South Sudan: The ‘Last Chance’ Call for Peace

BY: Samuel ATABI, South Sudan, MAR/05/2018, SSN;

Dear Troika Ambassadors,

The other day I watched, with tears in my eyes, a television news of a perilous journey by South Sudanese internally displaced people (IDP) being displaced again by a government attack in their camp somewhere in the Upper Nile region.

The TV footage featured young people, old people, and even pregnant women trudging along a bumpy dirt road, in a rickety truck, towards the Ethiopian border.

There, they hoped they would be safe from the government soldiers’ guns. Along the way, the footage showed a young pregnant woman who went into a sudden labor, clearly as a result of the bumpy journey.

The truck stopped and she, accompanied by some three women, walked away from the other passengers to an isolated grassy spot so that she could give birth to her baby with some dignity.

The arrival of the baby was announced by the usual lung-opening cry of neonates. A few minutes later, without ceremony or post-natal medical care, the young mother and her baby were brought back to the vehicle to resume the journey.

The vicarious pain I experienced by watching the footage brought it home to me that this war has reduced us to the life of wild animals; to a life in the wild where the struggle for survival is dictated by the Darwinian precept of ‘survival of the fittest.’

Whereas in the wild, predators such as the wild dogs, lions, leopards, cheetahs, hyenas, crocodiles are the skilled killers and devours of both the old and the young preys, in South Sudan, those who have got to the guns first and are armed to the teeth pick their unarmed victims (old and young, including babies) and kill them with complete impunity.

Failed concept of nation-state:

But why should the world stand by and watch this debasing and degradation of innocent lives of South Sudanese without doing something decisive?

Those of us who question this paralysis on the part of the international community in the face of the genocide taking place in South Sudan, are often reminded of the right of a sovereign nation-state to govern its territory without interference from other nations or institutions.

This notwithstanding, and driven by the Wilsonian vision of the American exceptionalism, the US government has spent billions of dollars in support of the people of South Sudan over the last decade.

And to their credit, the US and other Western governments have tried to stop the violence by introducing arms embargo on the warring parties in that country.

But their effort has been thwarted by the two Eastern powers, Russia and China, through vetoing of resolutions aimed to institute the embargo at the UNSC.

The two powers have no visible assistance program for the people of South Sudan, but they continue to make money from the oil industry in this unfortunate country.

The behaviors of these two latter powers continue to perplex South Sudanese; surely, they do not enjoy seeing South Sudanese killed and displaced in millions?

Although it is not profitable anymore to debate whether or not South Sudan is a nation-state as conceived by Cardinal Richelieu in the seventeenth century Europe, in his raison d’état precepts, it is still important to question whether, as structured, the South Sudanese state is the most stable and is fit for purpose.

South Sudan was itself a part of Sudan, a nation-state construct designed by the colonial power in the last century.

The peoples of the Sudan were far from homogeneous; homogeneity is one of the acceptable defining characteristics of a nation-state.

Because it lacked this feature, and as expected, the black and mainly Africans inhabitants of the south of the country, who shared very little with the brown and Muslim Arabs of the north, did challenge the credential of Sudan as a nation-state: they waged a war of liberation for decades starting in 1955 until 2011 when they managed to secede and gain independence.

In acceding to the South Sudanese secession, the international community implicitly and tacitly accepted the argument that Sudan was not a sustainable nation-state as previously constructed.

The tensions that led to the break-up of the colonial Sudanese nation are emblematic of the current challenges faced by several African nation-states: there are increasing calls for secession in some of these countries.

Examples of the countries include Niger, Nigeria, Cameron, DR Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia.

The calls are a consequence of some of the leaders of these nations behaving more like emperors of mini-empires than leaders of nation-states.

Those groups of elite or ethnicities, who are in power in these countries, discriminate against those groups of citizens who are out of it, effectively rendering their fellow compatriots as secondly class citizens.

