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By Dr Lako Jada Kwajok - 12 Oct 2018

Opinion: Evaluating the IGAD-led peace mediation in South Sudan

September 12, 2018, marked the signing in Addis Ababa of the revitalized peace agreement also known as Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS). It was the final stage in a process that was supposed to have ended by the signing of ARCSS in August 2015. But as all of us know, things didn't go as expected and war broke out in July 2016. 

The new deal was met with mixed reactions both nationally and internationally. However, the biggest challenge to the R-ARCSS is that a significant number of the opposition movements, organisations, and parties are opposed to it on substantial grounds. When you add to that the on-going violations of the ceasefire agreement and the scepticism from the citizens, facilitators and funding partners - you get the sense that things are not heading in the right direction.

The question that comes to mind is, why is there such uncertainty about the future of the peace agreement from the outset? The answer lies in how the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) mediation team conducted the peace process right from the beginning of the ARCSS in 2015. The whole process was marred by bias, coercion, intimidation, and ultimately using threats to obtain compliance and signatures. I am among those who thought the opposition, in general, made a grave mistake by agreeing for IGAD to take up the mediation role in the first place. The mediation team is an actual embodiment of a conflict of interests.  

Uganda, which is a very influential IGAD member State is partial one way or another following its military intervention on the side of the government in 2014. Kenya does possess significant sway over IGAD's decisions and has taken sides with the government of South Sudan. The deportation to Juba of the SPLM IO Spokesperson, James Gatdet Dak, the kidnapping and disappearance of the political activists, Dong Samuel Luak, and Aggrey Idri, are the indisputable evidence. 

Furthermore, South Sudan President and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, participate regularly in IGAD Heads of State and Council of Ministers meetings respectively. As you all know, the decisions about how the mediation team conducts the peace negotiations including the setting of the agendas were taken during those meetings. There's absolutely no chance that the South Sudanese government wouldn't influence those decisions. 

Many of you would remember the meeting of the IGAD Council of Ministers that took place in Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire on the sideline of the AU-EU partnership Summit on 28/11/2017. In that meeting, the IGAD Council of Ministers endorsed the pre-forum Consultations Report submitted by the IGAD Special Envoy to South Sudan, Dr Ismail Wais. It was the result of extensive consultations between the mediation team and the stakeholders and contained their input for the High-Level Revitalisation Forum (HLRF) that was due to commence in Addis Ababa in the New Year. 

Kiir responded by rejecting the report in a letter to the IGAD Chairman citing that Dr Ismail Wais failed to consult and take the views of the so-called Transitional Government of National Unity "TGoNU". The Juba regime was particularly furious that the South Sudanese Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation was not invited to the meeting. The mediation team disregarded the pre-forum Consultations Report which was supposed to serve as the basis or a guideline for the peace negotiation following Kiir's protest. 

The demand by the opposition for the South Sudanese Foreign Affairs Minister to be recused from attending the meetings fell on deaf ears. It's an unprecedented situation which is unparalleled to any past peace agreements in the world. The South Sudanese government is a party to the peace negotiations while at the same time indirectly manipulates the entire peace process. 

Regardless of what Dr Riek Machar had done, the way IGAD treated him was wrong. IGAD has got no jurisdiction to hold him illegally against his will in South Africa. As a focal point, he could have filed a lawsuit against the government of South Africa since it was being paid $ 450,000.00 monthly by Kiir's government to keep him under house arrest. Citizens have the right to sue the government for whatever reason in South Africa. Indeed, it was possible to do so while he was there because the South African judiciary is amongst the most independent in Africa.

Going back to 2015, the Presidential order number 36/2015 for the creation of 28 new States was a clear violation of ARCSS that was based on the Constitutional 10 States. IGAD never exerted pressure on Kiir's government to rescind the order. Instead, it continued working with the so-called TGoNU after the 28 new States were operationalized. In essence, it had encouraged Kiir's government to commit more violations with impunity.

When war broke out in July 2016, there wasn't much doubt about whom to blame for causing it. Everyone knew who was responsible for igniting the war. The government was the culprit which was proven beyond doubt by the admission of some of its high ranking officials. The Presidential Advisor, Ateny Wek Ateny, stated that General Paul Malong was given 5 million US Dollars to kill the SPLM IO leader but failed to accomplish the mission. Despite the overwhelming evidence, IGAD kept quiet and never blamed Kiir's government for starting the war. Strangely enough, when Riek Machar was on the run towards the borders with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), IGAD kept asking the SPLM IO leader to return to Juba and resume his duties in the so-called TGoNU!

The fighting between the warring parties never ceased utterly following the signing of the Cessation of Hostility Agreement (CoHA). Despite the numerous warnings from the mediation team, the fighting went on unabated. The government forces mostly committed the violations, but IGAD did nothing to stop them. It even stated that punitive measures are unhelpful which makes one wonder how would it put an end to the violations. To many, IGAD handling of the situation is nothing but appeasement of the government of South Sudan.

It's misleading to call what took place in Khartoum as peace negotiations. It was unlike any peace negotiations the world ever witnessed. There was no agenda and face-to-face negotiations never happened between the parties. The mediation team took full control of the process by giving delegates proposals after proposals while seeking their approval. They were never allowed to come up with their suggestions or to discuss those given to them with the other parties.  But worst of all was when the mediation team made delegates to sign the Khartoum Declaration of Agreement (KDA), whatever that might mean, and the oil agreement (KoilA 2018) under duress. It was a total departure from what is known and expected in a conventional peace negotiation. The Khartoum peace talks would go down in history as one of a kind where diplomacy was at its nadir while coercion and intimidation took the upper hand.

While the Khartoum peace talks were under way, the so-called TGoNU unilaterally extended its term in office for a further three years. It was an illegal extension of a previously illegally extended term in office. The move drew condemnation from the opposition and the Troika group of nations. The IGAD, however, never uttered a word and continued business as usual. It denotes without any ambiguity that IGAD is not a fair or honest peace broker. Indeed it has never been impartial from the start of the peace process.

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The views expressed in ‘opinion’ articles published by Radio Tamazuj are solely those of the writer. The veracity of any claims made are the responsibility of the author, not Radio Tamazuj.