The meeting between President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar in Addis Ababa on June 20 ended in a stalemate, forcing Igad to transfer the next location for the meeting to Khartoum in the hope that involving Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir will break the deadlock.
President Kiir said he will not work with Dr Machar, and asked the rebel leader to choose someone else to represent him in the proposed transitional government.
Information Minister and spokesman Michael Makuei said President Kiir had invited Dr Machar to return to Juba, but will not participate in the would-be transitional government until democratic elections are held.
“President Salva Kiir is not ready, in any way, to work again with Dr Riek Machar in the next transitional government... We have had enough of him,” Mr Makuei told journalists in Addis Ababa.
Dr Machar, on his part, proposed that mediators adopt a protocol-by-protocol model, which is credited for the success of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the North and the South and facilitated their split in 2011. Under this model, the warring parties are allowed to discuss the problems among themselves and offer possible resolutions, while the mediators record areas of agreement that will not be revisited.
Sources in Addis Ababa told The EastAfrican that suspicions arising from the July 2016 falling out at the presidential palace in Juba — which is blamed for breaking the 2015 peace agreement — are still ingrained in the minds of the two leaders, and were a major stumbling block in the face to face meeting.
Among the key issues the two leaders discussed were security arrangements and power-sharing, and the 32 states created by President Kiir that are strongly resisted by the opposition.
The Addis meeting did not provide a solution to the outstanding issues that emerged when the talks were suspended in May.
Acting Foreign Minister and leader of the government delegation Martin Elia Lomoru said the government wants the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (Igad) to implement the “Bridging” proposal that raised the number of representatives on the Kiir side in the proposed transitional government to 35 per cent, up from 33 per cent in the 2015 agreement.
But chairman of the National Committee for Information and Public Relations in SPLM-IO Mabior Garang de Mabior maintained that Igad must address the causes of the conflict, and that they will not accept an agreement imposed on them by Juba.
The SPLM-IO said that President Kiir was trying to dictate the terms of the agreement by choosing whom to work with.
“If Dr Machar is to stay out of the transitional government, despite being a major signatory to the 2015 Peace Agreement, then let President Kiir also stay out,” said James Oryema, SPLM-IO’s representative in Kenya.
After the failed talks, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali is putting pressure on regional leaders to set aside their vested interests and give South Sudan peace efforts a chance.
With support from the US and other sponsors of the South Sudan peace process, Dr Abiy persuaded President Kiir to meet Dr Machar in Addis after it became clear that regional leaders were dithering in deciding the place and the time of the meeting.
“We cannot continue with business as usual. If the parties are unwilling and unable to halt the suffering of their people, we need to put them on notice that we are ready to act,” Dr Abiy said at the Igad heads of state meeting on Thursday.
“There is no shortage of ideas on how to resolve the crisis. What we lack is the courage to translate those commitments to peace into reality. What we lack is leadership.”
The face-to-face meeting on June 20 was preceded by Dr Abiy meeting Dr Machar, who arrived in Addis on Wednesday morning from South Africa — whence he had fled to and where he was under a de facto house arrest — and another at 8pm with President Kiir who arrived in the evening.
President Kiir, with the support of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, had initially hesitated to go to Addis, and had suggested a meeting in South Africa that would have ensured that Dr Machar remained under house arrest.
Dr Lomoru said the meeting in Addis contradicted the Igad resolution to relocate Dr Machar from South Africa to another country away from the region.
“President Kiir took the view that Addis Ababa is the seat of Igad, under whose leadership the peace process is being conducted,” Dr Lomoru said.
Both Presidents Kiir and Museveni have been resisting what they believe are designs by the Troika — the US, UK and Norway — to impose their version of an agreement on South Sudan.
Uganda, is thought to be an arms gateway into South Sudan. Uganda has offered military support to President Kiir since the war broke out in 2013.
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta — the rapporteur of the 2015 South Sudan peace agreement — is seen by the rebels as leaning towards support for President Kiir by allowing the abduction and deportation of their members to Juba.
But President Kenyatta recently designated opposition leader Raila Odinga as a special envoy to South Sudan. Mr Odinga recently met President Kiir in Juba and Dr Machar in South Africa as part of Kenya’s initiative to end the war.
While Khartoum has reduced its support for Dr Machar militarily, to get into the good books of the US, the rebels fighting to oust President al-Bashir in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile — the Peoples’ Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) — are fighting alongside President Kiir’s forces, thus complicating any ceasefire arrangement.
Dr Machar’s SPLM-IO now says that it will be futile to hope for peace in South Sudan without involving Sudan because of the historical, security and economic linkages.
“The region should realise that there can be no peace in South Sudan without Khartoum because it is part of the problem. Even if we sign a permanent ceasefire, the region still has to consider the role of SPLM-N, which has now become part of the war,” said Mr Oryema.
President Bashir, who had earlier offered to host the face-to-face meeting before Dr Abiy changed the venue, is keen to end the war to help his country’s floundering economy and halt operations of the rebels fighting his government in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Sudan’s economy benefits substantially from transporting South Sudan oil through its pipeline.
Where to next for Dr Machar?
Where will Dr Machar go after the Khartoum meeting next week? Government spokesperson Michael Makuei says he should be taken back to house arrest in South Africa.
After the Addis meeting, the Igad council of ministers decided that Dr Machar would remain there while awaiting a decision by the regional leaders.
In May, Igad had resolved that Dr Machar be moved to a country that does not share a common border with South Sudan, but SPLM-IO maintains that the rebel leader must be given unconditional freedom courtesy of an agreement to free all political prisoners signed last December.