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Beny Gideon Mabor, Esq - 19 Dec 2017

South Sudan Peace Process: Challenges and opportunities for revitalization forum

Following the conduct of consultative meetings by the East African regional bloc-the Intergovernmental Authority on Development IGAD-High Level Revitalization Forum on South Sudan (HLRF) with South Sudanese parties to the conflict and other stakeholders in October 2017, the timetable was designed by the IGAD Council of Ministers and Office of the Special Envoy in a manner that depicts lack of Transitional Government of National Unity (TGONU) at its seat in Juba. By default or deliberate arrangement, the mapping of parties and stakeholders only recognizes the existence of parties and other stakeholders without a political entity called the government. This approach at the outset, made some components of TGONU to view the HLRF as high-loaded machinery coupled with geopolitical competition on South Sudan to achieve their respective interests.

In response to the design of the consultative timetable, the two components of the TGONU, which are SPLM-IO under First Vice President General Taban Deng, and coalition of Parties of National Agenda under Cabinet Affairs Minister Dr Martin Elia, met on date 6th October 2017 and issued press statement maintaining their position that the regret the design of the consultative timetable which did not recognize existence of the transitional government, however, remains committed to the HLRF peace process but ready to consult with IGAD Council of Ministers as transitional government but not parties as it appears in the timetable.

On the other hand, another component of the TGONU-the Former Political Detainees (FDs) also issued counter-claim press statement dated 7th October 2017 that FDs are ready to consult with IGAD Council of Ministers as a separate party but not part of the transitional government. The latter move by the FDs seemingly confirmed the doubt by the government and other quarter of opinions about HLRF end game and why FDs who are formally part of the TGONU denied being part of consultation as a government but chooses to remain as individual political representation. In light of the two contradictory political statements, it has confirmed bad faith politics by parties to the conflict where the components of TGONU are now going to attend the launching of the HLRF on 18-22 December 2017 with diverse opinions. In other words, the HLRF from the word go is characterized by lack of consensus within the transitional government leave alone other estrange groups who have different views and expected outcome altogether.

The second challenge that will face the HLRF is lack of inclusive understanding of the revitalization of the peace agreement by the parties themselves. Each party views revitalization in a favourable definition and stand by that interpretation. According to a policy brief published by Meressa K. Dessu of the Institute for Security Studies dated 8th December 2017, he noted that the SPLM in Government says the revitalization is the same as what the government is trying to implement now; while the faction of SPLM/A-IO under General Taban Deng argues that the revitalization is meant for the implementation of the agreement on the resolution of conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS); and thirdly the faction of the SPLM/A-IO – led by Riek Machar – denied the two versions of the revitalization and views HLRF process as a complete rebooting and renegotiating a total new peace agreement that must incorporate all the newly emerged rebel groups. At the international level, President Festus Mogae, Chairman of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation commission (JMEC) a body tasked by the IGAD Heads of State and government to overseeing the implementation of the peace agreement, called for the revitalization process “to address the current political realities in South Sudan and seek ways in which key actors can be identified and engaged or re-engaged”. This complex understanding of the HLRF process has furthermore confirmed bad faith politics and already marks the very unpredictable beginning of the search for peace in South Sudan.

At the multilateral organizational level, the HLRF according to IGAD’s perspective has three key objectives namely: cessation of hostilities and a permanent ceasefire; return to the full implementation of the peace agreement, and finally developing a realistic timeline and implementation schedule towards a democratic election at the end of the transition period”. Reading between the lines about revitalization of the peace agreement, the IGAD definition is neither renegotiation of a new peace deal nor implementation of the existing peace agreement, but they are doing what is known as strategic ambiguity in the context of conflict resolution which refers to purposely being vague to drive personal or organizational benefit out of confusion. In this case, such benefit, if any, will not be of interests to either of any party to the conflict or South Sudanese as the may case be, but a different one.

The third challenge is a growing mistrust and seemingly withdrawal of confidence from the IGAD leadership and its capacity and neutral role in the mediation of the armed conflict in South Sudan and the sub-region. So far, some utterances confirmed the government saying that IGAD is being used by the Troika powers to impose their interests on the country. On the other hand, Dr Riek Machar repeatedly accused IGAD of supporting only the government – by isolating him in South Africa while some section of the civil society organizations including recently formed South Sudan Young Leaders Forum (SSYLF) challenge the credibility of IGAD by saying what is different this time around compared to the previous peace process under IGAD that brought an imposed peace agreement (ARCSS 2015) that did not last long? All these doubts made some parties and stakeholders to disregard the principle of subsidiarity between the IGAD and the African Union by seeking the latter to help or even take over the mediation role. As the saying goes, if you cannot win the game, then change the table is now the forum-shopping to address this multidisciplinary approach to peace.

