The Fragile Peace Talks in Addis Ababa: An Analysis

QUOTE: “A party of order or stability [status quo], and a party of progress or reform [change], are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life”, Stuart Mill.

BY: Deng Bachech, ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA, MAR/05/2014, SSN;

Many opinion writers, political commentators and analysts have written a lot on this same issue since peace talks started on 23 January in Addis Ababa. But I feel like adding my voices too on current debates in South Sudan’s conflict because the talks are still going on.

In fact, the peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia are here to settle the differences and resolve the current conflict between the South Sudanese government and anti-government forces.

Initially, the cessation of hostilities, the release of political prisoners and the withdrawal Ugandan troops from South Sudan were key agendas in the first phase of the talks since January 23 (two or so months ago).

As we speak, none of these agendas ever adequately implemented.

Furthermore, on the February 26, the peace mediators (IGAD/AU and other partners) came up with another sound but difficult “proposal” that might hypothetically attempt to extinguish the raging fire of violence in the country: “An interim government formation”.

And the proposal stated that, both Salva Kiir and Riek Machar would be excluded from the upcoming interim administration.

The reason is that, that new interim administration will set up democratic process for 2015 elections, pave way for national healing for peace and reconciliation, establish credible institutions, etc.

In addition, the rationale behind the refusal of Kiir and Machar in a newly proposed interim government is that, both are allegedly accused of human rights abuses and crimes against humanity.

You see, judged from a different standpoint of the timeframe, credibility, and reliability of the peace mediators and the warring parties, one can sense a failure. It is a conspicuously fragile, condescending peace.

I. The Role of the Mediators

For the records, I was in the battlefield in Upper Nile State since conflict began in Malakal (24 December 2013). I was there until I left on the 29th January and arrived in Addis Ababa on February 6th, 2014. Upon arrival in Addis Ababa, I made careful and critical observations of the peace process.

Then, I again made prudent analysis on actual issues and trends of the talks; and comparatively, I reviewed my diary and the way things truly are on the ground. As a result, I sensed a real fear in the success of the talks.

As I had first-hand accounts of the situation (in Addis Ababa and down there in the field), I concluded that failure of the talks is inevitable.

To me, the mediators aren’t serious. If indeed they are, why previous agendas on the peace-table—release of detainees and Ugandan troops withdrawal—never been implemented.

Before they (mediators) finished the first phase, they came up with a “new interim government” initiative. Doing so many things at a go is a complex and risk business, to say the least. It wastes time, energy and resources.

Here are important signs of a perceived fear; and potential obstacles that will inevitably impede efficient and effective implementation of the IGAD/AU mediated peace talks.

1. The mediators didn’t do a fieldwork and an outreach initiative at the grassroots level.

In principle, mediators should know that the current peace talks are fragile—I mean, all peace settlements anywhere are always hard to make and build, but are easy to dishonor if not studied carefully.

Like all nations in Africa, South Sudanese map is arbitrary. Its ethnic diversity is very fluid. As such, it is better that the mediators should first understand their ethnic characteristics and compositions—their own values, traditions, virtues, practices, norms and identities.

More importantly, in a word, understand their political history as a nation-state.

Otherwise, if current peace will be imposed on ordinary citizens (notably the victimized) from the above, and the mediators are trying to push changes rather quickly, while they haven’t considered the effects of such changes, then the whole thing will be in trouble and ultimately will backfire inadvertently.

For example, during 2-months peace process, no initiative made to keep the general public at the grassroots abreast of peace talks and the significance of peace itself.

Now their grievances are still not addressed adequately, because they weren’t informed nor invited! As citizens of this nation, we aren’t pretty much concerned about the settling of political differences between politicians of one party (SPLM); but about the issue of appalling “Injustices” inflicted and how it can be reversed.

So, how credible, reliable and sustainable can peace be negotiated with one group (the elites), leaving out the others (the ordinary citizens)?

Such a model of top-bottom approach in peace-making may have a successful results in short-term but destructive in the long run.

Remember the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) negotiations in 2005! The current approaches and mechanisms of the talks are replicas of the CPA. If examined closely and critically, the current conflict is a result of unaddressed old political grievances during the CPA.

To be precise, the term “Comprehensive” in the CPA was misplaced because the participants at the time were only from the educated and Nairobi urban-dwelling folks of South Sudanese origin, and it excluded the downtrodden mass in the South.