Second-class citizenship was an enduring feature of empires, such as the Roman Empire, and not that of Richelieu’s “national-state”.

Ironically, it is this lack of homogeneity among the citizens of South Sudan that is now the cause of conflict in the country; it is ironic because this young country has purportedly bolted away from Sudan to escape discrimination, marginalization and second class citizenship for its people.

South Sudan is now at the front of the queue of African countries being threatened by disintegration because of complaints about discrimination against certain categories of citizens.

Peoples of South Sudan are not homogeneous.

As stated above, the black Africans of the then colonial Southern Sudan were put together by the British, most probably with their blackness being the main uniting factor.

This, however, is not to say that the British were entirely oblivious to the glaring differences, in physical attributes, cultures, levels of education and temperament, among the people of Southern Sudan.

This is because in their wisdom, the British divided the region in three provinces, which approximately reflected these differences.

These sub-divisions or provinces were named Equatoria, Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile.

In Equatoria, the population shared a number of characteristic: a multiplicity of ethnic groups (>30 tribes) with sedentary and agricultural lifestyle; relatively higher literacy, thanks to sustained education provided by the Catholic and protestant churches; because of the latter, the Equatorians were less prone to violence and vengeful temperament, which, in turn entrenched respect for life and property among the inhabitants.

The remaining provinces, Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile, were dominated by, respectively, single majority tribes with the Dinka dominating in Bahr el Ghazal and the Nuer having preponderance in Upper Nile. (There are, in addition, other significant minorities both in Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile).

Both Nuer and Dinka are related anthropologically, are steeped in their main tradition of pastoralism based on ownership of cattle, and share similar temperament of being quick to anger and fight over cattle rustling.

(The fight over cattle rustling, which can be either within each tribe or directed at other ethnic groups, have become more dangerous with the wide ownership of modern weaponry).

The levels of education among the general population of both these tribes were lower than those in Equatoria, probably because of diminished presence of the Christian churches in their provinces.

Genesis of antagonism among South Sudanese.

The differences described above are at the core of the present post-independence conflict in South Sudan.

The war of independence for South Sudan was fought in two phases: the first phase started in 1955 and was largely led by the Equatorians. The phase ended in 1972, when the first Addis Ababa peace agreement was signed, giving the South an autonomous government.

This was the first ever opportunity for South Sudanese to administer themselves. The autonomous government ran for approximately 10 years.

It was during that time that other South Sudanese began to recognize discriminatory tendencies among the Dinka elite who were involved at various levels of government.

They were seen to be nepotistic, tribal and physically aggressive.

The Equatorian elite in that autonomous government countered these tendencies by successfully lobbying the Sudan government to divide the autonomous government into further three autonomous governments.

The Sudanese government agreed and duly created, respectively, the Equatoria, the Bahr el Ghazal and the Upper Nile regional autonomous governments.

The Dinka elite, whose strategy of dominating the Southern government depended on a single and centralized administration in Southern Sudan, strongly opposed this move.

The Dinka elite were alone in this opposition because the rest of the Southerners had welcomed this re-division as it gave them the opportunity to govern themselves without the domination from the Dinka elite.

It was this opposition to the further decentralization of the autonomous government that led the Dinka elite to withdraw to the bush and start an armed rebellion in 1983.

Later, this primary reason for the rebellion was hidden from the public when Dr John Garang, the head of the lead rebel army, the SPLA, disingenuously claimed that the objective of the insurgency was the “creation of a New Sudan”.

In 2005, following the Naivasha Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the Khartoum government and the SPLA, the interim administration that was set up in Southern Sudan was initially dominated by the Dinka and the Nuer.

It is important to note that the Dinka elite had not abjured their earlier strategy to dominate governance in South Sudan during the more than two decades of the war.

South Sudan: The ‘Last Chance’ Call for Peace opportunity to re-assert their divisive objective of domination presented itself in December, 2013, when they started the present civil war by killing thousands of unarmed Nuer civilians in the capital of the country, Juba.

