Opinion: Should the AU, UN takeover South Sudan peace process?
Over the weekend, the media widely reported that South Sudan’s warring parties agreed to a power-sharing deal reinstating the leader of the armed opposition (SPLM/A-IO) Dr Riek Machar as First Vice President, quoting Sudan’s foreign minister Al-Dierdiry Ahmed.
"It has been agreed that there will be four vice presidents: the current two vice presidents, plus Riek Machar (who) will assume the position of first vice president, and then the fourth position will be allocated to a woman from the opposition," AFP quoted Ahmed as saying after last Saturday’s meeting between South Sudan’s government delegation headed by President Kiir and the SPLM/A-IO led by Machar, among others. The Talks which is a continuation of IGAD process aimed at ending the civil war in South Sudan was hosted in Entebbe by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni and attended by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
The Sudanese foreign minister "said the new proposal was "accepted by the government" and that Machar’s opposition had accepted the deal "in principle" but would "consider it and come up with the final position" following further negotiations, to begin in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, on Sunday."
Other salient features of the Entebbe proposal include the addition of 15 ministers to the South Sudan central cabinet which currently has 30 ministers. It is reported that the SPLM-IO led by Machar will be allocated 10 ministerial positions while the other five will go to the other opposition groups. According to the Proposal, 150 members will be added to the current 400-member parliament to represent the opposition groups with Machar’s SPLM/IO to take 100 seats while the rest 50 seats.
Opposition Reject Entebbe Proposal
So far, the SPLM/SPLA-IO and the South Sudan Opposition Alliance SSOA, a coalition comprising nine parties, movements and entities have issued statements rejecting the Entebbe Proposal.
The SPLM/SPLA-IO said the Proposal "only focuses on accommodation of politicians and ignores the radical reforms needed in order to effect fundamental" in South Sudan.
"We are following the IGAD peace process and the Movement shall not accept any shortcuts to peace by vested interests, whether locally, within the region, or beyond…The Movement is confident in the peace process and is confident that the only way to end the conflict in our country is through a negotiated settlement. We are also fully committed to the IGAD peace process and we shall continue negotiating in good faith to achieve a just and honourable peace for our people," partly read the statement bearing the name of the SPLM/SPLA-IO Chairman for Information and Public Relations Committee, Mabior Garang de Mabior.
"However, in light of the regime’s malicious propaganda, intransigence throughout the peace process, their constant violations of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreements (CoH) and constant aggressive posturing the SPLM/SPLA (IO) reserves our natural right of self-defence," added the statement.
On their part, SSOA decried lack of their inclusion in most part of the Entebbe meeting, calling the event "a bilateral agreement between two of the warring parties, namely; the Juba regime and SPLM/A-IO."
"It is to be noted that the leadership of SSOA and Other Political Parties (OPP) were officially invited to Entebbe for the July 7th meeting but kept out of the 8-hour proceedings between the government and the SPLM/A-IO; only to be invited into the meeting to be briefed about what had been agreed upon by the two parties," SSOA statement bearing the name of Kwaje Lasu partly read.
"It is crystal clear that the Entebbe meeting was focusing on power-sharing instead of addressing the fundamental issues of governance. For that reason, we absolutely reject these proposals as they do not serve the interests of the suffering people of South Sudan."
SSOA argued, amongst others, that the Proposal "does not address the root causes of the crisis in South Sudan," and "says nothing about the adoption of federalism which all Parties have recognized to be the will of the people of South Sudan."
A group of women participating in the ongoing Talks calling themselves "non-partisan South Sudanese Women representatives" have also issued a statement saying they will not accept "a peace agreement without the full consent of all parties to this process."
"We recognize the tireless efforts of mediators to attain peace for South Sudan. However, we urge the mediators to refrain from subjecting the parties to sign an agreement under duress. We want to categorically state that the people of South Sudan do not deserve an agreement that cannot be implemented," the Women said in their joint statement, adding that they are hopeful and have confidence that the process could yield peace "if interests of ordinary South Sudanese are placed above those of individuals and parties."
On their part, The African Union Peace and Security Council during its 783rd meeting just concluded in Nouakchott, Mauritania, welcomed the commitment by the South Sudanese parties to make progress on the IGAD-released Revised Bridging Proposal, and urged them to “conclude this process very urgently to address issues of power sharing and security arrangements.”
