The New US Policy and the Implementation of South Sudan’s Peace Agreement

By: Malith Kur, London, Canada, SEP/01/2016, SSN;

The visit by the U.S.A secretary of State, John Kerry, to East Africa last week has created new dynamics in the implementation of the peace process in South Sudan. Kerry’s comments in Nairobi concerning the “replacement” of Mr. Riek Machar with Taban Deng are quite encouraging. They underline the facts that the peace process belongs to South Sudanese, not those who want to sacrifice the future of the country for the sake of personal gains.

This article, therefore, is a brief reflection on the impact of the shift in American policy toward South Sudan with regard to the political development within the SPLM-IO as the country moves forward with the implementation of the peace agreement.

This shift in American foreign policy toward South Sudan’s implementation of the peace process will definitely have some bearings on the regional politics that fuel the war in South Sudan.

In general, the impact of the message that Kerry delivered to the Horn of Africa last week on the South Sudanese political situation is arguably significant because what South Sudan needs at the moment are pragmatic political and economic moves to consolidate peace and security throughout the country. These moves include isolating those who stand on the way to ending the war.

The new American policy will move the peace process forward. Kerry has pointed out the facts that no one in the IGAD nations, the AU, and even the United Nations wants to talk about — that the ultimate responsibility for the implementation of the peace process lies with South Sudanese and the political leadership in the country.

Kerry’s comments, which were echoed by the State Department in Washington, have invalidated the understanding that the peace-building exercise in South Sudan rests on the consent of Riek Machar and Salva Kiir.

It is a misconception of the political reality in South Sudan that the United Nations, the IGAD, and the AU have held for quite some time. It has been an obstacle to peace in the country.

The perception that the success of the peace process in South Sudan is only possible through a fixed leadership and power-sharing between the two branches of the SPLM led by President Kiir and Riek Machar is responsible for the continuation of this unbearable carnage in the country.

It has all come down to this: both President Kiir and Riek Machar have understood that they are untouchable and touching them means the disappearance of peace in the country.

They have always stood their grounds regardless of the consequences of their actions on the civil population in South Sudan. Now, making it clear to either of them that the peace process will be implemented whether one of them or all of them are not there is an important gesture of moving the peace process forward.

The absence of Mr. Riek Machar, therefore, in the Transitional Government of National Unity is a window of opportunity to reduce the likelihood of the perpetuation of the armed conflict in the country.

The political and economic reforms in South Sudan do not need war. As we know it, war destroys. It does not bring any positive reforms but bitterness and deep divisions in the social structures of the society.

On the same token, it is not possible to build democratic institutions in the chaos of war and displacement. Those who claim that they are fighting to bring about democratic change are liars.

South Sudan in principle is a democratic nation. What it needs is peace to strengthen the national institutions which support democracy and build the capacity of political parties to maintain a positive atmosphere for a healthy political practice to flourish in the country.

No one can achieve a smooth democratic transformation in any society in five to ten years. The building of a sound democratic system is a long-term social commitment the whole society needs to make.

For instance, it has taken Americans over one hundred years to build their democracy, which continues to undergo improvements. It is then a silly assertion for anyone to suggest that South Sudan has failed to establish perfect democracy in a period of five years.

Indeed, Mr. Kerry’s initiative to leave the decisions concerning the internal changes in the leadership structures of the political parties in South Sudan in the hands of South Sudanese is a sound move. It is what will bring peace and stable democracy to South Sudan.

The change in the leadership of any political party in South Sudan is an internal affair and cannot be managed by peace sponsors.

The initial demands by some IGAD nations to reinstate Riek Machar as First Vice of the Republic of South Sudan was actually an interference in the internal affairs of South Sudan. This kind of demand was completely unhelpful and was a recipe for a continued war.

It initially encouraged the opposition parties led by Lam Akol and Adwok Nyaba, who met in Nairobi sometime this month, to devise strategies to topple the government in Juba by force. Lam Akol actually left the government with the hope that the AU, the IGAD-Plus will move quickly to overthrow the government of President Kiir and install a new regime in South Sudan.

