By Amir Idris
June 27, 2014 - The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) mediating the peace talks for South Sudan adjourned indefinitely the recent round of negotiations on July 23, 2014. The two parties, Government of South Sudan and the SPLM in Opposition, have met several times in the last five months in Addis Ababa to discuss possible peace agreement to end the political conflict and the humanitarian crisis which began in December last year. The IGAD in its statement blamed the opposition for the failure of the peace talks by boycotting it. The SPLM in Opposition denied the IGAD claims and instead it argued that the IGAD failed to abide by the inclusivity of the process.
This was an unfortunate political development indeed. South Sudan is in dire need of an inclusive political settlement that addresses the underlying causes of the crisis and sets up a new inclusive political order. Unfortunately, South Sudan has inherited political leaders without a sense of history. Their political vision and practices are reproducing all the horrors of the past. Hence, the new state of South Sudan has turned into a great disappointment and a defeat for the people. While its various political leaders are bickering over procedural issues, the people of South Sudan are facing daunting existential challenges and a very gloomy future in their newly independent state. Recent reports estimate that tens of thousands of South Sudanese people have lost their lives, more than one million people have been displaced over the past five months, 100, 000 people are currently sheltering at United Nations bases, and 300, 000 people have fled to neighboring countries. In addition, nearly half the population of South Sudan needs humanitarian aid.
The damages that are being inflicted on the social fabric of the society, the absence of trust in government, as well as the growing feeling of revenge and counter revenge call upon the political leaders of South Sudan to rise above their personal ambitions of retaining their political offices. The cries of innocent children and the plight of elderly men and women who have been languishing in IDP camps around the country should have awakened the conscience of their political leaders. Sadly, the current political leadership is more interested in treating the peace talks as an opportunity to settle their personal grievances and to secure their political careers. Their intention is to define and control the outcome of the proposed discussions on an interim government. Ironically, they see themselves as ‘saviors’ and future leaders of the proposed government. They have forgotten that they are part of the problem which led to the political crisis and most of the violence in the first place.
The truth is South Sudan has become an ungovernable place because of their failure to provide an inclusive vision that could have taken the country on a prosperous journey after independence. Instead, the political leaders saw independence as an opportunity to steal public funds, to practice nepotism, to undermine law and order, and to sow ethnic divisions at the expense of national ideals of their own people. Their political vision was solely imprisoned by their personal and ethnic vested interests. They did not foresee the danger of their political actions and behavior. Therefore, nothing worth entertaining can be expected from such political leaders. South Sudan urgently needs a new cadre of political leaders equipped with a promising transformative vision of equality, justice, and citizenship that can replace despair with hope, and war with peace.
South Sudan has no chance of peaceful political transformation unless the edifice of the current political leadership, which includes the leaders in the current government, the SPLM in Opposition, and the Former Detainees, is brought down and excluded from the proposed interim government. In other words, the objective must be complete regime change as well as leadership change. This goal is immensely popular not only in South Sudan but also among South Sudanese in the diaspora. Once this objective is accepted by the IGAD, the African Union, and the United Nations, a number of steps must be taken:
First, in consultation with the IGAD mediators, the ongoing peace process should be strengthened by including the AU Peace and Security Council, the UN Security Council, and the Troika countries (Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Credible measures of sanctions should be adopted and imposed by the regional and the international actors if the warring factions fail to commit themselves to political negotiation.
Second, the regional and international community must help the people of South Sudan set up an interim government. The interim government is a prelude to a new era of great expectations. The composition of the interim government should exclude all political leaders who constituted the old political establishment since 2005. To form an interim government, South Sudanese opposition groups, civil society and other stakeholders must agree on its composition and program. The interim government should be tasked with ending the war, restoring law and order, returning the displaced, outlining an economic plan, reforming the security and the army, and writing a new constitution. The interim government could be composed of leaders drawn from the following major groups: technocrats, academics, civil society, professional South Sudanese in diaspora, and personalities with national inclinations. These five groups can be supported by international experts who could provide technical expertise in specific areas such as governance, rule of law, and economic planning. Those international experts should be chosen by the leadership of the constituted interim government in consultation with the United Nations, the African Union, and the Troika countries.
Third, once an interim government is constituted, the international community could recognize it as the legitimate government of South Sudan. That would enable the international community and the interim government to raise the needed resources and carry out its mandate successfully.
Fourth, South Sudan’s oil revenues should be put in an escrow account to be accessed by the interim government once it is constituted.
Fifth, the African Union, the UN, and the Troika countries should persuade President Salva Kiir and the former Vice President, Riek Machar to accept the new interim government and immediately cease their military confrontations. The UN Security Council, in consultation with the AU Peace and Security Council, could authorize additional peace-keeping forces with a strong mandate to protect civilians and restore law and order.
Sixth, the African Union and the UN Security Council should identify those who committed crime against humanity and hold them accountable. The focus should be on naming the political leaders who were involved in committing these crimes.
If the above-mentioned regional and the international actors intervene to impose such measures, South Sudan and its people would be able to end the cycle of violence and embark on a prosperous journey towards healing the wounds inflicted in society and restoring the much needed trust in their government.
The author is professor of African History and Politics and Chair of Department of African and African American Studies at Fordham University, New York City. He can be reached at email@example.com