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Has South Sudan turned a corner for the better?

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Added 11th January 2016 04:47 PM

The initial task of the SPLM-IO advance team is to sensitize local communities nationwide on practical realities of peace on the ground

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The initial task of the SPLM-IO advance team is to sensitize local communities nationwide on practical realities of peace on the ground

By Jack Lino Wuor Abeyi

Many would agree that the political events which took place in Juba in December 2015 has resurrected hope in the possibility that the suffering brought on by the armed conflict could finally come to an end.

However, the road to peace is not paved with flowers and roses. The warring parties feel they were compelled by the mediators of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to ink an agreement despite them registering serious reservations as it lacked the bare minimum of their own goals.

It did not come as a surprise when international and regional actors had to exert diplomatic pressure to force the opposition faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO) led by First Vice-President designate Dr. Riek Machar, to send his advance team to Juba. It is where both parties will begin practical implementation of the recently signed Agreement on the Resolution of Crisis in South Sudan (ARCSS).

The initial task of the SPLM-IO advance team is to sensitize local communities nationwide on practical realities of peace on the ground, while simultaneously working with the government to prepare for the expected return of Dr. Machar this month.  

Dr. Machar’s return to Juba will then prompt the formal launching of the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU), at which time he will be sworn in as the country’s first vice-president according to ARCSS.

The end of 2015 also witnessed the final return to Juba of some once prominent SPLM party members known as Former Political Detainees (FPDs). This group was part of the conflict but managed to sign the Agreement on the Reunification of the SPLM after concluding internal party dialogue initiative in Arusha, Tanzania. The initiative was nursed by the leadership of the Tanzanian ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM).

Because peace mediators had realized that warring parties would drag their feet and derail the implementation process, they created the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission JMEC and appointed former President Festus Gontebanye Mogae of Botswana to be its head.

The peace agreement was quickly tested when on October 2, 2015, President Salva Kiir issued an executive order annulling the nation’s constitutionally established ten states and rearranged their borders into twenty-eight new ones.

The opposition saw in the unilateral move a stark violation of the peace agreement which had recognized the existing ten states, and their boundaries as the basis for governance and power-sharing ratios during the coming three years of the TGoNU.

However, the government in Juba defended the President’s decision, claiming that it was in response to a popular demand by the people of South Sudan. The truth is that no credible survey was conducted or broad consultative meetings held to assert this move.

The irony is that Dr. Machar was the first to issue an order dissolving the nation’s ten states and came up with twenty-one entirely new ones. He placed his plan at the negotiation table and appointed opposition members as governors of those states. He also envisioned broad federal system of governance to jump start the transitional period.

The opposition had not anticipated that Juba would fight them with their own tools after repackaging it as the means for the devolution of power from the center. When western Capitals voiced opposition to the President Kiir’s capricious executive order, Juba took the matter to the parliament.

The motion was quickly passed into law in a manner which left much to be desired. It is widely believed that the government achieved its objective through vote rigging and intimidation. Observers have also questioned the economic viability of this move in light of the country’s current dire financial situation.

The law is currently being celebrated in some corners of the country while facing stiff opposition in others. Various communities in Western Bahr el- Ghazal and Upper Nile states claim that new borders has given their ancestral lands to members of other ethnicities.

The fact that Juba’s rearrangement of state boundaries failed to prevent SPLM-IO advance team members from returning exposed the opposition as lacking strategy to counter-balance government’s moves. The team explained their return as being necessary in order to end the nation’s suffering.

However, a few silent voices suspected their return will finally expose hidden internal fracturing within the opposition camp. While it was expected of Dr. Machar to maintain steady opposition to the establishment of the twenty-eight states, his faction’s lead negotiator, General Taban Deng Gai, former governor of the oil-rich Unity State, was quoted as saying that the government’s unilateral decision to create new states would not derail the implementation of the peace agreement.

This was the language Juba wanted to hear. The government quickly published the list of the new governors. They were also swore in before the President and instructed to head to their respective states to begin work on reunifying their communities and prepare for the upcoming farming season. 

Although, former President Mogae is an elder statesman and well experienced in post-conflict arrangements, his diplomatic skills will be put to unprecedented test in the coming weeks and months as impasses mount for at least three main reasons; first, the implementation of the peace agreement is a sophisticated political and military operation.

Meanwhile, the top leadership assigned to carry out the task on both sides of the conflict are SPLA generals and warlords with propensity to reading political dissent through military eyes. Second, the cost of achieving political consensus will have to be constantly snatched from the jaws of hardliners on both sides as they would exploit differences to their advantage.

Third, the struggle for power within each group will intensify with time. The county’s political culture remained immature due to widespread culture of violence, political disloyalty, impatience and non-adherence to national ideals. It is interesting to note that those hurdles are also the main causes of the December 15, 2013 crisis and the civil war in the country.

It would not therefore come as a surprise if some members of the SPLM-IO advance team in Juba part ways with Dr. Machar and carve for themselves better ministerial and gubernatorial posts in the transitional government.

This scenario will be most certainly be exploited by hardliners within the Kiir administration. Dr. Machar might find himself operating in a tighter political space and with no genuine friends.

The U.S. government has politely declined Machar’s request to fund the return of the rebel army in bases around Juba. The Americans did not want to be judged by history as having financed another war should fighting erupt again in the future.

They told him to head to Juba and cited Dr. John Garang’s 2005 triumphant return to Khartoum as an example. Dr. Garang never insisted on deploying SPLA units around Khartoum as a condition to his safe return.

Former President Festus Gontebanye Mogae will have a tough rulings to make as violations mount and the process continues to be well behind schedule.

Only time will tell if he will apply the famous African-American proverb, "One monkey don't stop no show!", and carry on his task with integrity because individual and tribal interests have held the nation hostage for far too long. 

The writer is a researcher in Political Science and Sociology

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