Opinion: Federalism is not the cause of war in South Sudan
Five days ago, Roger Alfred Yoron Modi published an article under the title "Federalism does not deserve war in South Sudan". The title is quite misleading, and nothing could be further from the truth. The whole world knows that the war in South Sudan was the result of a power struggle within the SPLM party between President Kiir and his deputy the then sacked Vice President and Deputy Chairman of the SPLM party, Dr Riek Machar. The South Sudanese people were not responsible for igniting the war, but it was imposed on them by their leaders.
The government narrative was that it was a coup orchestrated and executed by Dr Riek Machar and his followers. That narrative fell flat under scrutiny and gained the regime Four Pinocchios on The Fact Checker Rating System. Even President Museveni, Kiir's main ally, refuted the claim that what happened in Juba in December 2013 was a coup d'etat. Many of us know that Riek Machar was against federalism. It's well documented in a meeting with the Equatorians in Nyakuron Cultural Centre in Juba before the conflict where Riek Machar threatened the Equatorians for pursuing federalism. He needed the support of the Equatorians in his fight against President Kiir. Hence Riek Machar resorted to a tactical move by embracing federalism and even becoming more vocal about it than the pioneers. It's no wonder that Riek Machar has foregone federalism at the earliest opportunity to reclaim his previous position in the government. It's clear that federalism was never the cause of the rift within the SPLM party nor the reason that South Sudan ended up in a protracted civil war.
The government went to great lengths to suppress any debates about federalism be it in the media or among the populace. Even a media gag was imposed by the government not to engage in any activities related to federalism. A poor man was shot dead in Maridi for voicing his support for federalism. Such an act would have drawn condemnation from the President and members of his cabinet because it was a politically motivated act of extreme violence by members of the security organs. The case of the unfortunate man was deliberately left to fall into oblivion with no investigation, arrests or convictions. But there were numerous cases of assassinations that went unnoticed by the media. It was noted that around that time the activities of the unknown gunmen suddenly picked up to unprecedented levels. It was common knowledge that the unknown gunmen targeted those who were vocal in their support for federalism. At that time, no one knew for sure the identity of the unknown gunmen. It's only recently that General Paul Malong, the former Chief of Staff of the SPLA unveiled the identity of the unknown gunmen. We now know that they are members of the National Security Service (NSS) under the direct orders of the President and led by General Akool Koor, the Director General of Internal Security at the NSS. Such is the environment Roger Alfred Yoron Modi thinks is conducive for a democratic discourse on the issue of federalism with all the opposition groups in Juba. One must be blind, deaf or incredibly naive to believe what our eminent journalist is alluding to.
It's an oversimplification or just outright dishonesty to claim that the National Salvation Front (NAS) is rejecting the agreement on the Outstanding Issues of Governance because of non-inclusion of federalism. Likewise, it's illogical to suggest that by doing so, NAS is opting for war. It's turning into a familiar theme that whoever does not sign the cumbersome deal is a warmonger. At this juncture where the future of the country is in doubt, those sincere sons and daughters of South Sudan need to tell the truth. Where in the world that you find a government having 5 Vice Presidents?! The superpowers of the world (America, Rusia, China) all have one Vice President each. Furthermore, South Sudan represents only a fraction of the territory and population size of those superpowers. Are we being made by our leaders into a laughing stock across the world?!
But the most critical thing concerning peace is the Security Arrangements. NAS has already appended its signature to it showing its full commitment for peace. It did sign the Cessation of Hostility Agreement (CoHA) in Addis Ababa in December 2017. The National Salvation Front continued to honour the CoHA with no single violation recorded against it by the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangement Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM). It's because of an unambiguous policy that gives priority to peace. NAS could undoubtedly cause problems for the government in various ways, but its leaders are more concerned about the plight of the ordinary people of South Sudan who are yearning for a just peace.