Now, they are fully in-charge of the country, while at the same time excluding other South Sudanese from meaningfully participating in the government.

Root causes of the war

With the foregoing background in place, it is now possible to delineate the root causes of the war in the Republic of South Sudan.

i) The primary cause is the selfish and hegemonic design by the Dinka elite to perpetually dominate the governance of South Sudan. This historical strategy has neatly dovetailed with the prevailing orthodoxy in Africa where the first or some intermediate ethnic group or elite to head the early post-independence governments refuse to pass the mantle of power to any other group of citizens.

The incidence which triggered the present conflict in 2013 was singularly motivated by fear among the Dinka elite that they would lose power in the planned general election to take place in 2015 to the Nuer elite headed by the then Vice President, Riek Machar.

Therefore, the obstacle to the resolution of the conflict is the determined effort by the Dinka elite to first, maintain the centralized government system and second, to use this centralization to deny other groups any meaningful roles in the governance and development of South Sudan.

ii) A secondary course of the war is the interference from the neighboring nation-states in the South Sudanese civil war. There are some nations in the vicinity of the Republic of South Sudan, particularly Uganda, which, for reasons yet unknown to the public, are selfishly shielding and supporting the regime in Juba.

They are fomenting war and disunity among the citizens of the young country and are bent on turning the country into battleground for wars in the Nile valley; the recent entry of Egypt, again, on the side of the government in Juba makes this likely.

Their support for the regime makes the regime arrogant and defiance to any suggestion for peaceful resolution of the civil war.

Solutions to the war

In August 2015, a peace agreement to end the conflict in South Sudan, also known as ARCSS, was successfully negotiated and signed in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

For reasons which history will reveal later, those charged with its implementation neglected to enforce it strictly and timely.

As a consequence, the government’s side violated several of its clauses and Dr Machar, the leader of the opposition SPLA-IO and a key signatory to the agreement, was chased out of Juba and into enforced exile in South Africa.

This left the agreement practically dead. Now a new peace process, called High Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) for ARCSS has been launched.

Key participants to the forum have signed a Cessation of Hostility agreement on December 22, 2017 as a prelude to a more substantive discussion of the ARCSS itself in February, 2018.

Disappointingly, already, the government side has been accused of several violations of the ceasefire clause contained in the latest agreement.

Thus, the prognosis for the success of the next phase of the revitalization does not look good.

Despite this pessimistic assessment, we propose and recommend the following as the most reliable solutions to the conflict:

1. The mediators should adopt the following as their strategic objective:
Redefinition and restructuring of the STATE known as South Sudan in such a way that no one tribe or individual again can capture and monopolize power in order to entrench self with the purpose to subjugate and become a hegemon over the other tribes in South Sudan.

2. The mediators should encourage the participants to accept:
A clause, in the agreement, which will authorize the re-division of South Sudan into three FEDERAL states of Equatoria, Bahr el Ghazal and Upper Nile.

This should include a provision of freedom for any minority group to opt for a shift to another state which is different from that where it traditionally belongs.

For example, if a minority tribe in Bahr el Ghazal, who feels oppressed by the majority Dinka and would want to shift to Equatoria, it should be allowed to do so.

3. Participant should endorse:
Mandatory arms embargo through the UNSC on any party who violates the ceasefire agreement and any other clauses of the resulting agreement.

4. The members of IGAD should agree and sign on:
Promise to strictly refrain from transferring arms to any participants in the armed conflict on the pain of UNSC sanctions.
These are the key pillars that should hold the resulting agreement and on which other clauses will lean.

Consequences of failure
We respectfully urge the UN, the Troika and the AU to seriously consider adopting our suggested Strategic Objective listed in (1) above.

Were it to be successfully applied in the South Sudanese conflict, it might provide a future template for a wider application in the various African conflicts that will surely result from the failing nation-states as alluded to earlier.