The last challenge is the lack of framing of expectations that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely (SMART) objectives to guide the parties and the stakeholders. Five months so far elapsed since the creation of the HLRF on the 12 of June 2017 and yet neither IGAD member states nor friends of IGAD including Trokia countries and the five countries of the African Union High-level Ad Hoc Committee on South Sudan have clearly show minimum expectations of the HLRF on South Sudan. Although the IGAD and the international community cannot fully predict the outcome of the HLRF, on the other hand, IGAD cannot know if the HLRF has failed or succeeded if its success cannot be defined at the outset.

Pitfalls of the ARCSS and lessons learnt
The previous peace process was founded on the wrong path. First, the (ARCSS) is a power-sharing formula and not a problem-solving formula. In most cases, a negotiated political settlement is a compromise agreement of the parties’ interests but not a process that develops appropriate and sustainable solutions to the complex problems that any country engulfed by a civil war is facing. History of conflict resolution shown that a properly negotiated political settlement requires an understanding of the root causes of the conflict at all levels, who are the drivers, what forced the drivers of conflict into violence and how it can be resolved. All these steps were not taken into consideration.

The second pitfall was lack of space for South Sudanese to discuss their issues that caused the violence. Parties were given already design agenda on a take it or leave it basis, in accordance with the interest of those who design the agenda while the last bad experience was that the peace agreement is based on unrealistic assumptions with the hope that the warring parties shall show leadership to implement the peace agreement. As widely seen by all parties and stakeholders including quarters of the international community at the time, the design of power sharing and security arrangements for Juba made the living condition very difficult, the result of which was fighting on 8th July 2016 at the Presidential Palace (J1) between forces loyal to SPLM in Government led by President Salva Kiir Mayardit versus forces loyal to the then First Vice President Dr Riek Machar. The war has now spillover to the different parts of the country. As the same parties, stakeholders and the international community are back to the negotiating table to fix where they have gone wrong, you must not repeat the same mistake.

As alluded to earlier by Dr James Okuk, I fully agree with his analysis that the “warring parties and other stakeholders should seize the opportunity as the unavoidable last chance for sustainable peace”. Otherwise failure to end violence at the HLRF, the regional and international community will be left with no choice but to serve South Sudan with the death certificate of the peace agreement, however, followed by subsequent punitive measures that will much more exacerbate the lives of ordinary South Sudanese private men and women. In a similar note, an expert opinion on South Sudan published by Ahmed Soliman and Ally Verjee at the Chatham House provided a political diagnosis that “failure of the HLRF will undermine any remaining confidence in South Sudan’s ability to peacefully resolve the political differences that drive grievances, displacement, and economic decline.

Concluding remarks and recommendation 

The HLRF is a timely opportunity for South Sudanese to bring about much needed peace in South Sudan. After such a horrific level of destruction of lives and properties, South Sudan need a real peace which is beyond power-sharingaring deal, beyond absence of guns shots or other forms of violence but a creation of socio-economic and political atmosphere for competitive politics and where each person rights and dignity are upheld. Therefore, what is needed to arrive at this stage? And the answer lies with the degree to which South Sudanese parties and stakeholders particularly political elites will make use of this last chance and avoid losing it.

In summary, the peaceful resolution of the South Sudan armed conflict is in the hands of collective responsible political leadership and citizenry that can address the demands of its people. South Sudanese political leaders and South Sudanese, in general, do not need to mess up the country and wait to be invited to foreign capitals to be lectured by foreigners about their own grievances and how to solve it. It is the stupid idea. In conclusion, South Sudanese are the masters of the ongoing armed conflict and they should be the right masters to bring to an end the same conflict. While in worst case scenario in the context of HLRF if it fails to bring peace, then South Sudanese and friends of South Sudan will be left with no option but to demand exclusion of the principle of subsidiarity and transfer the South Sudan case file to the African Union for the final solution.

Beny Gideon Mabor is a South Sudanese Private Attorney & a Human Rights Defender. His research interests are politics, governance and human rights. He is reachable on

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.