By Jacob K. Lupai, JUBA, JUN/23/2015, SSN;
South Sudan is engulfed in a conflict that seems to have defied all attempts to resolve it peacefully. The conflict is now about 18 months old and despite every effort made to try to end it, South Sudanese are still to enjoy peace and stability after having shed millions of liters of their own precious blood to achieve independence from vicious colonizers.
The conflict has now become the concern of Africa in particular and the international community at large to chart a better way forward for South Sudan to realize peace and stability through whatever means possible.
It is evident that South Sudanese on their own have no power to end the conflict because they find it easier to disagree than agree. For example, an agreement on cessation of hostilities is easily dishonored with either side to the conflict vehemently blaming each other. The blame game continues monotonously while the country bleeds senselessly.
South Sudan conflict
The conflict in South Sudan began on 15 December 2013. However, according to South Sudan Human Rights Commission (SSHRC) Interim Report on South Sudan Internal Conflict December 15, 2013 – March 15, 2014, the genesis of the conflict can be traced back to July 2013 when President Salva Kiir Mayardit made a major reshuffle, dropping his Vice President, Dr Riek Machar from the Cabinet.
The reshuffle in July 2013 heightened political rivalries and tensions within the ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). Prior to the reshuffle Dr Riek Machar as the Vice President and also deputy to President Salva Kiir Mayardit in the SPLM, openly expressed his desire to challenge the President for the leadership of the SPLM and therefore the President’s leadership as the Head of State.
The political rivalry between President Salva Kiir Mayardit and his former Vice President Dr Riek Machar for power and the leadership of the SPLM, and therefore the Head of State, is the cause of the conflict. A paper presented by SSHRC (July 2014) confirms that the cause of the current conflict is the struggle for the leadership and direction of the affairs of the SPLM and therefore the leadership of the country.
The start of the conflict was blamed on the alleged attempted coup to overthrow the government. However, others also claimed that there was no coup attempt but a fabricated one to silence critics. Nevertheless, whether there was a coup attempt or not what the people of South Sudan need right now is peace, stability and development to improve the quality of their lives. In addition, insecurity is so rampant that the very existence of South Sudan as a sovereign country may be under threat of disintegration.
In the absence of meaningful institutional reforms it is highly doubtful that a mere power sharing agreement is a lasting solution to the current conflict in South Sudan. Some may agree that power sharing is the solution to the conflict. Others may disagree while still there may be those who are not so sure. This may all suggest that the conflict is complicated. The complication is that the conflict has taken ethnic and regional dimensions where insecurity is the order of the day. A conception of power sharing agreement as a solution to the conflict is therefore too simplistic.
For any meaningful resolution of the conflict in South Sudan the primary priority is a holistic institutional reform. Reforms in governance, in the economy and in the security sector are a key to sustainable peace and stability. In governance the reform is the adoption of a federal system of government in a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-cultural country such as South Sudan where there are also regional diversities.
In a federal system powers are devolved to a lower level where there is autonomy with less interference from the national government. Through autonomy people have some freedom to run their affairs in their own way. This will likely promote unity in diversity. In South Sudan there could be three federal regions of Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile headed by prime ministers while the federal government is headed by a president. Within a federal region there could also be autonomous states with the three arms (executive, judiciary and legislature) of government headed by governors. Alternatively, the existing ten states in South Sudan could form the federation.
Reforms in governance
I am aware that a proposal for a federal system will be construed as “Kokora” by people less informed and lacking in confidence. There is no better system than a federal one in addressing the plethora of problems South Sudan faces on daily basis. The naïve ones and the less informed will erroneously perceive that a federal system divides people. This is false. On the contrary, a federal system promotes unity in countries, for example, with diversities of multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-cultural backgrounds. Federal states are found in Africa, in the Americas, in Asia and in Europe. However, only the fearful with a hidden agenda are the opponents.
A centralized system is likely to create rebellions and a possible breakup of a country. The old Sudan is a good case study. The then Southern Sudan demanded a federal system of government to preserve the unity of the old Sudan but the demand was utterly rejected. The rest is for students of history. Hopefully South Sudan will not breakup the way the old Sudan did under naïve Arab Islamic leadership. Learning from the insensitivity in old Sudan, it is hoped that the leadership of South Sudan will be wiser.
Reforms in security sector
Institutional reforms in the security sector is of paramount importance in promoting a strong united South Sudan. South Sudan is a country of 72 ethnic groups. In the national peace conference of South Sudan tribes convened under the theme “Peace Now! South Sudan Tribes United Against War” at Nyokuron Culture Centre on 17 – 18 February 2015, 72 ethnic groups were identified and listed. This is an update of the previous number of 65 ethnic groups considered to be in South Sudan.
The existence of 72 ethnic groups in South Sudan clearly suggests reforms in the security sector must reflect the ethnic diversity of the country. Not having representatives of the 72 ethnic groups in the security sector is a clear disaster in the waiting. As power corrupts it is very unwise to have any ethnic group to dominate in the security sector because it will be extremely arrogant and this does not bode well in promoting national unity. It has been seen that people in uniform grab land using arms but are not accountable for their criminal behavior. The implication is clear.
In reforms in the security sector, a state in the federation should have its own home guards/militia to handle hardcore criminals. The state should also establish its own organized forces such as the police, criminal investigation department, the prisons wildlife and the fire brigade.
For economic reforms the states should have the power to tax in order to raise revenue for investment in development projects. They should have the power, without interference from the centre, to develop natural resources such as agriculture, forestry, animal resources and fisheries. They also should have the power to prospect for oil and minerals such as gold, uranium, zinc and so forth. For self-reliance, paramount in reforms is economic development, judiciary, public services and structures at all levels.
In all, the reform agenda is about the rule of law, the promotion of good governance and the protection of human rights. However, this cannot happen without strong and implementable guarantees. For example, in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2005 Abyei was to have a referendum either to join Sudan or South Sudan. This did not happen. Also in the CPA the resolution of the conflict in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile States did not happen. Right now wars of liberation are raging in those two States. This is an indication that without strong guarantees and committed guarantors an agreement will likely be dishonored with impunity.
As a resolution of the conflict in South Sudan there must be committed guarantors and they should be the mediators, and those who have actively participated in bringing about any agreement on reforms. This is the only way to have a vibrant united South Sudan where every citizen identifies with and ultimately calls it a motherland. This is also how to save the country from collapsing.
It will be a waste of time and valuable resources for any agreement which is supposed to address the current conflict in South Sudan is only restricted to power sharing. Without guaranteed institutional reforms it is most likely that the conflict will recur with far reaching consequences.
In conclusion, the only salvation of South Sudan from disunity and possible breakup is institutional reform where a strongly guaranteed federation of either three regions or ten states is adopted, reflecting the diversities of the country. There should also be a reform in the SPLM, where among other things, a time-frame should be indicated as to when any member can start to campaign for the leadership. This is to avoid the way Salva Kiir Mayardit was being openly challenged at any time by members without respect.
Jacob K. Lupai is the author of the book: South Sudan, Issues in Perspective published in 2014. The book is available in St Joseph Bookshop and in JIT Supermarket in Juba, and at Juba International Airport. For students who would like to borrow the book, copies owned by Juba University are available in the library.