Also, The UN Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the signing of the Khartoum Declaration and urged all parties to demonstrate “political leadership at a critical juncture of the peace process.”
The UN Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Bintou Keita later, in an address to the UN Security Council, praised the IGAD efforts but stressed that peace would not be achieved or sustained “merely on the basis of a bilateral deal between President Kiir and Mr. Machar.”
“While the outcome of regional and international efforts to deliver a political settlement is yet unclear, I must reiterate that peace will only be sustained if the revitalized agreement is inclusive, fair, that addresses the root causes of the conflict and engages all stakeholders, including women and youth,” Keita said.
“While that declaration dealt broadly with all the contentious issues, further discussions would be needed to ensure that the agreement would be implemented through an effective mechanism.”
The South Sudanese parties to the conflict, the Civil Society and other stakeholders are currently in Khartoum, reportedly expecting to receive a final draft proposal on governance "soon."
Real Challenges facing the Peace Process
It first starts with the nature of the Talks. The ongoing South Sudan peace Talks is not a new peace process per se. It is called High-Level Revitalization Forum HLRF of the 2015 IGAD-mediated Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan ARCSS which remains largely unimplemented mainly due to the resumption of armed conflict in July 2016 and repeated attempts to frustrate the implementation of reforms provided for in the ARCSS.
It was therefore in its response to the new armed conflict and circumstances that emerged in South Sudan that the IGAD Assembly of Heads of State and Government in a Communiqué on 12, June 2017 mandated the IGAD Council of Ministers "to urgently convene a High Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) of the parties to the ARCSS including estranged groups to discuss concrete measures, to restore permanent ceasefire, to full implementation of the Peace Agreement and to develop a revised and realistic timeline and implementation schedule towards democratic election at the end of the Transition Period."
However, several of the parties and stakeholders have on many accounts interpreted that mandate for the HLRF differently. This factor has been among the major striking challenges facing the progress of the peace being pursued through HLRF.
This has been well observed in several forums and discussion regarding the process. For instance, citing Dr Jacob D Chol of the University of Juba, in a December 2017 Policy Brief, Meressa K. Dessu of the Institute for Security Studies ISS wrote: "… [Chol] told the ISS that] the different parties involved in the conflict conceptualise the IGAD initiative differently. He notes that the SPLM/A-IG [President Kiir’s side] says the revitalisation is the same as what the government is trying to implement; SPLM/A-IO’s Taban Deng in the TGoNU argues that the revitalisation is pushing for the implementation of the ARCSS; and the SPLM/A-IO – led by Machar – disputes the process as rebooting and renegotiating a new peace deal that incorporates all the newly emerged rebel outfits."
"From IGAD’s perspective, the revitalisation is about restarting the ARCSS – with some amendments to accommodate the interests of estranged groups, and a revision of the schedule for a realistic implementation process," Dessu continued.
On the other hand, in addition to the different interpretations and possible attempts to manipulate the HLRF process by some parties, it is evident that circumstances have changed a lot. We are currently in July 2018; the IGAD communique mandating that the HLRF be “urgently convene[d]” was issued in June 2017 which is over a year ago but so far the process which was meant to be urgent in the first place is still no concluded.
Moreover, the term of transitional government established is soon expiring together with the ARCSS, regrettably, without conducting most of the legal and institutional reforms envisaged in the ARCSS. There is no peace also. Elections are out of question due to the nationwide insecurity created by armed conflict and other factors. The economy is in dire straits. Already the US has warned against the extension of the term through the legislature, as opposed to a peace agreement. It is expected that the HLRF succeeds in revitalizing the ARCSS so as to give legitimacy to the next transitional government to be formed thereunder.
But it is has been acknowledged that so far the process has made a breakthrough between the parties such as the signing of the agreements on outstanding issues of security arrangements last week and the permanent ceasefire about two weeks ago, though there is a growing caution over the texts of the former.
Those are fruits of the "Khartoum Declaration of Agreement between Parties of the Conflict of South Sudan" which was signed as part of the HLRF and the last month resolution of IGAD Assembly of Heads of State and Government which mandated the ongoing process.
