By: Daniel Juol Nhomngek, Lawyer, Kampala, Uganda, FEB/12/2017, SSN;
In most of the African countries that have been at war for a very long time, peace remained elusive. This is because peace and development have proved far more difficult and complex to achieve than the Afro-optimists envisaged in the immediate post-independence period, owing to a range of domestic and external factors (see; Peace & Conflict in Africa edited by David J. Francis).
Externally, Africa is perceived as a continent stricken by wars, poverty, perpetual political instability and armed conflicts, unrelenting economic crises, famines and diseases. Because of that the external powers who try to bring peace to Africa see it as hopeless continent, which prompts their decision to impose the peace as they understand it.
Consequently, they end imposing what is called Liberal Peace Project Tradition, in which peace building is understood in term of intervention designed to facilitate the establishment of durable peace and prevent the recurrence of violence. Such intervention as it has been observed by some writers peacekeeping, peace support operations, disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration.
The above approach is contrary to African indigenous peace approach and explains the reason why the peace has remained a mere dream in Africa. This is due to the fact that the peace is not people centred. Instead, it is externally driven, which turns to favour two parties to the conflict or strong party and the third parties who attempt to satisfy their own interests at the expenses of the citizens of the country by imposing the peace as they understand it.
In that respect, peace becomes an alien concept to the people and consequently people do not own it. Hence, the chances of the peace collapsing easily are very high due to the failure to involve citizens in the peace making process.
What those trying to bring peace in Africa and in particular South Sudan fail to understand is the importance of the involvement of the people in the peace process, which is supposed to give rise to the new constitution. Such a constitution like the Compromised Peace Agreement of 2015 can only stand the test of time if it were people centred.
However, as it was the constitution between the two warring parties, which did have support from the citizenry, the main consequence was the failure of that Agreement to achieve peace to greater extent.
To complicate the matters, those who want to bring peace in South put criminal justice above peace based on an argument that without justice there will be no peace. Whereas, the argument of that kind may be correct in other developed or western countries, in South Sudan typical criminal justice may not be desirable in bringing peace for a simple reason.
The reason being that criminal justice does not promote reconciliation as it only deals with punishment. In a country like South Sudan, if punishment is considered as the only way of bringing peace by deterring the war perpetrators as many are proposing, I am afraid that the peace will never be achieved in South Sudan.
Why? Because peace is value-driven and people respect peace when they are psychologically satisfied that there is peace. For that purpose, it is important to digress a bit in defining and explaining the word “peace” before I advance my argument as to why the peace makers should not much concentrate on criminal justice, peacekeeping or on the removal of the government, instead they should promote reconciliation and South Sudanese traditional justice as a means of bringing peace.
The peace cannot be defined in the context of South Sudan but it can only be described based on customs and cultures of South Sudanese communities who need peace as their concept of peace is latent with the concept of justice.
For that reason, peace can only be achieved when specific conditions that sparked off the war in the first place are understood or the culture that the war emanates from is analyzed properly.
It is for that reason the peace in Africa and in particular South Sudan should be understood to emanate from the values of South Sudanese who think that such values emanate from both God and human beings.
Hence, peace is a spiritual and moral value located in the religious belief systems of the people of Africa as handed down from one generation to another (see; Peace & Conflict in Africa. ibid), which is very true in South Sudan.
Peace in the concept of Africans and South Sudanese in particular unlike the West which is based on prosperity and order, it is based on morality and order (see; ibid). This is the reason the death penalty never existed in most of the traditional African societies except those states that were ruled by Kings.
The reason the death penalty did not exist in most part of Africa is that the concept of justice was not based on the concept of individuality as it existed in the West. Rather, it was perceived in term of the communities and because of that a crime was seen as committed against the community but not individual.
Hence, when it comes to justice it was perceived in term of community justice but not individual as it exists under the criminal justice system.
Thus, it is important to understand the fact that when dealing with the issue of peace in South Sudan, the peace makers should not rely much on few educated elites and politicians because they are hybrid individuals who have mixed ideas and concepts about true values of South Sudanese as they do not understand them properly.
