Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 3 May 2018

Lessons from Hailemariam Desalegn’s Remarks on peace in S. Sudan


By James C. Philip

South Sudanese now have a shocking but clear picture of where their country’s arduous and tortuous peace process may lead them. It seems the whole enterprise mediated by IGAD is doomed, according to H.E. Hailemariam Desalegn, former Prime Minister of Ethiopia and Head of IGAD. He let the cat out of the bag while speaking at Mo Ibrahim Governance Weekend Forum on the theme of Public Service in Africa on 28/04/2018 in Kigali, Rwanda.

Prime Minister Desalegn’s candid remarks came at a time when the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) is busy confounding mediation with procrastination while South Sudan slips farther into the abyss of civil war amid fears the country could disintegrate. Thanks to H.E. Desalegn, it is now certain the plight of South Sudanese will continue unabated across the country and particularly in UN Protection of Civilian Sites and refugee camps in neighbouring countries where life hangs in the balance. Peace is likely to remain elusive five years since President Salva Kiir and his Deputy, Dr. Riek Machar, have imposed a senseless war with an ethnic turn on the civilian population at large. The prospects of a just and lasting peace for the suffering people of South Sudan are now slimmer than at any time before. Prime Minister Desalegn’s verdict is simple and forceful: IGAD is running round in circles and President Kiir is hell-bent on failing as a leader to the best of his ability to do so. What that means in practical terms is that IGAD Special Envoy Festus Mogae’s insistent claim that the 2015 peace deal is well and alive is not only pointless but wrongheaded and foolhardy for the former President of Botswana whose credibility is now on the line.

Prime Minister Desalegn’s sincere and bold remarks contain five important lessons for South Sudanese and friends of South Sudan to learn with respect to the fallacy President Kiir has built around the peace process, buoyed by IGAD’s mediation fiasco and an insidious regional and continental indifference at the predicament of the people of South Sudan. First, H.E. Desalegn stated unequivocally that the problem of South Sudan is a leadership failure, confirming what world leaders such as former UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, have said. It is the failure of leaders of the ruling SPLM that has plunged South Sudan into political violence. The SPLM’s inter-elite competition for power is primarily to control the immense resources of the country and create a tribal hegemony to consolidate their power base, to that end.

Notwithstanding the splinter factions of the ruling party, there is a tacit agreement across the SPLM divide: a united SPLM is a ticket for impunity and looting of public resources; and a divided SPLM is a recipe for killing, pillaging and raping the masses into oblivion. At any rate, all SPLM factions, IG, IO and FDs, are either uniting to carry on with their fixation of looting the national coffers; or simply fighting to return to their vomit. President Kiir is a typical example of a SPLM faction seeking “reunification” with Vice-President Taban Deng so as to use state power as crude shorthand for self-aggrandizement. By contrast, Dr. Riek Machar and the Former Detainees are looking for ways to crawl out of their hide-outs and be reunited with their privately accumulated wealth in South Sudan. The SPLM in its entirety has no political agenda for South Sudan. Their misguided pretensions of possessing a change agenda have been exposed over the last five years. Granted, all the SPLM factions simply want to be back in power at any cost.

The clearest evidence is President Kiir’s insistence to stay in power despite failing his country and people. H.E Desalegn said he had urged Kiir to step down and hand over the mantle of leadership to a new breed of patriots who can fix the country’s wide-ranging problems. Instead, President Kiir is still looking for a personal “incentive” to accept change at a time when millions of his countrymen are languishing in destitution! Thus, the first lesson that peace-loving South Sudanese and their friends across the world must get right is that unless the issue of failed leadership in South Sudan is resolved and therefore Kiir is removed; there will not be peace in South Sudan. IGAD’s misguided proposal during Phase II of the Revitalization Process to keep Kiir in power and accommodate the Opposition around him in a bloated government is typically a short-sighted and hurried approach to conflict resolution and, therefore, a dangerously meaningless political payload.

