The Inter-Governmental Authority of Development is preparing to impose sanctions on the two warring parties in South Sudan should they fail to reach a political solution before the 15-day deadline.
The Igad Heads of State Summit had early in November given both the President Salva Kiir and Dr Riek Machar factions up to November 28 to agree on a power-sharing formula and end all hostilities or face targeted sanctions.
Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade Amina Mohamed told The EastAfrican that Igad countries had made it clear that they will impose sanctions if there is continued stalemate at the expiry of the deadline.
The US is preparing a draft resolution that would authorise international financial penalties and travel bans on leaders of government and rebel forces judged to be blocking a peace settlement.
But two council members with veto authority — China and Russia — are known to be unenthusiastic about such a move and could prevent the UN from initiating sanctions and an arms embargo.
Still, Igad — after dragging its feet over sanctions for months — is likely to be forced to act because three members of the UN Security Council, led by the US, have drafted a master plan to put South Sudan on the trusteeship similar to that of Iraq, for 10 years.
The proposed sanctions include asset freezes, travel bans within the region, and the denial of the supply of arms and ammunition and any other material that could be used in war. If need be, Igad leaders warned, they would directly intervene in South Sudan to protect life and restore peace and stability.
The US began imposing bilateral sanctions on individuals in May while the UN has also threatened sanctions. However, diplomatic sources in Addis Ababa disclosed that although targeted sanctions are imminent, most Igad partner states would be hard-pressed to impose them because they have operations inside South Sudan and want to continue to do business with Juba.
The UN trusteeship option is due to concern among key South Sudan donors that President Kiir and Dr Machar are not likely to reach a compromise because they are more interested on settling their differences through the military option, even though there is a looming famine with 1.8 million internally displaced and over 500,000 taking refuge in neighbouring countries.
The proposal is still at the draft stage, with indications that China and Russia could oppose it. However, those privy to the proposal argue that China may tag along provided that the UN entry does not change Beijing’s status as the dominant player in the oil sector in South Sudan.
Ms Mohamed said the proposal was drafted before the November 7 Igad summit, but after the warring parties asked for more time, the leaders gave the mandate to Ethiopia to request the drafters to put on hold discussions on the proposal until the Igad countries exhaust the processes they have put in place to stabilise South Sudan.
The UN option—to be known as United Nations Assistance Mission for South Sudan—will be a political mission headed by a special representative of the UN Secretary General. It will have a mandate to advise the government and people of South Sudan on political dialogue and national reconciliation, strengthen institutions of governance, assist in the electoral process, judicial and legal reforms, protect civilians and ensure security.
However, the UN option is not without some opposition with the spokesperson of Dr Machar, James Gatdet Dak terming the UN option “premature, unnecessary and would amount to external interference.”
According to Kuir Garang, a South Sudan poet, author and political analyst living in Canada, the issue is whether Kiir and Dr Machar can take the country to the required comfort level after the peace is signed.
“We have been autonomous for nearly 10 years and independent for nearly five years but we’ve not put in place any semblance of institutional structures that make a nation functional. Kiir and Riek will sign the peace deal once each one of them gets the required bargain. That’s all that matters to them — power,” said Garang, who was the first to call for a UN option in March.
Also uneasy with the proposal is Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. While meeting Kiir and former detainees on November 17 and 18, The EastAfrican gathered, Museveni warned the warring factions to either sign a deal soon or risk losing the country to the UN. He also hinted at reviewing his troops presence in South Sudan.
The outstanding issues remain the structure of government and how to share power between President Kiir and the proposed prime minister to be nominated by the SPLM-in Opposition.
While the government is pushing a Kenyan model in which the prime minister was co-ordinator of government ministries while the president remained the head of state and government, the SPLM-in Opposition wants the prime minister to head of government with executive powers while the president remains a ceremonial head of state.
Juba also maintains that the prime minister must be lower that the president in the perking order and his job will be to implement decisions taken by parliament. The rebels want two commanders-in-chief for the two factions, but Juba is uneasy with such an arrangement.
According to the director of the Nairobi-based Security Research and Information Centre, Col (Rtd) Jaw Kitiku, Igad intervened in South Sudan too quickly before the concerned parties themselves were ready for stabilisation and accepting external mediation.
“Due to what is happening in South Sudan, the region has to consider at what level to intervene in such situation,” said Col Kituku.