In the Khartoum Declaration also, the South Sudanese parties have agreed to reach a deal on the IGAD-peace "Revised Bridging Proposal" "as soon as possible and before closing the current Khartoum Round of Talks." This limitation could be positive or negative, depending largely on the manner of the Talks and the progress thereof.
Also, as announced by Sudan’s foreign minister, the Khartoum round of talks between the South Sudanese shall continue until 12 July (tomorrow.)
But the gap between the proposals and the talks by those calling for a comprehensive peace agreement through the HLRF that addresses the root causes of the conflict remain too big as of recent it is mostly about power-sharing in the next transitional period.
Parties must drop narrow interpretation of HLRF mandate
It is indeed very important to have a fair power-sharing agreement between the South Sudan parties to the conflict and stakeholders/entities participating in the HLRF. This will greatly assist in creating a balance in decision-making and genuine implementation of peace and the institutional and legal reforms enshrined in the revitalized ARCSS.
But a mere distribution of power (percentages) are not enough. The revitalized ARCSS must contain substantive provisions on the fundamental issues facing South Sudan and as well as incorporate corrections to the lessons from its past failures. That is how the HLRF could lead to ARCSS full implementation and end to the conflict.
As I have argued in my recent articles making substantive observations and recommendations on the nature of the peace process and power-sharing proposals, despite the (limited?) mandate of the HLRF, the South Sudanese parties, could still discuss and agree on a comprehensive peace agreement that is implementable, that addresses the root causes of the conflict and incorporates the needed radical reforms for fundamental change in the Country.
They, all the South Sudanese parties, very well know the problems and solutions to the issues of governance failure and the cycle of violent conflicts in the young country. All required from them now is honesty and constructive engagements to come up with a final agreement that will bring a lasting peace. They also have a chance to rectify the (unintended) mistakes made in the ARCSS that directly or indirectly led to its failure.
Moreover, a narrow interpretation of the wordings of the IGAD 2017 communique that mandated the HLRF, whether by the government or the opposition, is not only unhelpful by unreliable as well.
It is worth recalling that 32nd Extra-Ordinary Summit of the IGAD Assembly of Heads of State and Government that mandated President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir of Sudan to facilitate the Khartoum Talks to: “a. discuss and resolve the outstanding issues on governance and security arrangements including measures proposed in the revised Bridging Proposal of the IGAD Council of Ministers; and b. discuss measures to be taken to rehabilitate the South Sudanese economy through bilateral cooperation between the Republic of South Sudan and the Republic of Sudan” also decided that President Al-Bashir shall inform President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya of the outcome of the discussion between the parties.
The Summit further decided that President Kenyatta will facilitate the third round of face-to-face discussion between President Kiir and Dr Machar in Nairobi “to facilitate the revitalization process and report the outcome and way forward to the upcoming Ordinary Session of the IGAD Assembly of Heads of State and Government.”
The Summit also instructed the IGAD Council of Ministers “to give guidance to Special Envoy for South Sudan on the remaining tasks to finalize the IGAD bridging proposal at the sideline of the 33rd African Union Summit….in Nouakchott, Mauritania” which just was ended early July, apparently without finalizing the IGAD bridging proposal due to the recent unforeseen changes, one of which is Article 3 of the Khartoum Declaration between the South Sudanese Parties which says “An Agreement on the ‘Revised Bridging Proposal’ shall be concluded as soon as possible and before closing the current Khartoum Round of Talks.”
Indeed, the different South Sudanese parties have different interests and different allies in the region and beyond, but if they are serious about peace and ending the suffering of the people, they should be particularly concerned about making a comprehensive peace through the HLRF, not capitalizing on issues of whether or not the recent agreements prevail over past communique of the regional body on related matters. They should as well be concerned about their direct and indirect actions that could possibly lead to lack of support required from the region and beyond for smooth implementation (success) of the very Agreement they say should bring reforms in the Country.
Recommendations for fundamental reforms
Therefore, given the justifications above, in addition to my earlier suggestions to the success of the peace process, I hereby recommend the following:
1- On excessive powers of the National Security Service
The South Sudanese Parties should reach an agreement and set a timeframe and parameters for reforming the existing National Security Act. Provisions of the National Security Act giving the National Security service broad powers of arrest, search and seize property without a judicial warrant, and expansive surveillance powers with no independent oversight or due process should be repealed.
