After a series of talks that kept flopping, the meeting — between President Yoweri Museveni, his South Sudan counterpart Salva Kiir and leaders of other groups in the country’s faltering peace process — on July 20 at State House Entebbe, offers a glimmer of hope that warring factions of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Movement will reunite.
Senior Presidential Press Secretary Don Wanyama told The EastAfrican that the meeting “was fairly classified” and that beyond the statement that was issued by the Presidential Press Unit on Thursday night, “I don’t have any other details.”
But The EastAfrican has learnt from a well-placed source that this was a marathon five hours of meetings between President Museveni, the SPLM-In Government, led by President Kiir, the group led by the widow of the late John Garang, Rebecca Nyadeng and the Former Detainees.
The source revealed that there were also follow-up meetings, whose discussions, if implemented, could shape the way forward for stabilising Africa’s youngest country.
Apparently, President Museveni adjourned the first meeting at eight o’clock, after the attendees agreed that in order to build consensus, the main opposition group — SPLM-IO — of Dr Riek Machar should be brought on board for the reunification of SPLM and the return of peace and stability in South Sudan to happen.
“After five hours, they realised that they all need to pull in the same direction,” the source said, adding that these groups “all had divergent views” on how Salva Kiir could manage the national dialogue and the process that will eventually lead to elections in South Sudan.
The EastAfrican understands that after State House, the warring South Sudan groups retreated to Imperial Resort Beach Hotel, a few blocks down the road, to work out details of how Dr Machar’s group will be accommodated.
On Friday July 21, the delegations met again at 12pm to put together a report, which will be shared with the SPLM-IO and distributed to other parties and stakeholders, detailing the agreed positions as the parties work to reunite.
The government delegation which was led by President Kiir, included Defence Minister Kuol Manyang Junk, Minister of Wild Conservation and SPLM acting secretary general Jemma Nunu, and the Minister in the office of the President Mayiik Ayii Deng.
However, The EastAfrican could not establish the identities of the officials in Nyadeng Garang’s delegation and those in the former detainees, although it is understood that the latter, who included Maj Gen Madut Biar and Maj Gen Oyay, had been in Kampala since last week when the July 14 reunification meeting was postponed.
“President Museveni took the bull by the horns. He saw that the process seemed not to be taking place at the desired pace. So he brought the groups together,” said our source.
The group scheduled another meeting for July 27, during which Dr Machar’s group — which had skipped all previous talks — will be brought in, the source said.
Despite Mrs Garang leading her own group at the Thursday meetings, analysts argue that the widow of the SPLM founding leader “is an ally of Riek Machar” and can prevail over the SPLM-IO leader to buy into this process through representatives.
Dr Machar, who is under house arrest in South Africa, and whose exclusion from the talks has been a stumbling block for their success, and with the region’s leaders working on the advice of the former US secretary of state John Kerry and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development’s decision, the former South Sudan vice president cannot be brought back into Juba or any of the region’s capitals to personally be part of the reunification talks.
Softening of positions
Despite Machar’s exclusion, analysts argue that with the SPLM-IO on board, the agreed position during the Entebbe meetings that all talks after July 27 should be held in Juba is significant “in order to give confidence to the region and the people of South Sudan that everything is being done within the country’s borders to bring the factions together,” our source revealed.
This development represents a significant softening of positions, coming after the most recent talks that were scheduled for July 14 in Kampala were postponed when President Kiir protested pressure by western powers to invite Dr Machar.
According to our source, this softening came after five hours of discussions during which President Museveni told the South Sudan leader, “Salva, let’s remove all obstacles and move on.”
The first meeting on Thursday was chaired by President Museveni and also in attendance as observers were Uganda’s Minister for the presidency Esther Mbayo and International Affairs State Minister Henry Okello Oryem.
Since May this year, President Kiir has been working at peace building and to see the country’s warring factions are unified. The South Sudan leader thus instituted the National Dialogue, whose launch president Museveni attended in Juba, and oversaw the swearing in ceremony of the steering committee.
The steering committee co-chaired by Angelo Beda and Justice Abel Alier, is tasked with the process of kick- starting national dialogue and peace building.
However, as talks between the SPLM factions have been in a faltering mode, and even with the July 20-21 meetings in Entebbe promising some hope, the dialogue remains on shaky ground as fighting has continued in parts of South Sudan, forcing President Kiir to declare a state of emergency in the states of Gogrial, Tonj, Wau and Weil East.
South Sudan, which gained independence in 2011 after breaking off from the Republic of Sudan, has been in turmoil since December 2013 when war broke out in Juba, with forces loyal to Kiir and Machar throwing the country into a violent conflict that has seen over 1.3 million refugees flee the country.
A fragile peace agreement was signed in Addis Ababa in August 2015, to establish a Transitional Government of National Unity, but the rivalling groups resumed fighting in July 2016.