Opinion | Is Salva Kiir ready to implement peace?
He began his tenure as a leader admired by most South Sudanese. The death of South Sudan’s renowned leader, Dr. John Garang de Mabior, in July 2005 opened the door for him to become the chairman of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) party. His accidental rise to power allowed him to take over the helm of South Sudan’s politics. At that time, many people—especially those who claimed to know him assertively proclaimed that his leadership style would be democratic, silently labeling Dr. Garang’s leadership as “undemocratic.” The man in question is Salva Kiir, the current president of South Sudan. In this analytical paper, I will argue that Kiir is not ready for peace and that many of the praises that have been attributed to him are not plausible. This article will propose a counterstrategy that could be used to force Kiir to accept the agreement. The piece is also intended to show that Salva Kiir's approach to peace is not just cunning, it is perilous.
Before diving deep into the topic, I would like to remind readers to read with patience. I would also like to ask not to allow your emotion to discourage you and do not permit Juba's regime sycophantic culture to control your mind. Think clearly.
For those who may not know the root cause of South Sudan’s civil war, especially foreigners—you have to know that Salva Kiir is an acrimonious figure. He preaches South Sudanese unity during the day and preaches tribal supremacy at night. His anger at Dr. Machar began months after South Sudan seceded from Sudan. This political skirmish started after Machar announced that he was going to contest for chairmanship of the SPLM as well as the presidency of the Republic. Kiir’s rage later exploded after it was clear that he was going to lose both positions to Machar. After realizing that losing to Machar would automatically reduce him to a mere politician, he became even angrier. Furious that he would not be the party’s flag bearer, he silently embraced violent acts. As time evolved, Kiir purposely delayed many SPLM meetings. At that time, he began traveling to Uganda regularly to meet his Ugandan counterpart, Yoweri Museveni. I have to publicly admit that most South Sudanese were not aware of what the two men were discussing. However, a considerable number of South Sudanese, most of whom were educated, knew that a sinful plan was being planned in Uganda’s capital, Kampala. After many meetings, Kiir deployed some of his political allies—these allies bombarded the people of South Sudan with divisive and inciteful words using the state-run and now-defunct South Sudan Television (SSTV) to declare their feelings against Machar’s decision to run for the top positions in the country. Kiir then joined his supporters by going on live TV and stunned the people by announcing that his leadership will not allow the repeat of 1991. The message was clear to every thinking South Sudanese: Kiir was simply reminding his tribe, Dinka, that Riek Machar killed Dinka in 1991 and that he was prepared to wage a war against him and his tribe, the Nuer. It was a message any sound-minded South Sudanese did not want to hear. After his provocative speech, he launched a war on December 15, 2013 to capture his rival, Dr. Machar. After realizing that his opponent escaped, he ordered his private and tribal army he had illegally trained to kill any Nuer they could find. This led to the massacre of the Nuer civilians in Juba—it was a colossal mistake on Kiir’s part.
Whenever Salva Kiir talks about peace, some people would think that he really wants peace to prevail. However, the reality is that Kiir is deviously using a carefully-crafted language to make people into believing that he is truly working for peace. But what he does not know is that the people of South Sudan and the international community already knew that he is using his past tactics that led to the collapse of the August 2015 power-sharing deal in July 2016 to obstruct the 2018 agreement. There is no way a thinking person would allow him to deceive people again. There are two sides to Kiir’s political madness: deception and bitter truth. The deceitful part is that Kiir wants people to believe that whatever he says about peace is true. The truth is that he is lying big time and he knows it.
Is Kiir for peace?
