Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 11 June 2015

Cat fight among the S. Sudan experts and the failure of peace-making


By John Young

The recent two part Al-Jazeera series on the establishment of South Sudan has re-ignited a cat fight among the ‘experts’ about what went wrong in the country, why the peace process is failing, and who is responsible. Alex de Waal’s criticisms of the self-named ‘Friends of South Sudan’ - Eric Reeves, John Prendergast, Ted Dagne, Roger Winters, and Brian D’Silva – has led to Reeve’s response, ‘Alex de Waal and Sudan: A brief history of one man’s destructive misrepresentations’ in the Sudan Tribune. There is a danger, however, that the differences between these and other experts is understood as the expression of two highly divergent camps and approaches to peace-making when in fact they have more in common philosophically and ideologically than they care to acknowledge. As a result, the various debates underway among peace-makers do not help to understand why decades of peace-making in Sudan and South Sudan have failed. The starting point to appreciating why there is no peace in Sudan and South Sudan is to critically examine the model that all the various organizations and actors have employed.

Much of the focus of the conflict between de Waal and the Friends relates to their differing perceptions of the SPLA, and not the peace process, with de Waal arguing that the SPLA leadership was deeply flawed and not the liberators they claimed to be. Meanwhile, Reeves and his crowd lionized SPLA leader John Garang and want to ensure their hero is not tarnished by the corruption and mal-administration of the SPLA in government and the recent war, and that the Friends are absolved of guilt because they warned Salva Kiir about the destructive path his government was on.

But Reeves’ argument doesn’t wash: the SPLA did not suddenly go off the rails after Garang died; under him the party was militarist, murderous, confused, and had no program to mobilize the people. Garang was, however, remarkably skilled at charming naïve Westerners. If the SPLA had met the needs of the people instead of terrorizing many of them it would have defeated the Khartoum government and not needed the boosterism of the Friends and other Western lobby groups to achieve their ends. Indeed, within the region Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Ugandan revolutionaries overthrew their regimes without international assistance.

The Sudanese Armed Forces did terrible things in South Sudan as Reeves argues in his article, but many South Sudanese looked upon the SPLA as an army of occupation and preferred SAF – a terrible indictment of the movement. The formation of militias in Equatoria and even among the Dinka, as well as the Nuer led South Sudan Defence Forces, in response to SPLA encroachments in their areas makes clear that many southern Sudanese did not shared the Friends’ simplistic views of the movement. The systematic misrepresentations over many years by the Friends about John Garang and the SPLA cannot be air-brushed away and are part of the well-known legacy of this group. Unfortunately the US Government and its Western allies believed the distortions of the Friends and their fellow travellers in the Enough Project, based a peace process on them, and turned over South Sudan to the SPLA. The results have been disastrous.

De Waal did not get taken in by Garang and his colleagues and his research contributions to the region are second to none, unlike Reeves who specializes in mud-slinging, feigned moral outrage, and believes the US Government can solve all the conflicts of Sudan and South Sudan – as long as it follows the advice of the Friends. But de Waal was a guarded supporter of the Navaisha peace process, the inspiration for the failed Darfur peace process in which he was also a key negotiator, and an advisor to Thabo Mbeki’s AU mediation. As a result, he is part of the mainstream peace movement and not the rebel critic that AJ made him out to be.

The quarrel between de Waal and the Friends bears comparison with the less public quarrels between General Lazrous Sumbeiywo, another ‘African hero’ for his role in the flawed Naivasha peace process and his co-chair of the IGAD South Sudan process, former Ethiopian foreign minister, Seyoum Mesfin. There are also on-going quarrels between Ethiopia and Kenya over which country should lead the peace process, a dispute that has become more intense in the wake of the failures of the process. Meanwhile, the AU has added more countries to the IGAD mediation, but not changed the approach utilized. The Friends, Enough, and disgruntled diplomats are now arguing for sanctions in South Sudan, as if sanctions have proven to be a great success in Sudan. As frustration grows there are debates in both Sudan and South Sudan about whether the AU, IGAD, or the UN should conduct the various peace processes. All these disputes are about quests for power and finger pointing, but do not help us understand why peace-making has failed because all these parties share the same fundamental assumptions.