Second, Prime Minister Desalegn’s remarks at the Forum in Kigali seem to suggest what most observers have known all along, namely, that the 2015 peace deal (known as the ARCSS) has long been dead. He said and I quote, “Agreements are signed and never implemented and I see further more agreements can be signed; but I don’t think they will be implemented as the history shows...” (End of quote). The IGAD’s negotiated peace deal between President Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar was a case of stillbirth. It was abrogated by Kiir long before the ink had dried on the very paper proclaiming its success. The ARCSS as such is not only dead but even irrelevant for the current complexity of the political landscape in the country. Resuscitating it would therefore amount to a wilful act of political travesty by the region.

The Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS) was an elitist peace deal meant to reward warmongers and grant them more power to destroy each other and the country. That was just what Kiir did in July 2016 when he turned Juba into a war zone in one last desperate attempt to kill Machar. It failed miserably; but it was IGAD who had failed South Sudanese by again trying to assuage rivals instead of addressing the root-causes of the conflict. Moreover, IGAD has the audacity to repeat its deadly mistake by espousing a “Revitalization” logic that sees expansion of government as the remedy for South Sudan’s systemic failure. The second leaf worth borrowing from H.E. Desalegn’s remarks is that an elitist peace deal like the 2015 ARCSS only assuages rivals but leaves intact the structural issues bedevilling South Sudan as a nation-state.

Hence, in the unlikely event of arriving at a new peace deal with Kiir and Machar as parties, there must be an elaborate and enforceable implementation timetable and an UN-driven “scheme of sticks” that the Opposition can deploy with vigour to avoid another security incident at J1 when Kiir’s caprice proves unhelpful again. The Opposition groups shall not compromise and betray the suffering people of South Sudan in return for positions. For any peace agreement to be sustainable, it must address the root causes of the conflicts and negotiated in a good faith.

Third, Prime Minister Desalegn offered a rare glimpse into the working failures of IGAD when he noted, “This country (South Sudan) has suffered for half a century now and still people are continuing to flow to Ethiopia, Uganda and Sudan as refugees. I think this [is a] heart-breaking situation in South Sudan. We have tried our best as a Chair of the IGAD; we tried our best to resolve this issue....” (End of quote). IGAD has tried its best but only just. For how long does the IGAD intend to pursue its dim-witted mediation of the conflict in South Sudan? Why should the taxpayers’ money of partner countries be spent on a futile undertaking by an ineffective IGAD forum and its paparazzi of “special envoys”? How much do the traumatized people of South Sudan have to endure at the hands of a murderous government before the conflict is “ripe for resolution”? How long do South Sudanese have to wait for accountability with regard to the atrocities documented extensively by global human rights bodies?

Two useless smokescreens IGAD has deployed successfully to keep its total failure at bay are Revitalization and Shuttle Diplomacy. In June 2016, they came up with Revitalization. Revitalization of ARCSS means to achieve restoration of Permanent Cessation of Hostility, full implementation of ARCSS and review of timelines. In the run-up to the revitalization meetings, Estranged groups, civil society organizations and Eminent Personalities were separately consulted by the IGAD teams; their views were compiled as a Pre-Consultation Report. Because the views of the people and parties were well-articulated in the report, the regime in Juba pressured IGAD to leave out the report. IGAD gave in to Juba and, during Revitalization phase II, discarded the report reflecting the views of the parties negotiating with the Government and the civil society representing the voices of the people of South Sudan.

Not only that, IGAD has persistently allowed the regime in Juba to disproportionately and wilfully shape its decisions about how the peace process should be run despite the fact that Juba is a party to the conflict. During the meetings, Juba is always there freely carrying its shuttle diplomacy with the IGAD members whether with Heads of States or Governments, Ministers or Ambassadors. IGAD members, including the mediators are not honest in discharging their role as peace-makers. This is no longer a suspicion but a fact. Recently, the East African Community has requested to be an Observer on the suspicion that IGAD has failed and is still failing with the case of South Sudan.

IGAD is not only biased in the peace process but it is not taking the peace process seriously. How can IGAD repeatedly postpone the peace process at the whims of Juba? What is the shuttle diplomacy for since they don’t consider the pre-consultation report? What a waste of our time by the civil society last time here in the Protection of Civilians Camp (POCs) filling up questionnaires!