This question is one of the important inquiries that need a methodical justification. Admittingly, there are two competing answers to this question. The first answer is ‘yes’, and the second answer is ‘no’. These two answers simply imply that critics of Kiir’s regime are likely to say that he is not for peace and those who support him are likely to proclaim that he is working for peace. These two political camps have the right to support and criticize him. Salva Kiir deserves some credits. I personally like the fact that he publicly talks about wanting a lasting peace in the country and that he is ready to implement the agreement. It is good when a leader sets a good example, but it is another thing when the same leader is an embodiment of deceit. Kiir's apparent pro-peace message lacks reality. The man is simply using the same deceptive techniques he had used in 2015-2016 as a new political fishing-tactic in the hope that he would be able to mislead his adversaries. What he really wants is to implement the deal without changing anything in the current tyrannical constitution. Kiir does not like the agreement, he specifically hates the ‘security arrangements’ section. In a logical sense, he is not prepared to relinquish some vital leadership powers invested in him by the current dictatorial constitution. What he really wants is to accommodate anyone who he sees as a threat to his rule so that he remains unopposed. For those who do not understand the security arrangements, these are the main provisions of the deal stipulated in the agreement that must be fully implemented before a transitional government is formed. For instance, the deal states that the current constitution must be amended to reflect reforms and other democratic practices. Kiir does not like the constitution to be changed because the current constitution gives him dictatorial powers to appoint or dismiss any national or state official, let alone elected ones. The existing constitution also allows him to do anything he wants including ruling without the constitution.
There is nothing that can be taken seriously from Salva Kiir's mouth. Logic tells us that everything Kiir says about peace implementation is questionable. His strategy about peace is all about deceiving and lying. What he does not understand is the fact that the people of South Sudan know that telling lies mixed with some truth always remains a lie. In fact, Salva Kiir has been consistently telling only half-truths about peace in an attempt to confuse people. In his rather twisted mind, he believes that he can continue misleading South Sudanese or perhaps create doubt in the minds of anyone who questions his approach to peace. It is worth mentioning that Kiir is someone who always likes to claim that he is a peace-man. For example, in this peace process, he always proclaims bold announcements and unprecedented solutions to the conflict without giving specifics. This is exactly what he had done in 2015 when he vaguely committed himself to peace while at the same time complaining that the August 2015 pact was imposed on him. Kiir is clearly a dictator with a plan—a vicious plan.
After a careful analysis, it appears that Kiir would not be easily forced to fully implement the agreement. There are at least two mains reasons that are helping him maintains power. One of the reasons is Uganda’s continuous involvement in South Sudan’s internal affairs. From the international eye, Uganda is no longer in South Sudan. This is simply not the case. Ugandan troops are currently in the Yei River State fighting alongside government forces against South Sudan’s rebels, especially the National Salvation Front (NAS). The other reason is that Kiir has managed to accumulate massive wealth after he cunningly convinced Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-In Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) last year that he wanted oil fields that were once under the control of the armed opposition back so that he can increase oil output to fund the peace process. Now Kiir is not financing the agreement, he is busy buying weapons and bribing foreign leaders, particularly some East African leaders. I personally attribute this blunder to the SPLM/A-IO leader Dr. Riek Machar for handing over oilfields to his political enemy, Kiir, even though he knew Kiir would not fund the peace but use oil revenues to purchase more weapons and ammunition instead. If I were Machar, I would never allow the return of oilfields to Kiir. What puzzled me at that time was that Salva Kiir appeared under the impression that he cleverly deceived the armed opposition. He was somewhat correct. However, the reality was that many South Sudanese analysts including myself publicly questioned Machar’s decision because the fact was that Kiir was undoubtedly not going to use oil money for peace. It is now clear he is not in any position to fund the agreement; perhaps, he will keep paying a tiny fraction of funds in an attempt to curtail criticisms. Last month, he announced at an event organized by religious leaders in Juba that he is set to form a transitional government with or without Machar by November 12, 2019. Salva Kiir no longer worries about the armed opposition because he believes that its power is contrivance unless Machar proves him otherwise. The SPLM/A-IO needs to have a ‘plan B’ before it is too late.
