy Lamb, a senior researcher at South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies, estimated the SPLA’s current strength at “approximately 194,000” but warned that it “will continue to rise (so long) as additional South Sudanese soldiers from various external forces are being integrated” into it.
The donor community’s solution to this dilemma was a demobilisation and disarmament programme (DDR). The two-year programme targeted 90,000 ex-combatants at a cost of $55m but could only boast of netting some 12,000 by 2012.
With the lowest rank soldier in the army receiving about $140 a month, the military standard of living was much higher than that of civilians, most of whom lived on about $1 or less a day. To demobilise soldiers from the military was akin to integrating them into poverty. Understandably, many resisted.
Take a recent example from Jonglei province where David Yau Yau, a leader of the Murle group, was granted a presidential amnesty in 2012, and the position of a general in the army. A few months later, in April, he gave up this post and resumed his rebellion.
Yau Yau’s rebellion attracted both Murle and Nuer youths. In a September 1 letter to Deputy Defence Minister, Majak D’Agoot, elders and other Murle community leaders said the disarmament operation should stop because it was “the main reason” youth were joining David Yau Yau.
Amnesty has turned into a massive payout of the national budget as a way to retain the loyalty of commanders. South African sources estimate that over 50% of the government’s budget was going into paying the armed forces before the December 15 rebellion. The government’s wage bill, they told IRIN, accounts for about 80% of the military budget.
The two warring parties, Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir. CREDIT/AFP
Background to December 15
In light of this background, Reik Machar’s actions in the months and years before the December 15 split can be seen in a broad light, not just an expression of personal ambition but also an attempt at political reform.
The main points of the reform agenda were spelt out in the draft transitional constitution that Machar began circulating in 2011, well before independence. It called for a term limit for the president, a maximum of two five-year terms, and also for the removal of the clause in SPLM constitution that gives its chairperson the power to nominate 5% members at all levels of the party, including its legislative organ, the National Liberation Congress (NLC).
When the draft was voted down at the ruling party meeting, Machar took it to cabinet, and when there too it was voted down, he took it to parliament. When President Kiir accused him of “parallelism,” of wanting to run a second government, Machar said he was exercising his democratic right to express his opinion for or against the transitional constitution.
After losing the vote in the NLC convention 128 to 8, Machar called for a change in the method of voting from a show of hands to a secret ballot. That too was defeated in the NLC – presumably also by a show of hands! That same meeting of the NLC confirmed the expulsion of Pagan Amum as secretary general of the party. Machar and his group walked out of the NLC convention that Saturday afternoon, never to return.
Meanwhile, the Machar group found new allies in the course of 2013. On January 21, 2013, President Kiir dismissed the elected Lakes State Governor, Chol Tong Mayay, and appointed a caretaker. In a letter dated March 13, 2013, Machar asked the President to reverse his action “to avoid the looming constitutional crisis.”
On April 15, President Kiir stripped Machar of all powers delegated to him, leaving him with only those stipulated in the transitional constitution. In a second decree, Salva Kiir dissolved a national reconciliation committee that Machar headed and later named Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul as the new chair. In July, President Kiir sacked the former Unity State Governor Taban Deng Gai, now the lead negotiator for Machar.
Referring to the transitional constitution which gives the president the powers to sack an elected governor or dissolve a State Parliament when a crisis threatens national security and territorial integrity, Machar said in a letter dated June 7, 2013, that there was no such crisis and that the President’s action was “politically motivated” and constituted “a violation of our constitution.”
It is survival for the fittest for internally displaced people during the times for food distribution. PHOTO/AFP
The crisis reached its high point in July when President Kiir dissolved the cabinet, sacking Machar and two other ministers, including the SPLM Secretary General, Pagan Amum, accusing them of transacting nearly $8m without parliamentary approval. Most of the ex-ministers allied with Machar.
In a joint statement on December 6, they accused the President of “dictatorial tendencies” and said he “had completely immobilised the party, abandoned collective leadership and jettisoned all democratic pretensions to decision-making.”
At a press conference that followed, they called on Salva Kiir to call a meeting of the Political Bureau both to sort out his differences with the majority and to set an agenda for the next meeting of the NLC.
By then, two distinct groups had coalesced against President Kiir. The first included Pagan Amum Okiech, the sacked Secretary General of the SPLM, Deng Alor Kuol, the former Minister of Cabinet Affairs, and Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior (the widow of the late John Garang de Mabior). Mostly Dinka, they called for reform within the party. Pagan and Rebecca announced they would run against Salva Kiir in the 2015 presidential election.
The second included the former Vice President Riek Machar Teny, former elected governors who had been fired and replaced by the President in decrees they believed to be unconstitutional, and a number of senior military officers commanding divisions in Bor, Bentiu, and Malakal.
Fighting broke out on the last day of the NLC meeting inside the main military command centre, known to locals as al-Qayada, located to the southwest of Juba town.
There are two versions of events leading to the December 15 conflict. Peter Adwok Nyaba, former Minister of Higher Education, who was sacked when President Kiir replaced his entire cabinet in July 2013, laid responsibility on the President, who he said had become suspicious of his critics and decided to disarm the Nuer within his presidential guard, the Tiger Battalion.