In fact, those powers given to the National Security Service NSS contradict Article 159 of South Sudan Constitution TCRSS which limits the NSS to information gathering, analysis and advice to the relevant authorities (e.g. the Police).
Actually, many of our current leaders were the ones who struggled for the professionalization of National Security Service during the times of the liberation war and peace negotiations.
Renowned academician and Former Minister in the Office of President Kiir Dr. Luka Biong Deng captured that history very well in his 2014 article after he was reportedly arrested, detained, deported from Yei with his properties sought and seized by the Military Intelligence of the SPLA.
“The genesis of this constitutional provision of the mandate of the National Security Service goes back to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) as Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) insisted to discuss and to clearly define the mandate of National Security Service in the CPA. Specifically, the Power Sharing Protocol that was signed on 26th May 2004 stated in section 126.96.36.199 that National Security Service shall be “professional and its mandate shall be advisory and focused on information gathering and analysis”. The same provision about the mandate of National Security Service was included with the same wording in the Sudan Interim National Constitution, 2005. It is clear that the National Security Service is not constitutionally mandated to arrest, detain, search and seize,” wrote Dr Biong.
In fact, the Constitutionality of the provisions of the Act would have been contested before the Courts in South Sudan but since they lack independence, pursuing such avenue in the hope of getting justice may be, simply, a wishful thinking.
Also, this could not have been an issue for the HLRF if ARCSS provisions were explicit on the parameters and nature of reforms to be carried out on the National Security Act. But ARCSS is not explicit on the matter.
So, the best option is to agree on and stipulate a comprehensive approach for the reforms of the National Security Service (Act) in the final Agreement (revitalized ARCSS) currently being negotiated through the HLRF.
2- On Media Laws
The South Sudanese Parties should reach an agreement and set a timeframe and parameters for reforming The Media Authority Act, the Right of Access to Information Act and The Broadcasting Corporation Act.
For instance, though has not been implemented, Chapter 1 Article 14 of ARCSS provides for reforms and reconstitution of The Broadcasting Corporation SSBC “…paying particular attention to the mandate and appointments, to ensure their [the Corporation’s] independence and accountability.”
Well, this may be well intended however, there are two problems with that provision namely: A) Instead of providing for those reforms and reconstitution to be done by parliament by amending the SSBC Act, the ARCSS stipulates that they be shall be done the executive.
B) Whether intentionally or not, major media laws like the Right of Access to Information Act and The Media Authority Act have not been included in ARCSS as among the institutions and legislation requiring reforms to ensure their independence and accountability.
The presidential appointees heading those bodies have no security of tenure as the president, instead of the legislature, holds the powers to remove them. The provisions of those Three Media Acts requiring reforms include, but not limited to, repealing the provision criminalizing defamation (see section 5 of The Media Authority Act); the procedure for appointments and removal of officials under the Acts, to ensure adherence with democratic principles, human rights law and international best practices as at the moment the bodies established by those laws are not living up to expectations.
Some of the negative actions of the Media Authority include coming up with “registration” of media houses and warning “the public and donors not to engage with media houses, it says are unregistered and operating illegally.”
The Media Authority, as of April 24 2018, publicized media houses and entities that are “legally” registered. The Media Authority “authorized” nine newspapers and magazines to operate. This is a violation of Section 13 (i) of the Media Authority Act which provides that “…there shall be no licensing or registration of newspapers, news agencies, magazines and periodicals or other printed media, or of websites or sources of content on the Internet, other than that required by law for any business seeking to engage in a commercial or non-profit activity…”
The Media Authority has no powers to register newspapers, news agencies, magazines. The registration required “by law for any business seeking to engage in a commercial or non-profit activity” is not the competence of the Media Authority as that falls under the Ministry of Justice at the moment and such registrations are purely for those mentioned purposes and nothing to do with professionalism/media ethics per se.
Last year, The Media Authority “banned” about twenty foreign journalists from entering or operating within South Sudan for reporting what it termed “unsubstantiated and unrealistic stories.” The Media Authority cited no law and no transparent, verifiable, justified procedure in reaching those decisions.
