By Steve Paterno
January 2, 2014 - Entering into a third week, the conflict in South Sudan is still raging, exacerbating an already deteriorating security and humanitarian catastrophe. Fortunately, the effort to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the crisis is already under way, albeit, with a lot of huddles and challenges yet to be overcome.
The uniliteral declaration of ceasing fire by the government of South Sudan and with the urge of mediators does not seem to be holding for the moment. Thus far, there are military maneuvers followed by counter maneuvers. The rebels claim the reconquest of Bor town, (Jonglie State), while the government is asserting a complete recapturing of Unity State from the rebels, by chasing them out of Mayom town and an imminent takeover of Bentiu town, which is still under the rebels hands. The President, is therefore, forced to declare state of emergency in the most affected states of Unity and Jonglei, respectively.
With all eyes now in Addis Ababa for the negotiation, some of the most important questions and concerns creep in. First, the focus is set on the composition of the delegates from both sides to that negotiation. In the case of Riek Machar, he had already fumbled by gambling to chose among the members of his delegations for peace talks the unlikely allies. Such are individuals like Pagan Amum and Rebecca Nyandeng. Pagan Amum is under government detention for allegedly being involved in a failed coup attempt led by Riek Machar. Not only that, the government is also awaiting Amum’s prosecution for pending corruption charges and other criminal activities. As for Rebecca Nyandeng, another unlikely alley of Riek Machar, she already declared in a recently broadcasted BBC interview that she is not willing to be a participant of Riek Machar negotiating team, since she has a major role to play in a national peace building than just being confined as a faction of this brutal conflict.
From the government side, the delegates to the negotiation has yet presented interesting characters as well. For example, the characters include Lam Akol, a leader of an opposition party, who, until recently was self exiled for his opposition against the government of South Sudan. In about a year ago, as a vice president of Republic of South Sudan on his visit to USA, Riek Machar accused Lam Akol of trying to topple the government of Juba and for that, he warned that Lam Akol was not qualify to even register his party in South Sudan base on his connection with armed militias against the government. Now, with Riek Machar scrambling to overthrow the government, recruiting all the help he can get, it seems like he was a devil then, fighting against those he perceived were against the government that he was still serving in. However, with the tables being turned around, it is now obvious that Lam Akol is on a prosecution seat, sitting against a current masterminder to topple the government, a proverbial of South Sudanese devils and angels, just switching seats at will. As Lam Akol asserts, "politics is the art of possibilities," and how far such possibilities stretch are perhaps what we wait and see.
These then bring us to the questions of how much commitment have both sides devoted in this negotiations? What are the agendas tabled under negotiations? How feasible are some of those agendas? The next few days will prove critical in answering these pertinent questions and much more...