By Steve Paterno
March 19, 2014 - The third round of South Sudanese peace talks in Addis Ababa is scheduled to resume on March 20th. The second round ended up in deadlock without any progress or signing of any provision.
These next round of negotiations are going to pretty much be determined by the passed unfolding events leading to these talks. The mediation under the regional bloc, Inter-Governmental Authority on Development or IGAD are disparately trying to cut a deal on the three months old conflict. However, IGAD is facing a daunting task ahead. The warring parties are far apart on issues. The involvement of Western powers as well as other regional powers who are more or less acting like big brothers such as South Africa, which are putting much pressure on IGAD is worrisome to say the least. Bearing to pressure, IGAD mediators are feeling that their noble efforts are being challenged and their mantra of ’African problems can be solved by Africans’ are fast dissipating. Hence, they may likely opt for expediency for political motives as oppose to finding concrete solutions to the problems.
Worst yet, the squabble among IGAD members is actually the regional bloc’s achilles’ heels. At the heart of dispute is the deployment of Ugandan troops, known as UPDF, in South Sudan to stabilize the country. The swift and timely deployment of UPDF seems to have beaten the other IGAD members to the punch.
To resolve this problem, IGAD members instead insisted on a proposal of a deployment of regional peace keeping force and calls for withdrawal of UPDF. Though both South Sudan and Ugandan governments welcome the proposal, both governments can still easily go around and circumvent the proposal, which will still keep UPDF in the country to continue with its current mission.
First, base on IGAD’s proposal, the withdrawal of UPDF depends on the deployment of the regional peace keeping force. This means, the UPDF are there to stay until those regional forces arrive. Secondly, Uganda being an IGAD member, the UPDF can simply assume a role of that regional contingent, even by default. Thirdly, South Sudan and Uganda had already a bilateral and regional agreements on troops deployment and as sovereign entities, they could enter into any such agreements at any time and point they feel necessary without the necessary approval of anyone.
Going into these negotiations, the government of South Sudan feels more empowered than ever before. In the last phase of talks, the government already dismissed a multi-track negotiations that involve any other party than the armed opposition. This actually encourages the government as it continues to defeat the armed groups on the ground and militarily winning battles.
Nonetheless, the recent growing confrontation between the government and UN operation in the country plus deteriorating diplomatic relationship with Western countries remain the challenge for government to overcome.
As for the opposing armed groups, with the recent series of loses of key places, including Malakal, it looks like they are going for a nuclear option, targeting and destroying oilfields. Much remain to be observed in the talks.
Steve Paterno is the author of The Rev. Fr. Saturnino Lohure, A Romain Catholic Priest Turned Rebel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org