As for the SSBC which controls the Public Broadcasters (TVs, Radios, etc) the opposition, especially the SPLM-IO, The Democratic Change DC, the other political parties and the civil society know very well the bureaucracy in there as many a times they complained about their events not being covered or broadcasted by the SSBC (former SSTV/SS Radio). The Act SSBC Act provides for transformation of the State-owned media (SSBC) into public broadcasters, independent from the political or economic control of the government. But that is far from the reality on the ground as the SSBC suffers lack of independence from the executive, apparently due to undue influence over budget and the fact that Section 32 of SSBC Act provides that the Media Authority shall monitor the SSBC while the Media Authority itself lacks the independence it ought to have from the executive.
Member of Parliament and then Leader of Minority Onyoti Adigo Nyikwec once told me in an interview published in September 2016 on The Nation Mirror newspaper that his party was not being accorded fair opportunity by the SSBC.
“If you see me there… it is something which has been organized by other people, not by us [opposition].
“The TV is still being controlled by the government, even the radio and especially by the minister of information. So it has become the property of some people, not the South Sudanese people,” Adigo said at the time. So far the situation may have only changed for those currently to the government.
This February, the Human Rights Division (HRD) of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in a joint report on The Right To Freedom of Opinion and Expression in South Sudan since the July 2016 crisis, wrote:
“As the present report shows, the restrictive domestic legal framework, which criminalizes defamation and does not clearly define the clauses limiting the exercise of freedom of expression, leaves a wide margin of interpretation which might lead to arbitrary implementation. As media outlets and civil society play a key role in promoting good governance and accountability, journalists and outspoken civil society actors have been especially targeted with censorship, harassment, threats and violence. As a result, citizens fear criminal prosecution for expressing their views or are concerned about their safety, and tend to practise self-censorship,” the UNMISS-OHCHR report continued.
“Despite positive developments, such as the establishment of the Media Authority, the key regulatory institution aimed at promoting freedom of the media, effective civic participation remains a challenge. Main concerns include a restrictive legal framework and the imposition of undue restrictions by State institutions, at the national and local levels, including by security forces, to the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression of media workers and other individuals. Restrictions, such as censorship of newspaper articles that are critical, have been misused to muzzle individuals and media critical of the Government or perceived as such – in some cases with the pretext of prohibiting hate speech.”
Last year, the deputy chair of the ARCSS Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, Amb Gen. Augostino Njoroge called for the protection of fundamental principles of press freedom and an end of the crackdown on journalists in South Sudan.
“The media, in South Sudan, like it is globally can offer a platform for various voices that seek to promote tolerance, dialogue, cohesion and compromise. This will ensure an all-inclusive national healing and dialogue and also shape the development agenda of the country,” Gen. Njoroge said.
He is right. Also, as correctly observed by the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, “A silenced journalist mutes the voices of the people and curbs their right to know. The result is a society where fearful citizens resort to self-censorship and where it is not possible to make informed decisions.”
Therefore, taking into account the abovementioned facts and arguments, the author hereby submits that providing for reforms in the South Sudan media laws and environment are extremely necessary for peace and ensuring full implementation of the revitalized ARCSS.
Given the failure to implement the reforms provided for under ARCSS, the revitalized ARCSS, the next TGoNU and all should ensure freedom of expression and the media in South Sudan so that the same mistakes do not occur. Make explicit provisions for reforms of the media laws in the final Agreement now!
3- On the Peace Monitors and their Mandate
Chapter Seven, Article 3 of ARCSS provides that JMEC “shall be responsible for monitoring and overseeing the implementation of the Agreement and the mandate and tasks of the TGoNU, including the adherence of the Parties to the agreed timelines and implementation schedule. In case of non-implementation of the mandate and tasks of the TGoNU, or other serious deficiencies, the JMEC shall recommend appropriate corrective action to the TGoNU.”
