South Sudan warring parties on Friday agreed to delay the formation of a transitional government for six months, providing temporary guarantees that the deal could hold for now.
Both President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar have been dithering on commitments to a final resolution, leading to the formation of a transitional government.
Dr Machar has recently made it clear that he will stay out of the proposed government unless the security provisions—which include the reunification of the armed forces—are met.
And, while these concerns are being addressed, it has emerged that President Kiir’s government had hired an American think tank to help block the formation of a Hybrid Court, a crucial pillar in ensuring justice and closure for the victims and survivors of the conflict.
On Thursday, Lt-Gen (Rtd) Augostino Njoroge, chairperson of the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, while addressing the meeting in Addis, expressed concern about the pending tasks that are the most critical and consequential to the implementation of the peace agreement.
“My greatest concern is the delayed operationalisation of the cantonment sites, despite my repeated appeal to the parties to expedite this process,” he said. “As I speak, there is not a single cantonment site that is operational.”
Gen (Rtd) Njoroge was concerned that of the 59 key tasks required to be implemented prior to the beginning of the transitional period, only 27 have been completed; 17 are ongoing and 15—the most critical—are pending.
Meanwhile, in Juba, the government has signed a $3.7 million contract with US consultancy Gainful Solutions Inc to help block the formation of the Hybrid Court.
Since the signing of the agreement, the US and the other members of the Troika—UK and Norway— have been pressuring Igad and the African Union to start the process of forming the Hybrid Court.
Gainful Solutions Inc is associated with former American ambassador to Kenya, Michael Ranneberger.
The other players in the Juba deal are American Soheil Nazari-Kangarlou and Kenyan Rev Paul Cheboi.
According to the two-year contract signed in April and publicised on the Justice Department website, Gainful Solutions is supposed to delay and ultimately block establishment of the Hybrid Court envisaged in the revitalised agreement, and open a channel of communication between President Kiir and Washington, with the aim of persuading the Trump administration to expand economic and political relations with South Sudan.
Critics say that this shows that President Kiir and his top officials were never serious about implementing the 2015 peace agreement and are now trying to sabotage the 2018 revitalised one.
Biel Boutros Biel, executive director of South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy, said that blocking the Hybrid Court is an attack on the dignity of the victims and survivors of the South Sudan conflict.
“The South Sudan government must be held to account. The Trump administration needs to think twice,” said Mr Biel.
Amnesty International also said the contract raises concerns that the Juba is not serious about honouring the justice provisions of the peace agreement and ensuring justice for the people who have been executed, disappeared and raped by the government and opposition forces.
Gainful Solutions is also supposed to support American private sector investment in South Sudan in oil, natural resources, energy, gas, mining, and other areas, according to the contract.
It is also meant to persuade the Trump administration to reverse current sanctions and block potential measures, and open a military relationship with South Sudan.
Retired diplomat Timothy Towell, a board member of the Council of American Ambassadors, signed the contract as a witness while Rev Cheboi signed as adviser and co-ordinator.
The contract says that $1.2 million will be paid to the consultants as a non-refundable retainer.
Dr Cirino Hiteng, a former South Sudan assistant minister for foreign affairs, says the move by Juba could further injure relations with the donor community, which President Kiir has been trying hard to bring in to fund the peace process and other programmes.
The Ranneberger deal shines the spotlight on Juba as companies associated with former American diplomats in Africa continue to support African regimes run counter to Washington’s push for democratisation.
It further raises concerns about how South Sudan is falling into the basket of failed African countries whose natural resources are being plundered by foreign firms under the disguise of bringing about stability.
Observers wonder how the involvement of Americans in the Juba case sits with Washington’s foreign policy, which has, in the Trump reign, seemed more transactional than transformational.
The latest revelations come in the wake of a damning report by a Kenyan think tank tracing the flow of illicit money from South Sudan through Kenya and Uganda, aided by the countries’ financial systems.
Mr Ranneberger, who was the US ambassador to Kenya from 2006 to 2011, was strongly opposed to attempts by the Kenya government and the African Union to defer cases that were facing President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto at the International Criminal Court.
His recent turnaround to help Salva Kiir to block justice has surprised many observers.
“How can the American government and those who have worked in Africa be contracted to subvert justice?” asked James Oryema, the SPLM-IO representative in Kenya.
But President Kiir’s supporters say the Hybrid Court is not a priority.
Michael Makuei, government spokesperson and Minister for Information has always accused the Troika of pushing for the Hybrid Court because they seek a regime change by targeting the leadership of South Sudan.
John Deng D’Akiyooi, a South Sudanese adviser on international criminal law and human-rights, warns that the push for accountability by the Western powers could make the achievement of peace difficult.
“Accountability should come later, because pushing for the Hybrid Court at the moment is too dangerous for civilians, who have been suffering for the past five years,” he said.
But James Oryema, the SPLM-IO representative in Kenya, said that it is ironic that President Kiir, who has been claiming that there is no money to fund the peace programme, is now paying billions of dollars for self-preservation.
“You can’t say you don’t have money to spend on implementation and yet you are paying for things that are against the agreement, especially the chapter on accountability,” he said.
Besides the war having claimed the lives of close to 400,000 South Sudanese, a number of people have been raped, killed tortured and their houses burnt since the war broke out in 2013.