Dr. Lam wanted to be outside the government in order to open the way for him to be a likely choice to assume the leadership of the country should the AU, the IGAD-Plus and their partners decide to remove the regime in Juba by force.

The move undertaken in Nairobi by the opposition parties to formulate a violent strategy to topple the government is following the line Mr. Pagan Amum and his colleagues have developed, which calls for the United Nations to invade South Sudan.

All of this has nothing to do with the implementation of the peace process in South Sudan. They are a part of the power struggle aggravated by greed and want of power.

The current diplomatic line the U.S.A is taking has heightened hopes for peace in South Sudan. The U.S.A has built a strong case for the implementation of the peace agreement by recognizing the legitimacy of the political changes that have taken place within the ranks of the SPLM-IO.

The emergence of Taban Deng Gai as a man of peace validates these changes and demands a strong support from the international community. Any entity that asks Mr. Deng to step down in favor of Riek Machar is simply endorsing more violence and prolonging the suffering of innocent people in South Sudan.

But it goes without saying that in the last few days, the region seems to be picking up Kerry’s message, and the last move by IGAD-Plus to “isolate” Riek Machar stands on the path to building a better chance for peace in South Sudan and in the region.

What maintains Machar’s pursuant of war in the country is the support that he gets from the region. Since the outbreak of violence in South Sudan in 2013, Machar has been moving openly in East African region and beyond without any problem whatsoever. He has been enjoying diplomatic immunity as if he were officially representing South Sudan.

If the IGAD-Plus and the AU want to stop the war in South Sudan, the one thing they need to do right away is to ensure that violent opposition in South Sudan does not receive support from any member state in the region.

The meeting the opposition parties organized in Nairobi last week is one example of such support. I do not think that Kenya would bless a meeting of its opposition parties plotting to overthrow its regime taking place in Juba in the glare of the international media.

Finally, the IGAD-Plus, the AU, and the United Nations need to understand that they cannot sponsor peace process and at the same sponsor political philosophy of the political parties in South Sudan. They cannot, too, decide the ways South Sudanese political parties run their internal affairs.

Hence, John Kerry’s message which recognizes the autonomous nature of political parties in South Sudan to replace or retain their leaders needs to be respected.

Malith Kur
London, Canada


  1. abai okwahu says:

    kudos, malith kur,
    the south does not need machar but more of kiir and taban deng gai to attain peace. kiir and his militias have driven machar out of the country, and he (machar) is as good as dead. perhaps khartoum should persuade machar to stay as a guest indefinitely (refugee) and juba will have peace finally, maybe kiir will be at the helm for the next 10 years!

  2. J A C Ramba says:

    Very interesting piece of writing. Hopefully Secretary John Kerry will get to read this article and feel how a section of the South Sudanese community are appreciative of the new US administration’s policy towards their country.

    Talking of implementing the Peace Agreement is one thing and truly implementing it is another. One wonders how on earth can someone like Salva Kiir be entrusted to implement a deal he hardly believes in. The agreement contains provisions on wider ranges of reforms. It also has the very sacrosanct provision on reconciliation and accountability (the hybrid court for South Sudan). These are both provisions that both Kiir and Taban will struggle to implement.

    The bottom line is that since the collapse of the partnership between Riek & Kiir, much water has already passed under the bridge.

    Salva Kiir and his renegade stooge Taban Deng Gai have claimed that they now form the best duo to implement the ARCISS ! Truthfully given their backgrounds, one can’t stop saying that, ” Birds of the same feather flock together”. Let us see how they are going to do it !

    As for Dr. Lam joining the armed resistance against Kiir’s regime, one can say that this remains the most commendable decision taken by this savvy politician in a long while .

    Together with other like-minded revolutionaries, the SPLM-IO included, a new type of an armed opposition is already in the making where all those interested in a new dawn for South Sudan can come together and dismantle this tribal monster known as the J.C.E.

    We will see how Kiir will implement the ARCISS fully and to the letter and spirit – and in the same time achieve his dream of a right-out military victory over what is now a broader based new Rainbow Opposition Front – while depending on Relief Food, Foreign Economic Bail Outs and Foreign Aid !

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