There is another fact that the SPLM-IO and other opposition parties must understand. After a cautious analysis, I realized that there is a monumental legislative hurdle faced by SPLM-IO’s future Members of Parliament (MPs). The agreement stipulates that the Transitional National Legislative Assembly will have 550 MPs. The deal gives Kiir’s party 332 MPs, leaving only 218 MPs for the SPLM-IO and other opposition parties. Mathematically, Salva Kiir's MPs will represent a striking 60.4% whereas the SPLM-IO and other parties will represent 39.6%. Given all these Mathematical facts, it is clear that Salva Kiir will still win any legislative agenda he wants MPs to pass. There are people who claim that the agreement states that all MPs will work together on what is called “consensus,” and that there will be no problem. For those who may not know the meaning of consensus, this means that all MPs will compromise on most legislations. Well, I can openly say that there will be no such thing as consensus in the upcoming parliament unless opposition MPs drop their political reforms agenda, assuming a transitional government will be formed.
Salva Kiir is not a man who should be trust based on his words. In early 2018, former United States ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley described Salva Kiir as an “unfit partner.” Analytically, Mrs. Haley was telling the people of South Sudan and the international community that Kiir is a leader who does not know what he was doing. Haley was also telling the world that Salva Kiir does not fit to rule South Sudan and that he does not qualify to be a productive U.S. ally. In August 2019, Klem Ryan who is a UN expert in South Sudan branded Kiir as “useful idiot.” Ryan's assertion means that Salva Kiir is being used by foreign leaders, especially some East African leaders as a source of their secondary source of monetary income so that they can protect him from regional and international pressure. Last month, the current U.S. ambassador to South Sudan Thomas Hushek also said Salva Kiir cannot be trusted when it comes to the management of South Sudan’s national resources including oil revenues. This is just another bitter truth about Kiir’s regime. Kiir does not fit to be called president or leader; he is a Kleptocrat and murderer.
In September, The Sentry, a US-based investigative agency released a report detailing how Kiir uses state resources to enrich himself. In the report, the group uncovers how Salva Kiir secretly signed lucrative contracts with heartless global tycoons, brokers, and multinational corporations to hijack South Sudan. The report also finds that these foreign companies or individuals are complicit in South Sudan’s civil war. A person who involved in these disgraceful dealings does not fit to be a leader. Kiir, who is an “accidental politician” will never fully implement this peace unless such a deal maintains his current tyranny and kleptocratic mentality. There is no fantasy here. Kiir's actions are documented. Those who believe that he is truly for peace this time should consult their consciences unless they want to suffer in his bloody hands. Whether Kiir is for or against peace is a different story. But there is an indisputable fact here. The fact is that Kiir killed nearly 400,000 South Sudanese and counting. This man is not interested to face justice for his crimes. This is why he is against the formation of a hybrid court. What he is interested in is that the wants the people of South Sudan, regardless of their political affiliations to embrace his brutal leadership and glorify his appalling crimes. This demand can only be accepted by Juba’s sycophants. Kiir slaughtered, raped, tortured, and killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people merely because according to him, they associate themselves with his political rivals, especially Machar.