When the Nuer officers resisted, the whole affair got out of hand. On their part, government officials described it as an “unsuccessful coup attempt by Dr. Riek Machar in collaboration with a number of former cabinet ministers.”
In his speech in Angola a few days after Ugandan troops intervened in this conflict, President Museveni admitted there were two versions of what happened on December 15, and that there was as yet no way of telling which was right. And yet, Ugandan troops intervened in support of one side and against the other.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni met his South Sudanese counterpart in Juba. PHOTO/AFP
Is there a way forward? A lively discussion rages around this question both within South Sudan and in the region.
Already, there are civil society groups calling on the “international community” (in particular, the ICC) to hold accountable all perpetrators of gross violence. At the same time, there is a chorus of voices calling for a return to power-sharing. Both are likely to prove counter-productive.
Perpetrators of atrocities in political conflicts are not simple criminals. Unlike criminals, they enjoy the support of a political constituency. Any attempt to hold their leaders accountable is likely to result in more violence.
Power-sharing, on the other hand, is likely to mean a return to a status quo ante – with Salva Kiir and Riek Machar as President and Vice President master-minding a sharing of posts down the ranks. Understandably, the very suggestion of power-sharing as a solution evokes cynicism.
When asked by the New York Times how he imagines the current crisis in South Sudan to end, Jok Madut Jok, one of the country’s leading intellectuals, answered with obvious resignation, referring to President Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar: “The two men will eventually sit down, resolve their issues, laugh for the cameras, and the thousands of civilians who have died will not be accounted for.” Without political reform, reconciliation and power-sharing will more than likely be a dress rehearsal for another crisis.
The alternative would combine meaningful political reform with reconciliation and power-sharing. Reconciliation without political reform would be no more than window dressing. The difference between power-sharing in end-of-apartheid South Africa and in post-CPA South Sudan is the difference between meaningful and cosmetic reconciliation.
SLPA government soldiers from the 2nd Battalion pose at the SPLA headquarters in Nyang. PHOTO/AFP
A meaningful reform would need to begin with the rebel coalition’s demands, starting with a two-term limit to the presidency, voting by secret ballot, an end to presidential powers to appoint members to the legislative organ and the constitution of an independent electoral commission, as the first step in a much-needed but protracted reform process.
Whereas in South Africa, it was the end of the Cold War that made room for internal forces to arrive at a political resolution of the conflict, the situation in South Sudan is radically different: it will need greater involvement from the region to create conditions for meaningful reform. For this to be possible, one needs to keep in mind both the internal and the external reality.
The internal reality is that reform will have to be imposed on a reluctant Salva Kiir from the outside, most obviously, IGAD. The external reality is that the reform is also likely to be opposed by Uganda.
Convinced that the solution in South Sudan must be military, not political, the Ugandan government has staked troops, estimated at around 4,500, to make a military solution possible. The government admits that without their intervention, the Salva Kiir government would have fallen in a matter of days.
The regional rivals, Uganda and Sudan, were the first to come to Salva Kiir’s assistance. Could it be that the desire to preempt a stronger involvement by Sudan led to Uganda’s hasty commitment of troops inside South Sudan?
Ugandan army troops deployed in South Sudan. PHOTO/UPDF
Or was it the fear that a less than friendly government in South Sudan may host political opponents – with greater political and organisational capabilities than Joseph Kony – that lay behind the Government of Uganda’s conviction that a national interest is at stake in South Sudan?
Even if that is so, military intervention may turn out to be a counter-productive way of pursuing it. Ugandans only need to remember the 1979 Tanzanian intervention in Uganda following Amin’s invasion of Kagera: Tanzania had great public support when it intervened, but very little when it withdrew.
The reason: Having intervened to protect “national interests,” it ended up meddling in Uganda’s internal affair by supporting one particular regime. The government cited the Status of Forces Agreement to argue that it was invited to do so on December 16, 2013 by an embattled Salva Kiir.
But as The East African [Jan 18-24, 2014] pointed out, the Agreement was dated Jan 10, 2014, some 22 days after the Uganda Army was deployed in Juba.
Ugandan military support for one faction in the South Sudan conflict evokes memories of 1991, when Ethiopian President Mengistu’s support for Garang led to widespread opposition within the SPLA. Having long snubbed the demand for a two-term limit on the presidency at home, it is unlikely that the Ugandan president will be sympathetic to demands for internal reform in South Sudan.
Opposition ministers and former political prisoners give a press conference in Addis Ababa. PHOTO/AFP
The alternative is for Ugandan troops to leave South Sudan before they become part of the problem in that country.
Rather than follow a course of action that would lead them to enforce a particular leadership on the South Sudanese, the alternative would be to follow a course of military non-intervention combined with a political course of reform within the South and reconciliation with Sudan to the North.
Both the UN and IGAD need to take a lesson from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where it became clear over time that a political solution would require the introduction of forces from countries without a direct political stake in Kivu (in this case, South Africa and Tanzania as opposed to Rwanda and Uganda).
In South Sudan too, the way forward calls for the replacement of Ugandan troops with troops from other countries in the region, countries without a direct political stake in South Sudan and with a mandate and a political will to oversee the implementation of a necessary political reform.
Prof. Mamdani speech on S. Sudan: Part II