What links the peace-making efforts of all these countries, institutions, and individuals is acceptance of the precepts of liberal peace making. Liberal peace-making took form in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet bloc in the 1990s and reflects Western triumphalism. Like the arrogance of earlier modernization theories it favours Western economic and political processes, institutions, outcomes, and values, and their transfer to frequently radically different environments than from which they originally developed. Typically liberal peace making professes to be concerned about the ‘root causes’ of conflicts, although there was no sign of that in IGAD I (Naivasha) and it was quickly dispensed with in IGAD II (Addis Ababa). This term, however, is highly contentious because the West rejects the notion that capitalism or economic or political dependency could be root causes of conflicts. While ruling out economic democracy the West insists that free enterprise – which in practice means opening underdeveloped economies to powerful multinational corporations and accepting the dictates of the International Monetary Fund – is integral to the definition of democracy.

Adherents of liberal peace-making further compromise any genuine commitment to democracy by contending that if there is conflict between participatory politics and the threat of armed conflict, the latter must be given priority. This contradiction was evident in the 2010 Sudan national elections which were known to be deeply compromised, but given a pass to ensure that the peace process was not disrupted. Support for democracy is restricted to the rhetorical level, human rights are given short-shrift, and liberal peace-making is primarily concerned with stopping the fighting, returning to the pre-war status quo – a less than desirable outcome in either South Sudan or Sudan – and integrating the combatants into a Western dominated international state system.

The Nicaraguan critic, Alejandro Bendana, who analyzed many failed peace-building efforts in Central America similar to those in Sudan and South Sudan concluded that liberal peace-making is ‘top down, externally and supply driven, elitist and interventionist,’ (Bendana, 2002). Indeed, liberal peace making negotiations are led by Western officials, or ideally their trusted agents to give an appearance of authenticity and local ownership, but Western string pulling is always present. In the case of the Naivasha peace process the West operated through its own creation – IGAD - and a favoured dictator in the region, Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi. Moi then turned over the IGAD Peace Secretariat to General Sumbeiywo who was trusted by Moi because he had kept him in power against the wishes of the Kenyan people for many years as his chief of defense staff and by the US which had worked closely with him on security matters.

Liberal peace making negotiations usually takes place in the seclusion of five star hotels because the elites must be pampered and secrecy is a major concern. There may be token efforts to ‘consult’ selected groups, although this is viewed with suspicion because these groups may become ‘spoilers’. It will be recalled that IGAD rejected demands that the people of Sudan get to vote on the CPA and contended that the elections would serve to gain their assent. But the elections were fraudulent and assemblies in Khartoum and Juba passed legislation precluding any parties from participating in the elections unless they endorsed the CPA. It is elite accommodation, and not popular consultation or democratization that is at the core of liberal peace making and as a result it is a deeply conservative exercise.

The highlight of the Naivasha peace process in the minds of the international peace brigade was when John Garang and Vice-President Ali Osman Taha cooked up a deal on their own in total secrecy. But the joy of the internationals was tempered when Garang died and Ali Osman was marginalized by Bashir who - contrary to the assessment of the diplomats - was the real power wielder in Khartoum. Nonetheless, the peace process went forward, southerners voted for a jalaba, Yassir Arman, for national president even after he had withdrawn from the election, and then voted for secession in the 2011 referendum. But ignored was the fact that the CPA failed to achieve any of its stated objectives of a united Sudan, democratic transformation, and sustainable peace, or the later addition of Thabo Mbeki’s AU mediation, of viable successor states after South Sudanese opted for independence.

Meanwhile, the US wanted to have it both ways - claiming that the peace process and the secession of South Sudan represented a major foreign policy success, something it was still doing only months before the outbreak of the December 2013 civil war, and at the same time praising the local institutions, actors, and the peace process that it endorsed. But Sudanese and South Sudanese understand that the creation of an independent South Sudan was dependent on the US since the SPLA never controlled more than a fraction of the country and the US opposed self-determination for other groups internationally just or more worthy than the southern Sudanese.

The official post-CPA narrative claimed that the SPLA had always fought for the independence of the south and Reeves apparently subscribes to that view, despite its name which suggested otherwise, successive party programs, and northern party membership which opposed secession. Meanwhile, the Salva-led SPLA did an about face with the support of the internationals who believed that secession would bring peace to Sudan and South Sudan and set the stage for the resolution of the other conflicts afflicting Sudan. But in this too the international peace brigade was mistaken. Under the guidance of the internationals the SPLA constructed a state in the image of the West, but it was only about appearances and virtually nothing functioned except the systemic looting of state coffers by its leaders.