Because of that they struggle to see the alien concept of criminal justice imposed on South Sudanese.
The assertion I have just made in the above paragraph can be explained by the fact that majority of South Sudanese elites who acquired education from Khartoum, East Africa and the Western World do not have a clear understanding of what the true values of South Sudanese rural people are.
Moreover, the politicians of South Sudan have also failed to understand the values of the rural South Sudanese because of their personal interests. Majority of these politicians are not interested in achieving lasting peace as it is in their interests to see that their political opponents are punished through legitimate means such as courts so that they get an opportunity to get to power.
The above facts are the basis for various politicians such as the G10, SPLA/M-IO and the politicians in the government of South Sudan struggling to defeat each other so that their opponents are chased away from power or are kept far away from power or completely prohibited from taking power. The implication of the struggle for power is that the legitimate desire of South Sudanese is ignored.
The legitimate desire in South Sudan is to see that peace prevails. In fact, if the government and the opposition were genuinely interested in bringing peace to South Sudan, they would have compromised and the peace would have been achieved already, which is not possible now because of conflicting interests and loyalties exhibited by the main actors.
As I have already pointed out above that the concept of peace in Africa is based on morality and order, such understanding of peace has been the major factor that held South Sudanese together throughout the liberation struggle.
This is because they can easily come together to forgive and chart the way forward. For example, Nuer and Dinka people had never always been at peace with each other but every time they fought they could come together as members of one family and reconciled and then lived as before.
However, it is very difficult this time because the political opportunists on both sides have found a new trick of how to retain the power through war and to continue fighting for it. Besides, they are not ready to go into compromise to bring peace as their respective aims are to ensure that either of the side is defeated: a “cattle keeping mentality” coupled with politics.
I have mentioned words “cattle keeping mentality” above because the two parties are fighting like cattle keepers not people in charge of the nation. In cattle camp, for instance, there is no compromise as once the fighting has begun the two parties to the conflict will not compromise, which is disincentive to the nation building and unity.
Compromise is the first virtue in the nation building as interest of the nation must always be above the interest of any person. Thus, where the interest of an individual obstructs the national interest then the interest of the nation must prevail.
This is the basis for which some leaders resigned sometime back as it was seen in the case of Mubarak of Egypt and the President of Tunisia, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 respectively who resigned from power because the future of their countries was at stake.
The recent example of Romania’s Prime Minister, Sorin Mihai Grindeanu, who passed decrees exempting decriminalizing little corruption and initially refused to repeal those decrees that critics said would free corrupt officials from jail early and shield others from conviction, despite international condemnation and the biggest popular protests since the fall of communism.
However, when he saw that his action was going to destroy the national unity he accepted the demand of the people to repeal the decree that was passed to decriminalize small corruption. This is the spirit the country like South Sudan wants.
I have labored so far to explain how the search for peace in South Sudan should be rooted in the spirit of reconciliation and compromise and in that respect the peace process should be based on the concept of peace as known by rural people not politicians and intellectuals who are concerned with power only.
The peace process should be based on traditional concept of peace among traditional South, which is based on the method of conflict resolution like any other African societies which is guided by the principle of consensus, collective responsibility and communal solidarity (see; Peace & Conflict in Africa edited by David J. Francis at page 113).
In summary, my argument is that in order to achieve lasting peace, national dialogue should the only way forward in South Sudan because peace is a product of dialogue achieved through mutual trust and understanding. It cannot be imposed externally.
The international community should take over the current “national dialogue” to make it national and neutral in character. In its current form, it is not national dialogue. The international community should also be tough on those who are fighting yet there is a dialogue in the process.
In terms of justice, restorative justice should be adopted to ensure that the victims and the offenders are brought together to mediate a restitution agreement to the satisfaction of each, as well as involving the community. This is different from criminal justice that aims at retributive justice, which is punitive and does not heal the community.
NB//: the author is the lawyer residing in Uganda and can be through: firstname.lastname@example.org; or +256783579256