Our journalist also brought up the issue of NAS signing the Security Arrangements but not the Outstanding Issues on Governance as a sort of inconsistency or contradiction. Looking at previous peace talks across the world; shows that what NAS did was never a precedent but consistent with numerous past experiences. In peace negotiations, the parties could agree on some points while disagreeing with others that could take months or even few years to resolve. The talks could be adjourned, and when they are resumed, they do not start from square one but from where they stopped in the previous peace talks. I am sure that our journalist is aware that the government refused to sign the Declaration of Principles (DoP) in Addis Ababa in March 2018, yet the negotiations were allowed to continue. So now the government has signed the agreement on governance because it gives it what it wants but not the DoP that was approved by NAS and the other members of the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA). So, where is the difference between the two positions? And why is the government's position right while the one that belongs to NAS is wrong?! Are we dealing with a worthless, biased view?!
It's important to understand that federalism is not the only reason that led NAS to reject the agreement on governance. NAS is pursuing a holistic solution to the conflict that would put an end to the war and bring about a lasting peace. It's untrue that NAS didn't propose the type of federalism that suits South Sudan. It was contained in NAS's proposal to the pre-Forum Consultations of the High-Level Revitalisation Forum (HLRF) for the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS). But to our surprise, our proposal, as well as the ones from the other opposition Movements/Parties, were ignored by the IGAD mediation team. There are good reasons to insist on the institution of federalism in the transition. Firstly, ARCSS stipulates that the National Constitutional Amendment Committee (NCAC) drafts a Constitutional Amendment bill within (21) days upon signing the agreement. The bill shall incorporate the agreement into the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan (TCRSS). Federalism could be incorporated into the TCRSS within that timeframe. All are supposed to occur in the pre-transition period. All are doable and in good time. Secondly, Federalism is a popular demand since 1947, and there's no any convincing reason to further delay its implementation . Thirdly, The government track-record and apparent hostility against federalism as outlined above is no comfort for leaving the matter to be addressed well into the transition.
The notion that our people need understanding and enlightenment on the various types of federalism is flawed. How many among the elites in South Sudan who know the types of federalism? Not very many. I contend that the percentage of those who know would not be much different from the one belonging to their peers in America, India or Brazil. According to the US Department of Education, 32 million adults (9.8%) in the US can't read. The federal government was established in 1789, that's 229 years ago. If the illiteracy percentage is 9.8% now, what was it over two centuries ago?! The Americans managed to run a successful federal government and made America a superpower. The federal government of Brazil came into being in 1889, which is 129 years ago. At that time the literacy in Brazil was 16%. It means, 84% of the Brazilians were illiterate people when federalism was introduced. Regardless of the population size, the case of India is much closer to ours. The literacy percentages in India in 1951 and 2001 were 17.02% and 21.59% respectively. Our current literacy percentage is 27% which is higher than that of India. India is the biggest democracy on earth enjoying a prosperous and stable federal system of governance. Roger Alfred Yoron Modi would struggle in vain to make people favor such an assertion.
Regarding the Presidency, there seems to be an assumption that all the opposition groups have agreed for Kiir and Machar to lead the transition. NAS position is that any individual who had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity should be excluded from the transition. The same applies to those who are suspects of embezzlement of public funds. There's a valid argument for adopting such a stance which is to avoid conflict of interests. How could the Hybrid Court of South Sudan (HCSS) function independently and fairly with President Kiir and Dr Riek Machar at the helm of the government?! The following is an excerpt from the report of the African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (AUCISS). "The commision therefore, finds that in order for the reconciliation process to begin, those with the greatest responsibility for atrocities at the highest level should be brought to account and mechanisms should be established to address other concerns specific to victims of violations and crimes, which include reparation.
NAS position takes the moral high ground and conforms with the AUCISS recommendations in its entirety. It addresses the issue of accountability which seems to have been thrown out of the window in the agreement on governance. Of course, there are some within SSOA who are more interested in power-sharing than addressing the root causes of the conflict. They do not mind letting Kiir and Machar lead the transition as long as they are given the positions they want. NAS argument in this regard is to institute the right system of governance (Federalism) at the beginning of the transition with full accountability. That alone would address the issue of who participates in the transition and who doesn't.