The strategy Kiir planned to use to obstruct the implementation of peace is extensive. He has already drawn up and implemented steps he will take when the time for peace implementation approaches. Kiir's plan mainly targets security arrangements. He has also identified provisions that are a threat to his tyrannical leadership. In reality, Kiir is not prepared to allow the constitution to be amended in a way that could strip him of some powers. For instance, he will never allow any constitutional amendment that would ban him from dismissing elected officials, will not accept the reduction of the number of states, will not accept the formation of a hybrid court, and will not demilitarized Juba. Salva Kiir is also planning to use other tactics to further obstruct the peace process. His plan includes not to accept any face-to-face meeting with the SPLM/A-IO leader Dr. Machar in any other country except South Sudan and not to provide financial support to the SPLA-IO troops. On October 10, at a ceremony organized by Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa to honor Ethiopian Unity Park, Kiir bragged about how he will soon meet with opposition leaders and why the region and the international community should thank him, because, according to his twisted mind, most peace provisions have already been implemented. The claim was an outright lie. The reality is that nearly all vital peace provisions also popularly known as ‘security arrangements’ have not been executed. This is just another deceptive technique he borrowed from his regular deceitful dictionary. Kiir is currently training thousands of new military recruits in his home state, Warrap. This is a clear violation of the agreement. This secret military training camp is run, financed, and monitored by the notorious National Security Services’ Internal Security Bureau (ISB) Director-General Akol Koor Kuc, Warrap state government, and guarded by 350 South Sudan’s government soldiers hand-picked by Kiir himself. The recruits, who most are still in their teenage years, are trained by the Ugandan Special Forces unit. Given these facts, it appears Kiir will not be toppled through diplomatic channels alone, he must be confronted militarily and the SPLM/A-IO needs to strengthen its military might.
A counterstrategy to force Kiir to implement the agreement
There are numerous counterstrategies that can be used to force Salva Kiir to unconditionally implement the pact. The first option is for IGAD and the international community to unite and speak with one voice against Kiir’s continuous refusal to fully execute the agreement. This option is not an easy one since Kiir is known to have successfully bribed some foreign leaders. The second option would be for the UN and major world powers to impose sanctions on South Sudan’s oil including oil companies. This option would make Salva Kiir think twice. The third option would be for the SPLM/A-IO to intensify its diplomatic campaign as well as securing military assistance in the form of weapons and ammunition from a foreign country. This third option seems like the only alternative Kiir would pay close attention to. These three strategies could isolate Kiir diplomatically, break his financial source, and would pose a direct threat to his military. If these counterstrategies failed and IGAD and the international community keep the current ‘talk-tough-and-do-nothing’ policy, then the people of South Sudan will suffer for years, perhaps decades to come.
There is no real peace in South Sudan as long as Salva Kiir remains in power. For your recollection, Kiir was invited at least two times by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to have a face-to-face meeting with Dr. Riek Machar. IGAD's intention was that they want the two rival leaders to work out ways to implement security arrangements before the November 2019 dateline. Kiir declined all the invitations for reasons only known to him. His only explanation was that he was “very busy.” He also demanded that he was only interested in meeting with Machar in Juba. This is exactly what happened in September. But the meeting between him and Machar last month appeared to have not convinced most people. Politics is politics. In theory, anyone with a leadership ambition is assumed to have a clear political doctrine or vision. Dr. Machar should not shallow in an attempt to hide what he wants to do for the country. Theoretically, a political leader who is silent in the middle of a political scuffle is sometimes assumed to be weak. Machar and other opposition leaders must know that there is no such thing as ‘miracle’ in this 21st-century politics. In reality, diplomacy alone does not work. A well-prepared modern rebel movement must have both military and diplomatic strengths to succeed. Please stop preaching diplomacy. Diplomacy is not your God. It will not help you when it comes to a military confrontation.
It is clear based on Kiir’s actions that the peace agreement is on life support and urgently needs medical specialists to examine the symptoms. Kiir’s mind has no room for political reforms. His commitment to peace is bogus. But the deal brought him a winning strategy. No reasonable person should deceive him or herself by thinking that Kiir is committed to peace this time and that he is prepared to fully execute it. There should also be no mistake in anyone’s mind because Salva Kiir still covertly works with his regional ally, Yoweri Museveni, to make sure he will provide him with necessary military assistance if another war breaks out. The good news is that his actions show he is prepared to impede the implementation of the deal one way or another. This is why he often contradicts himself by preaching peace today and declares no money for peace tomorrow. He is merely using the time to buy more weapons for his troops. Kiir is clearly not ready to fully implement the agreement unless the SPLM-IO decides to give up reforms for accommodation.
Duop Chak Wuol is the editor-in-chief of the independent South Sudan News Agency (https://southsudannewsagency.org/. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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