BY: Lomuchie Nyaloro, JAN/20/2017, SSN;
The declaration of the National Dialogue process by President Kiir in December 2016 has drawn mixed feelings among South Sudanese and the international community. Some people welcome it while others dismiss it as just a bogus ruse for Mr. Kiir and his Jieng advisors (The Jieng Council of Elders, JCE) to consolidate power after they have violently ejected the armed opposition from Juba.
Those who are dismissive point to recent utterances by the members of the Kiir regime as evidence of lack of sincerity regarding the declaration: Members of government contradict each other whether or not the 4,000-strong protection force approved by the UN Security Council are welcome to deploy in Juba; a junior official makes serious allegations against key supporters (the Troika) of peace in South Sudan of seeking to topple the Juba regime; the President himself revealing his nostalgia for the death of his predecessor (Dr John Garang), which made it possible for him to take the mantle of leadership.
(Is this a secret wish of the President for the death of Dr Riek Machar, his opponent, so that Taban Deng Gai can effortlessly succeed the latter?). All these sayings undermine any positive reception of the National Dialogue.
Despite these worrying signs, the National Dialogue can succeed if certain adjustments are made to its form and procedures.
In its present form, where the membership of its steering committee is wholly chosen by President Kiir and its unstructured method of consultations with grassroots that excludes the armed and other opposition groups, the National Dialogue has very high chance of failing.
For some observers, the desire of the President to come up with the National Dialogue might have been prompted by the realization that the country is at a great and an unacceptable risk of disintegration as the war and the attendant bitterness escalate.
In other words, there is now a “hurting stalemate” in the civil war. When there is such a stalemate, then the protagonists opt for negotiations. This stalemate is not just hurting for the government, it is also hurting for the armed opposition, because the violent rupture of July 2016 has not only removed it from Juba but the rupture has also weakened the opposition militarily and diplomatically.
The only way for the opposition to be relevant in charting the future of the country is now through negotiations. If it hurts both ways, then the stalemate becomes “mutually hurting.”
To most watchers of the civil war, the extension of fighting to Equatoria region represents a dangerous escalation. The widely expressed apprehension about the impending genocide and the flight of hundreds of thousands of civilians into refuge give credence to this view.
Less obvious to external observers is the creeping radicalization of the Equatorians who now demand that their region be exited from the Jieng-dominated South Sudan.
This demand should be taken seriously, because it was in Equatoria that the war for liberation from the Arab-dominated Sudan was started in 1956 and sustained until 1972. So, the Equatorians determination and endurance in fighting for their rights should not be doubted.
The other source of concern about this demand is that a number of Equatorian ethnic groups (the Kakwa of Yei, the Madi and the Acholi of Magwi, the Azande of Yambio) have also their kith and kin in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo).
If there were to be a political change in Uganda that replaced the present government, (which is perceived by some people to be indifferent to the sufferings of the Equatorians), with a more sympathetic one, then the war could take a more regional and international dimension.
Therefore, there is every incentive for the government to bring this war to a speedy end. A prolonged war in Equatoria, will eventually exact a higher price for peace, suck in the neighboring countries, and lead to adjustments to national borders among South Sudan, Uganda and DR Congo. There are justifications for holding this view.
Historically, Central Equatoria was called the “Lado Enclave” and had belonged to Belgian Congo (the present DR Congo). Furthermore, a significant portion of Eastern Equatoria was an integral part of the colonial Uganda Protectorate.
To date the border between the Equatoria region and Uganda has not been officially surveyed and ratified; thus, this unfinished colonial business makes the demand of the Equatorians for self-determination abundantly credible on historical grounds.
Here, a warning for those members of the Jieng community who routinely refer to the Equatorians as foreigners or Ugandans is in order: Beware; your prayers may be granted sooner or later.
A modified National Dialogue that will be inclusive and capable of bringing a satisfactory agreement can prevent such an existential threat as expressed above.
In this new version of the National Dialogue, the Steering Committee can be converted into a delegation representing those citizens who are still in the country and are in agreement with the government to some extent. The delegation can be called, for example, the “Home/Internal Front”.
Facing this front at a negotiating table will be a united opposition group, comprising those who, for political reasons, are in exile and are either armed or are just political opposition parties. The latter grouping can be dubbed the “Opposition Front”.
Joining the two delegations at the table will be a credible, dispassionate, well resourced, and diplomatically strong Mediator. Preferably, the mediator should come from among the Troika countries.
The two delegations should accept a mediation role for the Troika country this time round; South Sudanese have been greatly disappointed by the IGAD and the African Union roles in mediating this conflict so far.
Norway and the US have in the past mediated conflicts in the Middle East (e.g. Syria and the Palestinian-Israeli issue) despite the existence of regional organizations such as the Arab League; the same approach can be made for South Sudan to avoid reliance on the discredited IGAD.
In conclusion, irrespective of what motives that prompted the President to declare the National Dialogue, South Sudanese and the larger international community should seize this opportunity in order to bring about the sorely needed peace and respite to South Sudanese.
The National Dialogue has the potential to succeed if it becomes inclusive and is transparently implemented. The government should ensure complete unanimity among its members in support of the dialogue and its outcomes.
Equally, the opposition should be united in their aspiration for and participation in the dialogue. This opportunity must not be missed.
Lomuchie Nyaloro, a concerned South Sudanese.