Opinion | Reflections on the latest R-ARCSS meeting in Addis Ababa
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), organized a meeting in Addis Ababa, on August 21, 2019, to discuss outstanding issues of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS). This meeting provoked lots of questions from South Sudanese. They are interested to know what the meeting achieved and if the Transitional Period of the peace agreement will commence on November 12, 2019 as agreed upon by the parties in a similar meeting on May 3, 2019. Most of these questions are thrown at us who represented civil society in this meeting. This opinion piece is therefore, a response to some of the questions coming from the people.
Participants to the meeting included parties, stakeholders, witnesses and guarantors to the R-ARCSS. The meeting commenced with prayers from Christian and Islamic faiths, brief opening statements from diplomats representing the witnesses and guarantors, and reports from institutions of the peace agreement. One of the clergy, who prayed, said the meeting should give hope and encouragement to the people of South Sudan.
The statement from the Chairperson of IGAD’s Council of Ministers, called on the parties to accomplish the tasks of the Pre-Transitional Period and form the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGoNU) by November or face undesirable consequences. The European Union and several speakers referenced the recent political settlement in Sudan as an example of what difficult political agreements among political, civil and military parties could achieve when the greater good of the country is placed ahead and above those parties’ particular interests.
Progress reports on the R-ARCSS were presented by the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (R-JMEC), the National Pre-Transitional Committee (NPTC), Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (CTSAMVM). The reports commended the parties for, among others, adherence to provisions of the permanent ceasefire, confidence building, review of security laws and Political Parties Act and the commencement of cantonment process.
They outlined challenges including funding limitations, slow implementation of transitional security arrangements and pending issues of the number and boundary of states. A summary of the report of the Independent Boundaries Commission was also presented by the Executive Secretary of IGAD.
After presentation of the reports, IGAD’s Council of Ministers went for a closed-door meeting and returned to the plenary with a communique. There was a brief plenary and the meeting concluded with the communique.
In the communique, IGAD’s Council of Ministers took note of the progress made, in the implementation of the R-ARCSS, in particular, the level of compliance with provisions of the permanent ceasefire, return to Juba Page 2 of 3 of opposition groups, cordial working relations among the parties and the work done by various implementation mechanisms of the R-ARCSS.
It was a positive step for IGAD to convene the meeting and commence discussions on outstanding issues of the R-ARCSS before the extended Pre-Transitional Period ends on November 11, 2019. It is possible for the remaining two and a half months may be used constructively to step-up and redirect efforts and resources towards speedy implementation of the remaining tasks of the extended Pre-Transitional Period, ahead of the November deadline.
The decisions of the Council of Ministers of IGAD, calling on the parties to make speedy progress on addressing outstanding issues of the R-ARCSS is encouraging. It is also commendable that the Council plans to engage their respective heads of State and Government to influence President Salva Kiir Mayardit to release the funds he pledged for implementation of the peace agreement. It is further commendable, that the Council recommended a summit of IGAD’s Heads of State and Government to decide on outstanding issues of the peace agreement.
It was generally acknowledged that the proposed deadline of November 11, was fast approaching and the implementation process should produce tangible results in preparation for commencement of the Transitional Period stipulated in the peace agreement.
In my view, the meeting shows that guarantors, witnesses, parties and stakeholders still believe that the RARCSS is a framework to bring peace to South Sudan.
However, it is deeply troubling that the parties to the R-ARCSS would convene to discuss outstanding issues of the peace agreement only at the invitation and facilitation of IGAD. In May when the eight-month Pre-Transitional Period was ending, it took IGAD to convene a similar meeting in Addis Ababa, where the parties discussed and agreed to extend the Pre-Transitional Period by six months. As indicated in the communique, it is also IGAD that will convene a face-to-face meeting of the top leadership of the parties to discuss outstanding issues of the peace agreement.
The R-ARCSS is a South Sudanese peace agreement whose implementation mandate rests with South Sudanese, in particular the parties to the peace agreement. Such meetings on the R-ARCSS should have been Page 3 of 3 convened by the National Pre-Transitional Committee (NPTC), an institution established by the peace agreement composed of senior members of the parties and with a primary mandate to oversee and coordinate implementation of the activities of the Pre-Transitional Period. Effective discharge of this mandate would demonstrate ownership, leadership, willingness and commitment of the parties to the implementation of the R-ARCSS.
The binary role of IGAD as a mediator and guarantor of the R-ARCSS obviously remains critical and the meetings it organizes on the R-ARCSS are appropriately in fulfilment of these roles. However, persistent failure of the parties, to proactively lead substantive discussions on outstanding issues of the peace agreement, particularly through the NPTC, presents profound negligence in leadership.
First, it shows that the parties are ineffective in managing national affairs of South Sudan unless they operate under what one would call an undeclared trusteeship of IGAD and its member states.
Second, this over reliance on the regional authorities, to provide guidance on critical national issues of South Sudan erodes the concepts of independence and sovereignty of the country. An independent sovereign state is in part characterized by internal administrative control of public affairs.
Third, it indicates that the R-ARCSS is extremely fragile because the main political adversaries in the conflict have not reached a threshold of reconciliation necessary for voluntary collaboration, peaceful co-existence and good working relations.
Fourth, a commitment with clear timelines to release funds for implementation of the outstanding tasks of the Pre-Transitional Period did not emerge from I-TGoNU in the latest R-ARCSS meeting in Addis Ababa. This is an indication that the processes of cantonment, screening, unification, training and deployment of forces – critical as they are, may slow down or remain uncertain until sufficient resources are made available to the mechanisms implementing the Transitional Security Arrangements (TSA). This uncertainty consequently casts a shadow of dilemma on possibilities adequate preparations for meaningful and timely commencement of the Transitional Period.
Fifth, IGAD’s continuous alleged detention of Dr. Riek Machar contradicts its role as an impartial mediator.
IGAD, as a regional authority and guarantor to the R-ARCSS, is well placed to make peace a reality in South Sudan. The extension of the Pre-Transitional Period in May was a revitalization of the revitalized peace agreement and nobody knows accurately what will happen in November. With the failures and delays in the R-ARCSS implementation, it is about time this regional body reviews its strategies and the roles of its member states in the South Sudanese peace process.
Citizens of South Sudan desire peace. Failure of the eight-month Pre-Transitional Period in May and the slow implementation of the tasks of the six-month extension may only crush hopes of the people. It is a defining moment for South Sudan’s leaders to sit fully at the driving seat of the peace process and never let the people down again. They should give them hope and encouragement – the peace the people want.
Mr. Rajab Mohandis is the Executive Director of the Organization for Responsive Governance (ORG) and a representative of civil society in R-JMEC. He is based in Juba, South Sudan and may be reached on the email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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