By Amir Idris
August 27, 2014 - The recent Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) heads of state and government summit held in Addis Ababa on 25th August, 2014 proposed a regional plan for a Transitional Government of National Unity (TGONU) in South Sudan. The summit was a total failure. The outcome of the summit exposed the weakness of and the travesty of South Sudan’s peace process sponsored by the IGAD. The proposed transitional government at its best can be described as conservative, and shallow at its worst. The IGAD proposal is far removed from the political and the humanitarian realities of South Sudan. It has stipulated that President Salva Kiir will remain in his position as a president of the transitional government, and a new position of Prime Minister will be created. The Prime Minister would be chosen by the SPLM-In Opposition led by Riek Machar, and ironically approved by the president. This unwise and disjointed proposal neither speaks the language of inclusivity nor the language of justice and accountability. It asserts the old colonial notion that depicted South Sudan as ‘a human zoo’; that it does not need to be held to a higher standard similar to the rest of modern political communities.
The proposed document indeed crushed the aspirations of millions of South Sudanese who are desperately seeking justice and peace in their new country. The yearning for justice for the victims who lost their lives in cold blood was overlooked at the expense of keeping the status quo. It failed to acknowledge the underlying causes of the crisis. Instead, the intended message of the document is geared toward accommodating the vested interests of a few South Sudanese elites and the economic and political interests of the IGAD heads of state and government. Retaining the serving president in his position and establishing a new position of Prime Minister for the SPLM-In Opposition is a recipe for a political disaster in the near future. After all, President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar do not share a vision for South Sudan. While President Salva Kiir has refused to acknowledge the political blunder and miscalculation that his regime has committed, Riek Machar has repeatedly pointed out the ills of the regime, admitted some of his own shortcomings, and called for political reform.
The failure of reaching a consensus on the fundamental contentious issues of governance, rule of law, inclusivity of the government and adherence to democratic values of justice, freedom, equality, and citizenship are at the center of the ongoing political crisis. The current political order in South Sudan cannot be maintained without a genuine political reform. South Sudan needs creative political strategies to address the deep seated grievances of those who face discrimination based on their ethnicity and place of origin. South Sudan is neither South Africa nor Kenya. The political trajectory of South Sudan shaped by the complex intersection of slavery, colonialism, and the ills of old Sudan. Hence, any proposed document on a transitional government in South Sudan should take into consideration the complexities of the past and the present political realities. In addition, political leaders in South Sudan should own up to their mistakes and accept accountability and justice. After all, political cooperation between the enemies of the present requires compromise and humility for a better inclusive political community in the future.
The IGAD proposed transitional government will not advance such noble values. Instead, it will lead to a political settlement that strengthens the current political regime, denies the victims of the violence in a quest for justice, and renders political reform irrelevant. In reality, it would not be realistic to expect the IGAD to engender a meaningful peace agreement for South Sudan. After all, IGAD is a dysfunctional political entity suffering from its own internal leadership crisis. It lacks coherent a political strategy and ideological clarity to address the deep rooted historical and political challenges of South Sudan. Without exception, all IGAD states are facing state-building and nation-building challenges. Their records on human rights and respect for democratic principles and practices are dismaying to say the least. Therefore, it is in their interests to maintain the status quo in South Sudan. In addition, it is in their political and economic interests to keep South Sudan as a weak, dysfunctional, and undemocratic state in need of continuous help from its East African neighbors.
The popular phrase “African solutions for African problems” among African leaders is uplifting, but it has never been a workable premise. It has failed in Sudan, Mali, and Central African Republic. Thus, it is worthless to expect IGAD to lead a peace process to rescue South Sudan from its imminent demise. It is the responsibility of the United Nations Security Council, Troika countries, in particular the United States, to engage directly in strengthening the peace process and devising a mechanism similar to the one that led to the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. A credible peace process that discusses the underlying causes of the crisis and sets up an effective framework for political reform and justice. It is indeed ironic to observe that millions of dollars paid by taxpayers in western countries have already been wasted in a disjointed and dysfunctional IGAD led peace process while thousands of South Sudanese IDPs, mostly women, children and the elderly, are languishing in UN refugee camps in dire need of humanitarian aid. After all, those IDPs are human beings and their humanity and dignity must be respected.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org