The creation of meaningful federal units, in South Sudan and elsewhere in Africa, within a united entity (state) must be preferable to a complete fragmentation into successively tiny and unstable ‘independent’ countries.

This opportunity must not be lost.

The international community has repeatedly announced that the present peace process on the South Sudanese conflict is the last chance for the leaders of that country; but the community has not revealed what are the consequences if this ‘last chance’ fails.

We want to invite the international community to again consider our suggestions for what should be the consequences in case of failure.

a) Seek and pass a UNSC resolution establishing a UN-AU Trusteeship to govern South Sudan for a defined period and prepare the country for a general election; or

b) For a specified period, the dollar proceeds from the sales of oil by the regime in Juba should be managed by the UN for the benefit of the people of South Sudan and not for the ruling elite or nor for the purchase of armaments which are used for killing the population; or

c) The military power of the government in Juba should be forcibly degraded either: through a UN-sanctioned forces attacking the SPLA; or through the intervention of forces from a coalition-of-the-willing, regardless of the resistance at the UNSC; or through the judicious and selective arming of the South Sudanese opposition coalition forces to force a hurting stalemate that should in turn force the government in Juba to the table for a realistic peace settlement ; and

d) If all of the above fail, then the world should be prepared to countenance a scenario of generalized and internecine warfare in South Sudan, perhaps which will be worse than the Somalia debacle both in intensity and scope.

The opposition, in desperation, might seek support from states that sponsor of terrorism for supply of arms and ammunitions. They might form liaisons with terrorist fighters and adventurers in return for religious conversion and future economic benefits.

(There are mineral resources such as uranium, gold and diamonds, in South Sudan, which the opposition might use for illegal purchase of armaments and supplies).

The military presence of Egypt in South Sudan might facilitate the attraction of its terrorist enemies to shift their battleground to South Sudan.

As history and experience have shown, the costs for delayed action to bring peace and normality to a country devastated by conflicts are usually enormous and higher than those for an early intervention; these elevated costs will not only apply to the South Sudanese but will also be applicable to the region and to those who have security and economic interests in eastern Africa.

I should, however, hasten to add here that this is not just an idle speculation from our side; during her recent visit to South Sudan, Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, had expressed similar concern on the possibility of South Sudan turning into a breeding ground for terrorists if the conflict is inordinately prolonged.

(In an appreciation of Ambassador’s Haley stance to side with the people of South Sudan, the following poem was written by one of our members in response to an American female blogger urging Ambassador Haley, from the US, to choose side with the regime in Juba:

‘Have you ever seen the earth from a distant space?
It is a ball of navy blue water with swirling clouds
At that distance, one cannot see the rotting bodies of soldiers and civilians on the Juba streets.
Neither can you see a young mother giving birth in the bush like a wildebeest in a wild park.
Nikki is no dewy-eyed sentimentalist, arm-chair observer talking from New York.
She is a street-level observer who has been to the refugee and IDP camps.
Nikki talked to the victims of war about their sufferings
She shares their pains.
Between the two women, I would choose Nikki for a mother’)

Conclusion
The ‘last chance’ call made by the international community to the leaders of South Sudan should equally apply to the leaders in the region (IGAD), the AU, the UN and world powers.

It is time the Darwinian experiment now being conducted in our country was stopped. Our people need peace and dignified life.

Yours sincerely,
Samuel Atabi

1 Comment

  1. Frank Deng says:

    A HOUSE OR A BUILDING CALLED SOUTH-SUDAN:

    A house,a home or a building called south-sudan has visible structure cracks all-over and technically unstable to live in. The terrain the building is built on is swampy and muddy,hence the building is tilted backward, the foundition of the building is compromised.
    Its cold out there and monsoon winds are on the horizon, the building has to be built afresh from bottom-up soon.

    OBVIOUSLY a metigating disaster coupled on terrible human error the world is in shock and the calamity that follows, but the building has to be built never the less. The public are demanding and breathing fire asking big questions.After-roll the building is only seven years old. Still brand new building but faulty!

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