Opinion | Politics of cantonment and security arrangements
South Sudan's Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) was hampered by a deadlock in the implementation phase. However, the peace partners failed to articulate the reasons for missed deadlines and delays in implementing the agreement, which was deemed better than the 2015 peace agreement. Instead, only excuses were offered, including lack of international community support and government’s inability to finance the implementation process. Lately, the government noted Dr Machar's reservation to come to Juba before the implementation of security arrangements.
However, lack of political will and mistrust between the peace partners (Juba government and SPLA/M-IO) are the main obstacles to the implementation of the agreement and the formation of a functional, cohesive national unity government in the country. These issues are also coupled with the ethnicized politics that controls political discourse aimed at ensuring socioeconomic and political domination, as observed in the role of the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE). Such ethno-political assumptions and strategies have directly influenced Juba government’s position on what type of peace should be realized in South Sudan and how this aim should be achieved.
In this case, the Juba government has chosen the cantonment approach over security arrangements as the best means of restoring peace and a political settlement with the emphasis on status quo. Ironically perhaps, such attitude toward political solution and conflict resolution has failed to sensitize the holdout armed groups that do not endorse the latest signed peace agreement.
Prioritization of the cantonment process over security arrangements
In principle, implementation of the security arrangements should have been the starting point, and the cornerstone on which a safe political space would be granted for the stakeholders. Moreover, this approach could foster safe and productive deliberations and resolution of the outstanding issues. Strategically, the government would not be able to take a risk and implement security arrangements at this juncture. The status quo is thus the only political mechanism that dictates the terms of peace and gives the government the leverage of controlled national security, army and local law enforcement.
Therefore, the cantonment approach is preferred by the Juba government, as it ensures control over the implementation process while maintaining the national security and political leverage over their opponents. Such tactics are not unique to South Sudan, as they are used by regional countries currently being ruled by dictators. Of course, the risk analysis and best options of the cantonment approach rest on the political actors’ willingness to develop trust and demonstrate political will. For example, if government’s intentions are to canton and dismantle the opposition forces or limit their political influence, the risk of violence would be higher than the likelihood of achieving peace. For the opponents, the kind of security assurance government plans to provide to those who would assume political posts within the national government is crucial if their forces are in cantonment barracks. These include the structure of the national security apparatus and who would have absolute authority over the armed forces in case of emergency or natural disasters.
This is the only way for the Juba government to demonstrate its commitment to the peaceful implementation of the peace agreement. These include providing an unlimited political space for the opposition from both within and outside the country to participate in an inclusive dialogue towards resolution of peaceful political grievances and prosperous South Sudan.
The challenges and interpretations of security arrangements
In the recent political settlement between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and Forces for Freedom and Change (FFC), led by the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), the TMC has accepted the settlement model that would allow them to cling to power by relying upon the national security forces and the army.
In the Sudanese model, FFC is technically placed in strategic cantonment for the next three years before full implementation of the political settlement is achieved. Moreover, the TMC will once again shatter peoples’ dreams of civil governance and democracy. Unlike South Sudan, the power struggle in Sudan is between the army and the people that are peacefully demanding a civil and democratic society. In any case, the TMC has rejected all previously proposed security arrangements and has thus far maintained control over national security and the army. In the context of South Sudan, all peace partners would be asked to assemble in Juba and must be given assurance of protection by the government. This would, in turn, give the government control over the political bargaining and the integration of opposition forces in cantonment sites.
In conclusion, it is fair to say that, regardless of the challenge facing the R-ARCSS implementation, serious application of nationally agreed-upon security reform is the way forward. It is a high time for both ethnic and political elites holding the positions of power in Juba to rethink the type of nation they would like to build in South Sudan. The current model of the security arrangement and militarism may only serve short-term aims and give a sense of control of power. However, it is now evident that it cannot solve the root causes of war or avail peaceful means of conflict resolution in the country.
In short, the continuation of the tactical approach will not build trust or address the concerns of some opposition leaders, especially those who narrowly escaped death, like Dr. Riek Machar in 2016. It is also in the best interest of the new nation to discourage violence and provide political space that supports non-violent opposition and political dialogue. Finally, if the Juba government tactically prefers the Sudanese model and design in the resolution of conflict and political settlement in South Sudan, further delays in the R-ARCSS implementation, or a possible return to violence, can be expected.
The author Kon K Madut is Part-time Professor with the University of Ottawa and a Civil Servant with the City of Ottawa municipal government. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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