This provision implies that JMEC has powers to, for example, recommend appropriate corrective actions to the TGoNU regarding the validity or lack thereof in the appointment to a post or removal of a position holder under the Agreement (when there is a dispute.) Otherwise, why have a monitoring body when it shall not follow such significant processes to ensure that they occur in line with the letter and spirit of the very Agreement establishing them for the purposes of overseeing the Agreement’s implementation and recommending appropriate corrective action in case of non-implementation or other serious deficiencies?
This was the test JMEC faced when in July 2016 debates arose on the question of Machar’s replacement by members of the SPLM-IO in Juba following the resumption of violence.
On 24, July 2016, JMEC issued a statement saying: "The Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission [JMEC] would like to clarify its stance on the SPLM/iO leadership debate. As stated yesterday, a change to the leadership depends on the Opposition itself and we are not here to speculate on such changes. We do not see any value in speculating when the people and friends of South Sudan are working hard to ensure a return to the implementation of the Peace Agreement."
This was unnecessary, since according to ARCSS, in my view, JMEC role is never to "speculate" on leadership changes anywhere, be it in the opposition or any other party to the agreement. Thus, legally, in relation to Dr. Machar’s replacement, in my view, JMEC was supposed to ensure that, it was in line with the recommendations of the “Top Leadership” of the SPLM-IO as required by Chapter One, Article 6(4) and Chapter 1 Article 5 (2) (4) of the ARCSS. That ought to be a democratic exercise and ARCSS seeks to transform South Sudan into a Democracy.
So, it was a simple matter that only would require JMEC to monitor and verify that there was the quorum required for the meeting or voting of “the Top Leadership” of the SPLM-IO and that the replacement was in line with ARCSS. This is what they should be doing with all other related provisions of the ARCSS and then recommend appropriate corrective action in case of non-implementation or other serious deficiencies.
On this, in relation to the HLRF, I have recommended in one of my recent articles that let each party or entity develop, adopt and deposit their internal Constitution or rules and regulations with JMEC and IGAD. Such internal Constitution or rules and regulations should define the mode of decision making within each party on matters related to the revitalized ARCSS, including their procedure for membership and lose thereof, the procedure for nomination of their representatives to the next TGoNU, TNLA, etc. The internal Constitutions or rules and regulations should be separate documents that IGAD or JMEC or HLRF should, on the technical aspect, assist the parties to develop as soon as possible for the purposes of protecting the revitalized ARCSS from violations. The documents should be valid for the purposes of the revitalized ARCSS, regardless of possible change such as the expected reunification of the SPLM. This is very significant as it will ensure accountability, adherence to the revitalized ARCSS. It would also avoid a return to armed conflict or any controversy and possible pulling out by some parties/entities from the revitalized ARCSS over related issues, thereby negatively affecting its implementations.
Back on the stand JMEC took since July 2016 crisis, it is somehow understandable, given the nature of the violence that erupted and required politics and diplomacy as JMEC leadership itself was notably lacking enough backing from the region and apparently the wider international community.
However, to avoid the occurrence of similar crises during the period of the revitalized (next) TGoNU (ARCSS), strengthening of JMEC mandate and gathering support for their role is absolutely necessary if the revitalized ARCSS currently under negotiations through the HLRF is intended to be implemented.
This was also called for by Aly Verjee, the JMEC former deputy and subsequently acting chief of staff Testimony in his last year’s testimony before the United States Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy.
“In the event the Forum produces a meaningful result, reform to the peace agreement’s supreme oversight body, the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC), where I served as deputy and subsequently acting chief of staff until my expulsion by the Government of South Sudan in April 2016, must be contemplated,” Verjee told Senates Subcommittee.
“While the principal responsibility for continued conflict and systematic misgovernance rests on the South Sudanese political elites, JMEC has failed to live up to expectations. It has not moved quickly enough to take corrective action at moments of acute crisis, and not held the parties to account when they dishonoured their obligations. There has been insufficient backing for JMEC from the IGAD member states and the African Union when the South Sudanese failed to comply with the terms of the agreement. When JMEC itself came under attack, with its key personnel expelled from the country, JMEC’s regional and international backers did not protest.”
Another issue is, Chapter 7, Article 2 (6) of ARCSS provides that the terms of reference of JMEC shall be endorsed by the IGAD Assembly of Heads of State and Government.