While the Friends were singing the praises of the new country and congratulating themselves on their success in achieving it, many long term observers of the SPLA were expecting an implosion and they did not have long to wait. When the war began in December 2013 after the killing of Nuer in Juba by Salva’s Presidential Guard the response of the international peace brigade was to dreg up IGAD, the Troika, and General Sumbeiywo, and employ the same failed model of peace-building. After failing miserably the first time around the peace makers went on to reward themselves with new roles. In March 2015 the IGAD peace process had collapsed and the AU announced ‘IGAD Plus’, using the same stale actors as IGAD, plus the AU, EU, China, and the IGAD Partners Forum, but maintaining the same approach. Can it surprise any right thinking person that a model based on the failures and personnel of the past is again not working?

After twenty-six years of failed international peace-making in S/Sudan – that is, since the NIF carried out a coup on 30 June 1989 to stop the National Assembly approving the internally generated Koka Dam Agreement - there is a need to analyze the fundamental flaws of the model utilized. In these twenty-six years Sudanese and South Sudanese have witnessed peace-making efforts by President Jimmy Carter, Egypt, Libya, Nigeria, Eritrea, the AU, IGAD I and II, and the recent Addis Ababa IGAD efforts, and they have all failed. These processes did not fail because of technical inadequacies, but because they were conceptually flawed, utilized a broken model of peace-making, and deliberately focused on the elites and marginalized the people. Despite this record of failure, the peace makers have never demonstrated any humility for their role in the on-going tragedy, much less conducted a critical audit of the many failed peace processes, or seriously considered alternative approaches. The leaked draft submission of Professor Mahmood Mamdani to the AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan called the CPA a failure, held that IGAD members should not play any role in the provision of security for South Sudan, and that the country’s administration be turned over to the AU and UN. It can be assumed that Mahmood did not reach these conclusions easily, but as a result of exasperation at the failures of peace-making by IGAD I which were then repeated by IGAD II.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, despite the sound and fury the quarrels between the various peace-makers and would-be peace-makers is essentially an in-house affair among people that share the same commitment to liberal peace-making and thus they are largely much ado about nothing. What is desperately needed is a critique and rejection of the liberal peace-making model and for efforts to be directed at constructing an alternative approach. Such an approach would embrace the people instead of fearing and marginalizing them, place democratic and state transformation at the forefront, and not reward failures. Short of such a fundamental change in approach, or the kind of conclusive military victories that occurred in Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Uganda, there is reason to fear that in another twenty-six years we may still be witnessing endemic wars and continuing ineffectual peace processes.

John Young, is author of ‘The Fate of Sudan: Origins and Consequences of a Flawed Peace Process’ which now available in Arabic.

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  • 11 June 2015 08:56, by Eastern

    An excellent piece John Young. SPLA is the worst plague that’s befallen South Sudan. SPLA is a box of fraud, deciet, arrogance, theft, murder, intrigue, patronage, intimidation, coercion, tribalism.....The country, they did not help create is fast running aground.

    repondre message

    • 11 June 2015 18:26, by sudani ana

      "unlike Reeves who specializes in mud-slinging, feigned moral outrage, and believes the US Government can solve all the conflicts of Sudan and South Sudan – as long as it follows the advice of the Friends". How so true.

      repondre message

    • 13 June 2015 11:12, by Mapuor

      Dear Eastern
      Without SPLA South Sudan wouldn’t have existed as an independent nation.Dont insult your liberators.I know those who did not participate in the struggle because of adrenalin levels in their blood always try to justify their absence from the popular struggle by lying about the SPLA.

      repondre message

  • 11 June 2015 09:00, by Akol Liai Mager

    I disagreed with you on this claim; "Indeed, within the region Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Ugandan revolutionaries overthrew their regimes without international assistance". It was Americans and NIF’ led regime in Khartoum who put troops and logistics on the ground that toppled Mengisto in Addis Ababa. Any attempts to tribalise a history will not clone Riek Machar and De Wal to be heroes.

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    • 11 June 2015 15:03, by Koang

      Alex is not illogical.

      This war was seen coming some few years but none-stop.

      "What is desperately needed is a critique and rejection of the liberal peace-making model and for efforts to be directed at constructing an alternative approach. Such an approach would embrace the people instead of fearing and marginalizing them, place democratic and state transformation at the forefront, and not reward failures."

      repondre message

    • 13 June 2015 11:06, by Mapuor

      Teach them Akol Laimager.Sudan armed forces with US support invaded Ethiopia and dislodged Mangistu from Addis.I don’t know what De Waal really means,the man seems to be confused.SPLA was the engine of change in two Sudans.Without SPLA black people in both Sudans would still carry Jallaba faeces.I am utterly sorry to read such nonsense. Tribalism would finish you thugs.

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  • 11 June 2015 15:13, by Koang

    "There is reason to fear that in another twenty-six years we may still be witnessing endemic wars and continuing ineffectual peace processes."

    repondre message

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