Peace in South Su­dan crit­i­cal to re­gional sta­bil­ity

Con­tin­ued fight­ing wor­ries re­gional lead­ers

Africa Renewal - - Contents - By Raphael Obonyo

De­spite two cease­fires, thou­sands of lives lost and over a mil­lion and a half civil­ians dis­placed, fight­ing con­tin­ues in South Su­dan, pit­ting gov­ern­ment troops against op­po­si­tion forces. The lat­est cease­fire — the sec­ond since vi­o­lence erupted in De­cem­ber last year — was signed in May between Pres­i­dent Salva Kiir and his for­mer deputy, Riek Machar.

Flag­ging com­mit­ment by the two lead­ers to re­solv­ing their po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences peace­fully is putting to the test the abil­ity of me­di­a­tors to bro­ker an effective cease­fire. But ever since the fight­ing started, it has be­come clear that the world’s new­est na­tion was born with many in­ter­nal in­sti­tu­tional weak­nesses. If left un­ad­dressed, po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts say, it could lead to a com­plete re­write of the po­lit­i­cal and economic land­scape of the en­tire re­gion.

The spark for the cur­rent fight­ing can be traced back to July 2013, when Pres­i­dent Kiir fired Mr. Machar and his en­tire cabi­net af­ter a pro­tracted power strug­gle within the rul­ing Su­dan Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Move­ment (SPLM). Upon his dis­missal from the gov­ern­ment, Mr. Machar an­nounced he would run for the pres­i­dency in elec­tions then sched­uled for 2015.

On 15 De­cem­ber 2013, af­ter days of ris­ing tension over po­lit­i­cal is­sues, var­i­ous el­e­ments of the Pres­i­den­tial Guard started fight­ing in their bar­racks in the cap­i­tal, Juba. The fight­ing quickly spread to the gen­eral head­quar­ters of the Su­dan’s Peo­ple Lib­er­a­tion Army (SPLA) and to other mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions. By 16 De­cem­ber, it had spilled out of the bar­racks into res­i­den­tial ar­eas of the cap­i­tal, pit­ting ri­val sup­port­ers and re­sult­ing in large-scale killings and hu­man rights abuses. Since then, this pic­ture has been repli­cated in most parts of the coun­try.

A cease­fire reached in Jan­uary quickly fell apart days later as fight­ing re­sumed, with each party ac­cus­ing the other of vi­o­lat­ing the cease­fire. Af­ter months of in­tense peace talks and ex­ter­nal pres­sure, a sec­ond cease­fire was signed in May but it too has been in­ef­fec­tive as vi­o­lence con­tin­ues un­abated. Po­lit­i­cal ex­perts say the cur­rent con­flict is part of a po­lit­i­cal tug of war between Mr. Machar and Pres­i­dent Kiir. The pres­i­dent has ac­cused his for­mer deputy of at­tempt­ing a coup d’état while Mr. Machar is con­vinced the pres­i­dent is as­sum­ing dic­ta­to­rial pow­ers.

While some an­a­lysts main­tain that the vi­o­lence is po­lit­i­cal not tribal, it is of con­cern that the con­flict has been run­ning along eth­nic lines with the Nuers back­ing Mr. Machar and the pres­i­dent re­ceiv­ing his main sup­port from the Dinkas, the largest eth­nic group in the coun­try.

Ge­orge Omondi, a re­search fel­low at the Kenya-based Africa Re­search and Re­source Forum, is among those who dis­pute the view that the fight­ing has tribal ori­gins. In an in­ter­view with Africa Re­newal, Mr. Omondi said it ap­peared that Mr. Machar and his group feel that the pres­i­dent is con­sol­i­dat­ing power around him­self and are there­fore de­ter­mined to stop him.

“They want to stop Kiir from be­com­ing like many African lead­ers who, af­ter in­de­pen­dence, for­got the na­tional agenda,” he said. The cur­rent fight is not new, he con­tin­ued, es­pe­cially if one looks at the his­tory of SPLM when in Au­gust 1991 Mr. Machar at­tempted to over­throw John Garang, the late founder of South Su­dan’s lib­er­a­tion move­ment. An es­ti­mated 2,000 civil­ians were killed in the fight­ing that en­sued.

The ex­pec­ta­tion among an­a­lysts was that the sec­ond cease­fire would cre­ate con­di­tions for the two par­ties to start dis­cus­sions on a tran­si­tional gov­ern­ment

of na­tional unity. But those hopes are now fad­ing in the face of on­go­ing vi­o­lence, rais­ing fears of more deaths and de­struc­tion in one of the poor­est coun­tries in the world.

Even as re­gional lead­ers strive to bring peace, the two sides con­tinue to ac­cuse each other of es­ca­lat­ing the war. Ma­jok Gu­nadong, South Su­dan’s am­bas­sador to Kenya, says his gov­ern­ment has only been fight­ing a de­fen­sive war. He told

Africa Re­newal that his gov­ern­ment was “com­mit­ted to peace and it re­quires the sup­port of ev­ery­one to re­al­ize this goal,” adding that South Su­dan was en­gag­ing the rebels only “as a mat­ter of self-de­fense.”

