By Beny Gideon Mabor
This policy brief is an attempt to explain the millipede speed of the IGAD-led peace process for South Sudan. After an indefinite closure of the peace talks on 24 June 2014, there is cloud of doubt surrounding progress of the peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and the people of South Sudan are left in continuous dilemma of who to believe between the government and the SPLM/A oppositional leadership in their counter-accusations over stalemate of the peace process. As an eyewitness, I am left with no choice than to break a silence on what I know was contributory factor to the long awaited political settlement.
At the outset, one must appreciate the regional leaders particularly that of Kenya, Sudan and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, who immediately sent their foreign ministers to Juba on 19 December 2013 for consultation with the political leadership after unfolding and deadly violence which occurred on 15 December 2013 and spread to the states of greater Upper Niles along ethnic lines largely between the Dinka and the Nuer communities.
On 27 December, 2013 the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development IGAD held its 23rd extraordinary session of the IGAD Assembly of Head of State and government in Nairobi, Kenya where the IGAD mediation team was appointed in the persons of three renowned military and diplomatic officials namely Ambassador Seyoum Mesfin of Ethiopia as Chairperson of IGAD Special Envoys for South Sudan and membership of General Lazarus Sumbeyo of Kenya and General Mohamed Ahmed El Dabi of Sudan respectively.
In an attempt to execute their duty of mediating the armed conflict between the government and the SPLM/A in Opposition under leadership of former Vice President Dr. Riek Machar, a lot of difficulties aroused in the trend and modality of approaching a peaceful settlement since the beginning up to now. However, a little progress has been achieved so far as the cessation of hostilities agreement, recommitment for humanitarian delivery and agreement on status of the former detainees were concluded and signed.
July 3, 2014 - On procedural aspects, the SPLM/A in Opposition first wanted an inclusive and multi-stakeholder approach to the mediation in order to have full ownership and legitimacy of the agreement itself while the government wanted the bilateral talks to reach a permanent ceasefire alone and subsequently discussed issues of governance at home in an inclusive manner. The call for inclusivity was later ego by South Sudanese stakeholders and international community based on the conclusion that the SPLM-led government has failed to control its internal political spectrum which resultantly thrown the world newest nation into jeopardy and therefore cannot be trusted to bring stability without collective efforts.
On 9 May, 2014, the principal warring parties represented by the president Salva Kiir and the SPLM/A in Opposition leader Dr. Riek Machar signed framework agreement to resolve crisis in South Sudan that call for inclusion of all South Sudanese stakeholders in the peace process including SPLM leaders (former detainees), political parties, civil society and faith based leaders. Subsequently, multi-stakeholders symposium was convened in Addis Ababa from 4 to 9 June, 2014 to serve as a platform to generate ideas for consideration and to help parties and the mediation teams formed an agenda item. Indeed, the dialogue was informative, educative and contributory to the conflict resolutions.
After the end of stakeholders symposium pending the opening of the fourth session of second round of negotiations, the government and the SPLM/A in opposition both boycotted the opening session on the accusation of an insult by IGAD Executive Secretary to the President of the Republic of South Sudan and undermining of sovereignty of the country on the other hand, while the later group argued that the selection of the stakeholders as not been consultative and broad based. The SPLM/A in opposition claimed that whoever comes from Juba is a pro-government stakeholder which we have denied.
This claimed is unfounded and baseless and the SPLM/A in Opposition is filled with fear of unknown when in fact such stakeholders are neutral. Few days later, the government dropped its idea of boycotting the peace talks and avail readiness for negotiation while the opposition maintained its rejection of the stakeholders calling for representation of all stakeholders to be drawn from both sides of the warring parties. This deadlock brought an indefinite closure of the peace talks by the IGAD mediating team.
Therefore, the principal parties to the armed conflict must educate the people of South Sudan about what will they benefit if this war is delayed when 4 million people are in need of humanitarian aid; 359,000 people displaced to neighboring countries while 1.3 million people are internally displaced according to the latest reports at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The moment peace delays, the increased humanitarian disaster throughout the country as hundred of thousands of people are dying of hunger, diseases and being killed.
The second dilemma is about credibility of the IGAD mediating team. The peace processes including the previous agreements were negotiated out of good faith by the parties without rule of procedures. These rules are important in any mediation in order to bring parties to common ground and committed them to respect it in their engagement. If the such a complicated peace talks is done in a loose manner, one must expect very little to achieve.
In other words, people are beginning to lose hope in the IGAD-led mediation process unless a new strategy is quickly developed including mandating the IGAD Special Envoys with powers to decide on certain substantive matters. The IGAD Special Envoys are truly vulnerable and cannot bring parties together as far as I have seen the experience for the last six months. This is clearly manifested at one time when Gen. Lazarus Sumbeyo said that he can only take cows to the river, but cannot force them again to drink.
In conclusion, it is to be noted clear that the peace process is delayed by contributory factors as IGAD wasted a lot of time in procedural aspects than on substantive issues while the parties to the armed conflict particularly the SPLM/A in Opposition withdrew from its initial position of inclusivity to a bilateral talks. The leaders of this country must rise above personal and political interest and put the interest of the people first, otherwise, history shall not forgive us. The international community particularly IGAD member states should speed up urgent deployment of monitoring and verification mechanism to ensure implementation of this cessation of hostilities agreement and urge the parties to return to the negotiating table.
Beny Gideon Mabor is Executive Director, African Centre for Peace and Humanitarian Dialogue and a member of Civil Society Delegation to the South Sudan peace process in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. His research interests include governance, human rights and social accountability. He can be reached at email@example.com