In the past 20 months, South Sudan has swung between hope and horror.
The government of South Sudan, under President Salva Kiir Mayardit, blames fighting on an unbridled power-grab through a failed coup attempt by his erstwhile deputy turned foe, Dr Riek Machar. For the opposition under Dr Machar, the conflict is due to failure of leadership by President Kiir.
These opposing narratives cloud the search for a durable negotiated settlement. Any peace proposal must address these primary non-negotiable imperatives or risk failure.
This has been the persistent, fatal flaw of the numerous peace proposals by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) under the auspices of the African Union since early 2014, and the current peace proposal by Igad-Plus Five, which the two camps are expected to sign before August 17.
Is the Igad-Plus Five Peace Agreement really workable, enforceable and viable if not enduring and comprehensive?
No, it isn’t, for it does not provide sufficient soft-landing and face-saving formulas and, most important, a way out for the principals and their powerful supporters, allies and vested interests.
The Igad-Plus Five key member countries are Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Sudan, all with conflicting bilateral interests in South Sudan — ranging from trade and commerce, security and military interests, cross-border and trans-national ethnic kinship, and over-lapping cultural-cum-linguistic-religious affinities.
For the key Igad members, specifically Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda and to a lesser extent Kenya, their neutrality and even engagement is suspect.
The international players are the so-called Troika countries of the United States, Britain and Norway, the original key countries in the lead-up to the Comprehensive Peace agreement of January 9, 2005, and newly inducted major investor in South Sudan’s oil sector, China, and Russia, a potential key player in a future peaceful and stable South Sudan.
For the Troika of United States, Norway and Britain, the Juba regime is not entirely convinced that they are not pursuing a regime change in Juba, despite their public declarations to the contrary.
For China, the key and overriding interest is to safeguard and protect their oil exploration and transport investments and are not loath to strike a deal with whichever party is in power or can guarantee their investments as they readily did at the height of the liberation war prior to the 2005 peace accord between Khartoum and South Sudanese liberation movement, the SPLM/A.
That the Igad-Plus Five enjoys the support of both the African Union and the United Nations Security Council, giving their new peace proposal near universal endorsement is not in doubt; rather, the new peace proposal suffers from the same fatal flaw – lack of local context, traction and legitimacy; hence, will almost certainly suffer the same fate as others before it.
Specifically, the Igad-Plus Five Peace Agreement isolates the power structure of President Kiir, and inadvertently creates a power vacuum in his regime, ostensibly in a bid to be fair to Riek Machar’s opposition coalition of desperate groups.
In its attempt to be neutral, the Igad-Plus Five proposal, commits the cardinal error of engaging in double-speak, by invoking the doctrine of moral equivalence. And by default, appears to reject and possibly denounce, President Kiir’s narrative of what actually triggered the December 2013 violence while validating Riek Machar’s.
It is this lack of convergence as to what really ignited the spark on those fateful days of December 2013 that serves as the original sin of all subsequent peace proposals including the new Igad-Plus peace proposal.
Anti Igad demonstrations
The current public demonstrations denouncing the new proposal in many towns in President Kiir’s bedrock support regions and in Juba, are a clear harbinger of the real feelings within the president’s core-support networks; and not least, the top leadership of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army/Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLA/M).
For political observers and analysts of South Sudan, the buy-in and or co-option of the core SPLA/M cadres in President Kiir’s corner is critical towards achieving peace and stability in South Sudan. As it is, the Igad-Plus proposal pays a rather less than serious attention to this aspect.
That the fighting has acquired near total ethnic dimensions, should be enough for any serious negotiator(s) to ring alarm bells.
Unfortunately, for the Igad-Plus Five proposal, this has been given short-thrift under the guise of comprehensive security sector reforms, which is not really feasible in the current militarisation of the South Sudanese body-politic.
To many security and military analysts, both President Kiir and Dr Machar are almost held captive by their respective military-cum-security ideologues not averse to settling long-held and decades old grievances that were papered over in the CPA and post–CPA period.
The outbreak of open political competition and jostling for power by Riek Machar, including pre-planning, parallel power centres, support networks and an invisible military contingency support core force, was ever evident during the entire period between 2005 and 2013.
Any peace proposal must take into account a less acknowledged factor, namely that President Kiir, notwithstanding his faults, is an accomplished survivor, obstinate and equally driven; a tenacious fighter, and not one to shy away from a bitter brawling fight.
In this regard, the new Igad-Plus Five proposal inadvertently commits the original sin — of stripping President Kiir of all trappings of power in a game of moral equivalence, and in the process, suffers from the fatal flaw of underestimating the mercurial nature of the president’s core support network and the man’s own sense of dignity and pride.
As one senior official in Juba put it: “… Even a good doctor asks his patient(s) if they suffer from an allergy, before prescribing a dose of pencillin,… the Igad-Plus Five proposal does not ask whether we suffer from an allergy… what kind of a doctor is that?”
The message? That the Igad-Plus Five deal was doomed to fail for failing to offer the two main protagonists, and specifically, President Kiir, a soft landing option that they could sell to core supporters.
To countenance and envisage a scenario where President Kiir is a president in name devoid of any semblance of power, authority and gravitas and to reduce him to a nominal co-president, and regardless of the extent of the downward spiral in the country, is a recipe for disaster.
To even subject him to such an exercise is akin to exposing him to a fatal dose of political and military allergy that will surely kill the patient! They will not stand for it and as he defiantly concluded, a bad peace deal is worse than war — for it only prolongs the inevitable.
For Igad-Plus Five negotiators, including the larger international community, the search must be expanded and intensified for a Solomon like end-game, otherwise, the people of South Sudan, the region and the international community must brace for even more difficult times ahead; notwithstanding the immense political, economic and military-cum-diplomatic pressure including targeted personal sanctions hanging over the principal players in the South Sudan tragedy.