Nowadays, these ordinary citizens aren’t stupid and ignorant; they feel the pains directly; they know their rights. Therefore, they must be involved to directly express their grievances, not through the mouths of politicians. In short, we don’t want a repeat of CPA mistake.

2. Here is a concrete example. A future interim government minus Dr. Riek Machar will be quite a problem. Why? In the entire Nuerland, as per my personal experiences and knowledge of the Nuer people—particularly the overwhelming majority—all they know is Dr. Riek as their leader. Any rise of another leader (be it a Nuer or otherwise), at any rate, will not probably be a wise choice for them. Machar is considered a “Nuer Messiah.” Dismiss it or accept it, as the whole truth; but this is what it is.

3. Here in Addis Ababa, peace talks on the “SPLM-In-Opposition” side are negotiated exclusively by politicians, especially the “Group of Seven (7)” and sometimes they called themselves as the “Third Party”—the seven recently released detainees—plus Taban Deng, the chief negotiator. Agreeably, this group from the public point of view, they regrettably lost touch with reality on the ground. Their performances in the talks are understandably satisfactory, but their motives are questionably precarious.

4. Therefore, talks by now are neither comprehensive nor inclusive, if one has a sound intellectual and political understanding of what it means to make peace. In fact, during the whole process, the most prominent and knowledgeable civil society figures, who are supposed to have positive inputs, are utterly excluded from the talks. I don’t know whether it is by default or by design. Nobody knows!

II. The Juba Reluctance to Yield Peace

The Juba government of President Salva Kiir is very adamant not to give peace a chance. Remember when the peace mediators proposed a formation of interim administration, which excluded him (the president Kiir and his ex-vice president Machar).

He flatly rejected the proposal, claiming that he was still a legitimate, democratically elected president by the people with 93% votes during 2010 elections, on one hand.

On the other hand, the opposition team of Machar instead accepted the proposal, but if and only if the Ugandan troops withdraw and four remaining political detainees released.

So still, despite the promises of sustainable peace to prevail in the young country, the reluctant Salva Kiir, the president of the Republic, refused peace.

1. He still harbors, finances and uses Ugandan mercenaries to do his dirty work—massacre of his own citizens.
2. He refuses to release other detained political prisoners in his custody. Ignorantly always citing insolent constitution of the land that the detainees should await a “fair trial”or go through legal “due process” to determine their fate, if at all they committed a treason or not. Laughable due process at best!

With Salva Kiir being a head of state and with his current state of mind, he should go home and rest—to have a piece of mind. The sooner, the better however complicated as it may.

Because, I think, resignation of the head of state is not new in history. Now if he does heroically and peacefully resign, he may personally have a piece of mind and indeed preserve his half-tainted legacy.

And more important, the South Sudanese public and the international community, who accused him of human rights abuses and crimes against humanity, would have a second look.

Analytically, I suspect, resignation would be a bitter pill for president Kiir to swallow, although he is indeed in the state of a deep psychological, moral and political dilemma at this hour. Why?

First, a president’s resignation will not be an easy proposition, knowing that most, if not all, African leaders are power-addicts. They want to remain in power at any cost, and so does Kiir.

Second, the Ugandan mercenaries are his backbone in this fight against the rebels. Telling them to go home to Kampala, he would obviously be a spineless Commander-in-Chief afterward, because the rebel forces may in no time reach Juba; and his grip on power will ultimately be shaken.

Third, the release of the remaining political detainees poses another potential danger for him because if he let them loose, he never knows what the guys will do later once they are out.

Fourth, Kiir has another claim. He was elected democratically with 93% by the people during 2010 general elections. Logic abounds, by current constitution of the Republic of South Sudan, his powers lost legitimacy long ago. General elections of 2010 were prior the independence of South Sudan in 2011.

Besides, people voted overwhelming (not for Kiir’s sake), but rather for fear of the impending referendum failure. They did that to show their Southern unity and separation from Jalaba North.

In addition, the election’s playing field wasn’t a conducive environment; no contestants so far, except Kiir.

Lam Akol, who garnered 3% of the votes, competed for presidency but was constantly intimidated, harassed and was refused entry to Juba during election campaign period, but was only set free to go polls at last minutes.

Finally all things being equal, in a real democracy, the killing of his own people, the voters who once elected him with 97% votes, alone de-legitimized Salva Kiir leadership as a responsible leader. The people don’t consider him now as a legitimate president but a brute.

