Igad to involve new players in South Sudan peace talks

Saturday March 14 2015
Kiir Machar

South Sudan President Salva Kiir and former vice-president Riek Machar. The chief negotiator says talks collapsed because the countries involved had vested interests in Juba. PHOTO | FILE |

The Inter-Governmental Authority-led South Sudan peace negotiations have collapsed, prompting the regional body to seek an expanded panel to jump-start the talks again.

The new team with “an international outlook” starts work in the first week of April. 

Igad plans to incorporate select countries from all the five regions of the continent in a new structure that will also see the African Union, the UN, the Troika (UK, US, Norway) and China actively participate in the negotiations.

Igad chief mediator Seyoum Mesfin said in an interview with The EastAfrican that the restructured talks dubbed “Igad Plus,” are meant to show the South Sudan actors that they are now dealing with the whole continent, following allegations that some of the players had vested interests in Juba.

“The whole of Africa will be asking them what they want. Do they want supremacy of guns or constitutionalism? The choice is theirs, but Africa will not watch South Sudan go down the drain,” said Mr Mesfin.

READ: Juba talks could collapse as donors opt for sanctions


Mr Mesfin said that the peace negotiations in Addis Ababa, which collapsed on March 6, were derailed by the lack of political will by the warring parties and the vested economic, security and political interests of countries in the region. The new arrangement will neutralise regional interests in the talks.

Whereas Mr Mesfin declined to name the new entrants arguing, that it is the prerogative of the AU Peace and Security Council, The EastAfrican established that the countries to be incorporated are Nigeria, Algeria, South Africa, Chad and Rwanda.

Both sides have welcomed the proposed new structure, with Dr Riek Machar saying they may look at things differently from Igad. South Sudan ambassador to Kenya Mariano Deng Ngor said the government would welcome any expanded group that would bring in fresh ideas.

The March 5 deadline passed with the warring groups differing on three major issues — security arrangement, power-sharing and a federal system of government.

READ: Govt and rebels adopt hard-line stance as March 5 deadline looms

Mr Mesfin said that the warring parties took advantage of the various interests Igad countries had in South Sudan and have now mastered the game of playing one country against the other and not taking seriously the agreements they signed.

“The protagonists in South Sudan are playing games with Igad countries. This must come to an end in order to solve this crisis, because Igad has the capacity and capability to end the crisis. The Igad leaders know where the key problems are and how to solve them,” he said.

But unlike in other conflicts where Igad had shown the capacity to put collective interests over individual national interests, it has been a major challenge in the conflict in South Sudan.

Threats by Igad countries to impose sanctions such as freezing of assets, travel bans and an arms embargo have never been implemented as the warring parties continue violating signed agreements.

“Igad has been pronouncing right from day one that if the parties are not willing to achieve peace, they will impose sanctions. It has been repeated more than three times without anything happening and now the protagonists are calling their bluff,” said Mr Mesfin, who, however noted that Igad leaders know that the sanctions are not to punish one party or another, but to enable them to achieve peace.

Mr Mesfin did not mention the specific Igad countries but experience since the outbreak of the conflict in December 2013, show that Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan have been unwilling to impose sanctions against the leadership of the warring parties out of fear of hurting their interests in South Sudan.

Uganda — which immediately sent its troops to South Sudan to support the government of President Kiir — is concerned about security on its border with South Sudan.

Kampala is also keen to ensure that the conflict does not give Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army a chance to slip back into South Sudan, from where he could plan attacks on northern Uganda.

Besides immense economic interests in banking and insurance that could be hurt by sanctions, Kenya — being the custodian of the CPA — has been reluctant to be seen as upsetting what it helped put in place. South Sudan is also a major market for Kenya’s manufactured goods.

Ethiopia is concerned about the continuous inflow of refugees and has been a leading proponent of the full implementation of the January 23 Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, including the withdrawal of Ugandan troops as a prerequisite to meaningful peace agreement.

Sudan, on the other hand, is concerned about the security of oil supply lines, and South Sudan as the primary market for its agricultural and manufactured goods.

Khartoum is also concerned about the presence of rebels from Southern Kordofan and the Blue Nile in South Sudan, and how Uganda has been hosting some of their leaders.