To my surprise, yesterday a team from IGAD was in Juba for shuttle diplomacy. How can IGAD simply travel to juba and meet Kiir to brief him on outcomes of peace consultations? Is this the job of IGAD to brief Kiir? H.E. Mr Hirut Zemene Ethiopian State foreign Minister was quoted as saying, “we have briefed His Excellency President Salva Kiir on the outcomes of what has been reached.” What Ethiopia’s foreign policy chief could not clarify was with whom IGAD has reached what. Assuming these are outcomes of consultations with the civil society and Opposition groups, why should IGAD report to Kiir? If with TGONU, why should IGAD take the role of Chief Negotiator of the TGONU? This is a sick joke that only mediocre leaders can entertain.

It is time Festus Mogae packed. It is time IGAD came out clean on its true intentions vis-a-vis the five-year conflict raging in South Sudan. Truth hurts but telling it should not. The third lesson we can learn collectively from H.E. Desalegn’s remarks is that a mediation that insists on “a bad peace is better than no peace” is bound to encounter a colossal failure of moral authority. IGAD’s “bad peace” mantra sounds like the region wants to put the current conflict on hold and pass the baton of conflict resolution to another generation of South Sudanese who are probably now living in IDP or refugee camps as victims of the Kiir-Machar nexus. That is not just a bad peace; it is “bad mediation”, too! IGAD and its Heads of States must understand that the people of South Sudan will rather suffer for long time and get a genuine and just peace than desperately fall for a bad peace that will not break the cycle of conflict for generations.

Fourth, H.E. Desalegn called upon the UN to “take aggressive actions.” This remark by H.E. Desalegn seems to suggest that the IGAD and the AU cannot resolve the problem of South Sudan. So much for “African solutions to African problems”! The UN is also divided with some UNSC member countries probing up Kiir and turning a deaf ear to the suffering people of South Sudan. It is also clear a great many member countries have an oversimplified understanding of the root causes of the conflict in South Sudan by choice or default. Either way, the spectre of another Rwanda-like genocide is unfolding in South Sudan, albeit on a slower pace and more muted than anything the world has seen since Darfur. And this is the fourth lesson we can draw from Prime Minister Desalegn’s remarks. Hundreds of thousands of children under five currently living in the camps are unlikely to survive for another 5 years. Many children who are currently not in school are not likely to go back anytime soon. Many young girls in the camps are going to end up as child-mothers and inherit the suffering of their parents. These are all President Kiir’s silent weapons killing the South Sudanese everywhere.

Fifth, the world is talking to war criminals in South Sudan. That is the case when the IGAD Forum chooses to relate to Kiir and Machar as “protagonists”. The time of strong statements, including sanctions, revitalization and shuttle diplomacy to resolve the conflict in South Sudan is over. War Criminals don’t heed advice nor succumb to pressure. Kiir looked past Desalegn when the latter urged him to step down! People like Kiir only listen to force! President Obama’s rhetoric was miserable and brainless. President Kiir saw through it all and continued with the killings undeterred. President Trump’s approach is pragmatic and credible but must not lose momentum or President Kiir will outwit him, too. That is the fifth lesson we can draw from H.E. Desalegn’s remarks about the posture of the international community.

In conclusion, the ordinary and suffering people of South Sudan are not only ashamed of the leadership failure in South Sudan, but are more ashamed of the failure of world leaders (UN, AU, IGAD, USA, TRIOKA, Russia, China). South Sudan’s immediate region has failed abysmally to recognize the grotesque upheavals in South Sudan and address the conflict in a very clear, honest, and transparent manner. The mediator, IGAD, has no sense of urgency, leave alone a sense of direction.

For now, Kiir and his Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) have free reins over South Sudan. That means more suffering to civilians like me. I have been living with my wife and seven children in the main UN PoC Site in Juba. Our children don’t go to school. There is little value in education if educated leaders in and around South Sudan cannot bring peace to our country. It is a mockery to push our luck hard. After all, my family and I are survivors of Kiir’s ruthless massacre of my ethnic people on the night of Sunday 13th December 2013. Five years later, Kiir still remains a war criminal at large as the world watches on. Our hope is in God. I know, between now and then the “civilized” world will produce a slew of sombre literature promising to prevent genocide. It will draw chuckles from Kiir because he has been doing exactly the opposite!

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