III. Conclusion & Recommendations

This current crisis not only cost many lives, brought indescribable economic and social disorders, but also rekindled old ethnic and political wounds—created deep-seated mistrust and division among the people of the South Sudan.

As time goes by, it will be easy for peace to actually get signed here in Addis Ababa, but rebuilding of public trust and confidence in and among different in ethnic groups ( especially the Dinka and the Nuer) to live side by side as they used to for centuries will take time.

The Nuer and the Dinka, however, are not inherently enemies; it is all politics and power-struggle that divide the two communities.

As Martin L. King, Jr., correctly put it: “We cannot have an enlightened democracy with one group living in ignorance. We cannot have a nation orderly and sound with one group so ground down and thwarted that it is almost forced into unsocial attitude and crime.”

For that reason, the current government is ignorant; and it is to blame for this mess we are witnessing. But nothing comes for permanence.

The people are very forgiving and forgivable. All they need is a responsible, sensitive, and tolerant government.

Think of the Nazi German and German Jews (the perpetrators and the victims, respectively) during Holocaust; think of Tutsi and Hutu in Rwanda; think of Ethiopia’s Red Terror; and think of South Africa’s Apartheid.

The list of heinous atrocities committed worldwide in the past is long, but there is always time for everything.

So there is still a slight remnant of hope for the people of South Sudan to forget the past and look for the future as brothers and sisters no matter what happened.

But let’s admit that, unity and peace will not come easily from Heaven. There has to be a process—that is, through a dialogue and willingness.

Finally, in the next round of talks, for peace to prevail in the country through peaceful means, I hereby recommend these alternatives:

1. The Uganda forces must leave South Sudan territory with immediate effect.
2. Unconditional and immediate of the remaining four (4) political detainees in juba.
3. Immediate cessation of hostilities from both warring parties.
4. Urgent dispatch of East African peacekeeping troops, minus Uganda, across the country to protect civilians.
5. Immediate deployment of IGAD/AU peace experts to go and assess, survey and collect public opinions at local level to help guide the formulation of sustainable peace-building mechanisms and approaches.
6. Immediately initiate comprehensive and inclusiveness of active involvement and participation of all stakeholders in the peace process. Hence, for peace to be meaningful and to succeed uninterrupted in future, all political parties, the Diaspora, local/traditional leaders, widows, elders, youth, intellectuals, and religious leaders should be officially invited in order to participate and get involved in the peace process.
7. Immediately create broad-based independent peace and reconciliation program across the country
8. Send urgent humanitarian aid assessment team, with immediate distributions and provisions of food supplies to the affected areas across the country.
9. Lastly, if above items are put in place, then the formation of Interim Administration will follow suit; and that interim government will be administered based on the principle of Ethnic/Regional Federalism as a model adopted in Ethiopia and other countries. More important, for now, I suggest that each region must be administered and governed separately—that is, greater Upper Nile, greater Equatoria and greater Bahr el Ghazal until the environment is conducive.

The author is a Political Analyst currently based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He can be reached via Email: dbachech@hotmail.com or dyiec@hotmail.com and Mobile Phone: +251-934-285-029.

2 Comments

  1. kololo says:

    You got a lot of points correct, however, the next interim arrangement and presidency is going to Equatoria minus Wani Igga and everyone in the current government of Kiir. The rest is history,but most importantly Equatoria because the Dinka would not trust the Nuer and the Nuer would not trust the Dinka period.

  2. Dr JAC Ramba says:

    Dear Bachech

    You have made many point here that also appear in amny other suggestions already presented by different South Sudanese groups,hopeful suggesting points of convergence of ideas.and i commend you for that.

    However i would also want to commend more for your bravery to point the obvious which may others before you chose to ignore.

    I like your way of thinking when you finally suggested a system of governance based on the Ethiopian model of ethnic federalism, It quite near to the realities on the ground..

    But I personally don’t think that the Ethiopian federalism is enough for our situation in South Sudan it is because of this I have suggested a confederation of three South Sudanese Republics – Republic of Equatoria – Republic of Bahr al Ghazal and Republic of Upper Nile.

    This is what Switzerland has, although its just a tiny country as compared to South Sudan, leaving a room for more Republics if we are to go completely the Swiss model!

    There will be a symbolic central government which is to be headed on a rotatory basis between leaders from these three political entities. I have also suggested the three big towns to act as rotational seats of the central government whenever the central presidency goes to a particular Republic..

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