Igad, AU need new a approach to put South Sudan back together again

Wednesday April 11 2018

Some stakeholders propose getting both President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar to exit the political stage.

Some stakeholders propose getting both President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar to exit the political stage. Their exit, while difficult, could help stabilise and give South Sudan a new beginning. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NMG 

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"If we are going to be independent,” Gen Salva Kiir had warned his compatriots, “we have to work hard and prove our enemies wrong — those people who say the South will be unstable and ungovernable.”

Unfortunately, the “enemies” have been proved right: Juba has failed to govern itself. South Sudan has betrayed all those who supported its Independence, notwithstanding the African Union’s aversion to secession.

One is led to revisit Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s somewhat prophetic articulation of possible consequences of secession in general: That after giving their back to the presumed oppressor, the secessionists once on their own may see new enemies in their midst.

The SPLM struggle against Khartoum underplayed the inter-ethnic and inter-class animosity amongst them. Independence pushed the SPLM leadership to suppress their differences.

It seems they did not borrow a leaf from Nelson Mandela of opening a new page; to let bygones be bygones and to move on.

The spark for the current crisis in South Sudan was the sacking of the vice president, Dr Riek Machar in 2013. Dr Machar had declared his candidature for the 2015 presidential election, at the end of President Kiir’s first term. His candidature sent shock waves that were to lead to the outbreak of skirmishes on December 15, 2013.

What would normally have been a political battle limited to the political arena, spilled over into the defence and security establishment (army, police, intelligence and militia) that disintegrated along ethnic lines.


After months of fighting it became clear that the conflict needed a political rather than a military solution. Hence the 2015 Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD)-brokered peace deal; whose roll out collapsed in 2016 when fighting broke out again.

The mediation has so far been led by the eight-nation, Djibouti-based Igad. What should be the negotiation strategy as the warring parties prepare for Phase 3 of the Peace Talks scheduled for April 26?

Perhaps what is needed is reconfiguration of the mediation team. In addition to the four key neighbouring IGAD countries (Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and the Sudan) new AU members — about four — should be added onto the team of four to bring new perspectives into this effort and to weaken individual states’ self-interest.

The four countries could be Nigeria and South Africa and Tanzania, given their economic, military and diplomatic muscle and then Rwanda, as the current AU chair.

Mediation as in most Ecowas interventions might benefit from Summit diplomacy at Heads of State level. Facilitation could be either by the IGAD Secretariat or better still a respected and seasoned mediator with massive outreach in and outside Africa.

The issues

What are the issues and new perspectives in the forthcoming dialogue?

First, there is some controversy about the role, if any, of the key protagonists, Kiir and Dr Machar.

Some stakeholders such as Rebecca Garang, have proposed getting both Kiir and Machar to exit the political stage. They could borrow a leaf from Ethiopia’s Hailemariam Desalegn. Their exit, while difficult, could help stabilise and give the country a new beginning.

But on the flip side, replacing Machar with Gen Taban Deng Gai has not delivered on the battlefield, worse still, various splinter groups on both sides of the political-cum-military divide have lead to a Somalia or Libya-type failed state or worse.

Second, one contested issue is President Kiir’s unilateral decision to create 32 new regions. The SPLM in Opposition (SPLM-IO) wants then reduced to 10 as envisaged in the 2015 Agreement.

A new political dispensation can be based on a decentralised rather than a federal or Kenyan-type devolved governance system. Juba needs to build “one South Sudan, one nation” first as Zambia’s founding president Kenneth President Kaunda would put it.

Third, a power-sharing agreement negotiated along the lines of Kenya’s 2007/08 post-election violence, creating a Grand Coalition Government with a president sharing power with a prime minister recognised in an amended Constitution as a co-principal — and who has security of tenure — with a mandate “to supervise and co-ordinate the functions of government” should be explored.

Notwithstanding the SPLM-IO’s preference for a lean Cabinet the said grand coalition may unfortunately be bloated to accommodate not only the two fighting blocks but other ancillary parties.

President Kiir and Machar, or their replacements should become president and prime minister respectively. As in the Kenyan case, they should agree on the sharing of Cabinet positions and govern thus for about five years, notwithstanding the current governance schedule.

Fourth, South Sudan should continue to have governments of national unity. After elections, the winning party should invite the losers to govern together to avoid a winner-take-all scenario.

Fifth, to avoid resumption of conflict occasioned by an election run-off, the country should opt for a parliamentary democracy where the party leader with a majority of the legislators becoming president.

This means it is the party not individual being elected to power, and it may reduce the urge to resort to election malpractice to subvert the will of the people. This system empowered South Africa’s African National Congress to “recall” both presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma.

The fighters

A major immediate challenge is the reintegration of the fighters. A two-army system cannot work. There are lessons in rebuilding national armies from antagonistic fighters in post-apartheid South Africa (1994) and Zimbabwe at independence (1980).

Disbandment of defeated armies can led to insurgency as happened in Mozambique and Iraq. In Angola senior commanders of the vanquished Unita rebels received “golden handshakes.”

Mineral-rich South Sudan could offer such retirement benefits to demobilised soldiers and help rebuild their lives as civilians.

Finally, the mediation and monitoring teams can take charge of the implementation of agreements through continuous engagement using the interests and pressure of the international community including the UN, AU and the Troika.

Local ambassadors can also get actively involved together with the civil society in resolving issues on the ground quickly.

International donor and partners including China, with its massive investments in oil and trade, must also be brought to the table for the sake of a successful outcome, which is good for business.

Prof Ngila Mwase has researched and written on the Nile Basin countries. E-mail: [email protected]