The number of States should have been a non-starter. The journalist knows very well that ARCSS is based on the pre-conflict 10 States. The inclusion of the illegal 32 States for negotiation by IGAD re-enforces the view by many that the mediation team is biased. The Independent Boundaries Commission (IBC) and the Referendum Commission on Number and Boundaries of States (RCNBC) shouldn’t have been there in the first place. They were never a part of ARCSS. Now a paradox has arisen because IGAD talks of revitalizing ARCSS while incorporating violations into it at the same time. Those in the opposition, who have caved in and chosen to go along with the 32 states, ought to stop deceiving their followers that there is still a chance to reverse the measure when they go to Juba. By then, they would have appointed their own as Governors for the States allocated to them. What argument would they come up with to challenge the 32 States which they have already become part of it?!
Our journalist has rubbished the renewal of armed conflict during the upcoming transition like what happened in July 2016. He cited that the signing of the Security Arrangements by all the parties including NAS is enough evidence that such a thing would not happen. But a similar signing did happen in August 2015, and yet war broke out. Even the body language of the President and his refusal to shake hands with Dr Riek Machar at the Khartoum Peace Agreement signing ceremony; is quite ominous. When you add to that President Kiir's speech on arrival at Juba International Airport - it becomes a matter of not "if" but "when" would the said peace agreement collapse.
Roger Alfred Yoron Modi is a very "prolific" journalist. I want to draw the reader's attention to another article that he published one day before this one. It's under the title "Collusion and harmful actions against South Sudan peace process". But much of the article is a talk about himself which I find contradictory to its title. The gist of his talk is that he is under threats for what he stands for from the government as well as from undisclosed individuals best known to him. South Sudan under President Kiir is decidedly a dangerous place for journalists. Here is the list of journalists who were killed in South Sudan since 2012.
1. Isaiah Diing Abraham - Sudan Tribune - killed outside his home in Qudele, Juba on 05/12/2012.
2. Musa Mohammed - South Sudan Radio Wau.
3. Boutros Martin - South Sudan Television.
4. Dalia Marko - Raja Radio Station.
5. Randa George - Randa - Raja Radio Station.
6. Adam Juma - Raja Radio Station.
From 2 to 6 - killed by unknown gunmen in Wau on 25/01/2015.
7. Pow James Raeth - Radio Tamazuj - caught in gunfire between warring groups on 20/05/2015 in Akobo.
8. Peter Julius Moi - South Sudan Corporate Weekly - killed a few days after President Kiir threatened journalists.
9. John Gatluak Manguet - killed by government forces in Terrain Hotel, Juba on 11/07/2016.
We know that Roger Alfred Yoron Modi was the former Managing Editor of Juba Monitor and former Chief Editor of Bakhita Radio. Also, we do know that Alfred Taban, the Editor-in-Chief of the Juba Monitor was appointed as MP to the Transitional National Legislative Assembly (TNLA) on the ticket of First Vice President (FVP) Taban Deng Gai. Now we all know that Taban Deng Gai's group has gone back to the SPLM mainstream under President Salva Kiir Mayardit. So, I don't understand why Roger Alfred Yoron Modi should feel insecure in Juba. His previous boss who is now part of the ruling party could phone the Chief of Intelligence General Akol Koor, and his name would immediately be removed from the blacklist in case of a mistaken identity. As for those individuals who continue to pose a threat to his life and who are not members of the regime, General Akol Koor could similarly be contacted, and the problem would be sorted out in no time. He would unleash the unknown gunmen to hunt-down those "criminals".
Notwithstanding the above, our journalist wants the opposition including NAS to go to Juba on board an agreement that consolidates the status quo. It's ironical that while he feels unsafe in Juba despite not being identified as a potential threat to the regime, he wants those who went through the J1 shooting ordeal in July 2016; not to worry about their safety. It's beyond logic!
The National Salvation Front is a people-centric Movement driven by the need to realize the aspirations of the people in the form of equality, justice, development, and peace. It would leave no stone unturned in its quest for a just and sustainable peace.
NAS has prioritized peaceful settlement of the conflict over other means as long as opportunities for peace talks remain on the table for all the parties. It's out of NAS conviction that the victims on both sides are the same South Sudanese people. Therefore, if there's a way to resolve the conflict peacefully and save lives, then it's the option NAS would choose. Finally, it's important to state that federalism is not a recipe for war but a means to avoid future wars.
The author can be reached at email@example.com
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.