South Su­dan’s strate­gic im­por­tance in East Africa has added a sense of ur­gency to re­gional ef­forts to end the war. There are fears that the war could de­gen­er­ate into a re­gional con­flict if left un­re­solved, as ev­i­denced by the pres­ence of Ugan­dan troops fight­ing on the side of the gov­ern­ment. Mean­while, South Su­dan’s re­la­tions with its north­ern neigh­bour Su­dan have been less than cor­dial since Su­dan was split into two. The two cease­fire agree­ments, bro­kered by in­ter­na­tional me­di­a­tors, in­clud­ing lead­ers of the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Au­thor­ity on Devel­op­ment ( IGAD) and sup­ported by the United Na­tions and the African Union, have so far been un­able to stop the fight­ing.

“African coun­tries have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to take swift and de­ci­sive ac­tion to solve the cri­sis in South Su­dan,” says Mr. Omondi. “How­ever, the world must also re­al­ize that South Su­dan is not dif­fer­ent from African coun­tries that have en­gaged in the fight against au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism.”

South Su­dan’s “man-made cri­sis” has cre­ated a humanitarian dis­as­ter. “The South Su­danese peo­ple are bear­ing the brunt of the fail­ure to stop the fight­ing,” said UN Sec­re­tary- Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon in a state­ment on South Su­dan’s na­tional day. “They are liv­ing in squalor, their liveli­hoods have been lost and they are plagued by hunger, dis­ease and in­se­cu­rity.” About 100,000 civil­ians have sought shel­ter at UN bases around the coun­try.

The con­flict has also put at risk the on­go­ing re­gional in­te­gra­tion ef­forts and joint in­fras­truc­tural pro­jects in the re­gion. But ac­cord­ing to Mr. Gu­nadong, the cri­sis will have only a tem­po­rary ef­fect on the ad­mis­sion of South Su­dan into the East African Com­mu­nity ( EAC), a re­gional economic group com­pris­ing Bu­rundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tan­za­nia and Uganda, be­cause an agree­ment has al­ready been reached to start ne­go­ti­a­tions in Oc­to­ber 2014.

But Mr. Omondi dis­agrees, ar­gu­ing that even be­fore the cur­rent cri­sis, it was clear South Su­dan had not achieved the min­i­mum re­quire­ments needed to join the EAC, such as build­ing demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions. Civil so­ci­ety groups in South Su­dan have asked the EAC not to ad­mit South Su­dan to the re­gional body un­til the coun­try be­comes sta­ble and demo­cratic.

Economic in­te­gra­tion in East Africa, as in other re­gions of the con­ti­nent, is still min­i­mal. The cri­sis in South Su­dan will likely de­rail its plans with Kenya to build an oil pipe­line to Kenya’s In­dian Ocean port of Lamu. Be­fore the war, South Su­dan was earn­ing an es­ti­mated $7 bil­lion a year from oil rev­enue. Con­tin­ued fight­ing will not only de­lay the pipe­line along with other in­fra­struc­ture pro­jects, but may also in­crease the flow of refugees to South Su­dan’s neigh­bours.

Phyl­lis Kandie, the chair of the EAC Coun­cil of Min­is­ters, also ex­pressed con­cern that war in South Su­dan poses a se­ri­ous chal­lenge to re­gional in­te­gra­tion. “Sta­ble coun­tries make strong re­gional en­ti­ties. It is there­fore in the best in­ter­est of the East African Com­mu­nity that South Su­dan re­mains sta­ble. The civil war in the coun­try could un­der­mine so­cial co­he­sion, po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity and economic pros­per­ity in the re­gion,” said Ms. Kandie, who is also the Kenyan of­fi­cial in charge of East African af­fairs.

Be­ing a po­lit­i­cal prob­lem, as­serts Mr. Omondi, a re­search fel­low in Kenya, the so­lu­tion lies in pol­i­tics. South Su­dan needs a deal that is not based on power sharing, he says. The deal should strengthen state in­sti­tu­tions that would guar­an­tee tran­si­tional ar­range­ments. But to find a speedy so­lu­tion, he sug­gests that sanc­tions should be im­posed. “Sanc­tions would go a long way to bring about a cease­fire. But they need not be im­posed by Western coun­tries or the United States. Sanc­tions im­posed by the coun­tries around South Su­dan would be more effective, since roots are deeper within the re­gion,” Mr. Omondi said.

How­ever, Mr. Omondi ad­mits this is un­likely to hap­pen. IGAD, he says, in­sists on sol­i­dar­ity among mem­bers, fear­ing that sanc­tions im­posed on friendly coun­tries could spoil re­gional re­la­tions. For ex­am­ple, if the Kenyan gov­ern­ment freezes the as­sets held by South Su­danese lead­ers in Kenya, it could com­pli­cate that coun­try’s cru­cial role in re­solv­ing the con­flict, a view shared by many ex­perts.

Ul­ti­mately, the chal­lenge for African coun­tries is to en­sure that the youngest coun­try on the con­ti­nent finds a so­lu­tion to the cur­rent cri­sis and chan­nels its en­ergy to­wards economic devel­op­ment. Raphael Obonyo is an ex­ter­nal ad­viser to UN Habi­tat’s youth ad­vi­sory board.

Raphael Obonyo

Sol­diers in South Su­dan guard­ing the air­port in Juba.

Raphael Obonyo

Kenyans be­ing evac­u­ated from South Su­dan.

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