There is no such terms of reference available in the public arena to the best of my knowledge. This further makes it difficult for the public to hold JMEC to account. JMEC may also be reluctant to live up to expectations as a result of that.
The JMEC Chairman has no security of tenure. ARCSS in Chapter Seven, Article 2 (5) only provides that “JMEC shall be chaired by a prominent African personality appointed by the IGAD Assembly of Heads of State and Government in consultation with IGAD-PLUS Partners, and form Committees to facilitate its activities as deemed necessary. JMEC may select deputy Chairs in accordance with the number of the said Committees.”
Lack of provisions in the Agreement guaranteeing the security of tenure and a clear procedure for their removal could be a big source of undue influence and underperformance. This should be rectified in the current process and JMEC needs to involve more members of the academia in decision-making positions than politicians. Involving respected, competent South Sudanese academics in top positions in JMEC would also strengthen the influence of the body within the Country and counter the arguments that South Sudan’s sovereignty under threat because of the powers given to the peace monitors.
In case the South Sudanese Parties and Stakeholders continue to differ over their interpretations of the IGAD communique establishing the HLRF to the extent that they fail to discuss and agree on a comprehensive peace agreement that is implementable and equally important, addresses the root causes of the conflict and the major issues for fundamental change in the Country, IGAD should issue urgent resolutions with explicit provisions detailing/expanding the mandate to the HLRF.
The resolutions should set clear parameters for the peace talks through the HLRF to include, inter alia, the fundamental issues facing the Country as raised herein and the articles attached. The IGAD resolutions should as well incorporate rectifications to the lessons learned from ARCSS failures, without altering the relevant provisions of ARCSS, the “Revised Bridging Proposal” and positive achievements made by the HLRF. Then IGAD should speed up the HLRF with clear areas for discussions and agreements needed from the parties and stakeholders including the civil society.
On their part, parties who were signatories to the ARCSS such as the SPLM/AIO led by Machar, the Former Detainees, and others, should not view an expansion of the HLRF mandate or even a new peace process as being against their interests. It may be wrong for them to assume that under an expanded mandate of the HLRF, they would lose their current level of influence in that process and its outcome.
In fact, they should know better, that, reaching any final agreement that fails to address the fundamental issues facing South Sudan will be too costly for the Country and most of them the opposition in particular. Anyway, they know more about this, including the fact that the government has not withdrawn labelling them as plotters of a failed coup attempt. The opposition leaders know very well the costs for surrendering themselves without a genuine agreement providing for fundamental reforms in the Country.
On the other hand, the various leaders in the government (delegation) to the HLRF should work for a comprehensive peace agreement as well. They should remember that several leaders who were part of the government when the conflict erupted, like the Former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Paul Malong, have now become victims of the same system they worked to maintain. They, like others, have apparently learnt their lessons and they will probably be different and become pro-reforms if they find themselves again in power.
The various government leaders should as well convince President Kiir to accept radical reforms to the problems facing South Sudan. It is well-known that the governance crisis facing South Sudan today is not the making of President Kiir alone. Many of the current opposition leaders were directly involved in establishing the weak and corrupt system in the Country.
But Kiir being the President, together with all the parties, including Dr Machar, now have a chance to correct the mistakes and move the Country forward based on the ideals which inspired our decades of struggle for freedom, independence, democracy and good governance.
Our people have suffered for far too long. Do not squander this opportunity. Make a comprehensive peace agreement now and make our people pick up their lives once again.
Finally, if IGAD is too reluctant to come up with a new peace process or help expand the mandate of the HLRF given the justifications above, and in case the South Sudanese Parties and Stakeholders continue to differ over their interpretations of the IGAD communique establishing the HLRF to the extent that they fail to discuss and agree on a comprehensive peace agreement that is implementable and equally important, addresses the root causes of the conflict and the major issues for fundamental change in the Country, then it means the African Union and the United Nations should step in more actively than before and roll-out a new peace initiative to rescue the people of South Sudan and help transform the young nation into a democracy. This will as well need cooperation from South Sudan neighbours and IGAD, albeit to a different degree.
Roger Alfred Yoron Modi, a South Sudanese journalist, is the former Managing Editor of Juba Monitor Newspaper and former Chief Editor of Bakhita Radio. He can be reached via his email: 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.