South Sudan has not gotten away with it’s secession. Chronic conflict, driven by concentration of power and resources in the centre, continues to plague the country. The solution is a more inclusive government that addresses at least some of the peripheries’ grievances. A key hurdle – though not the only one – is President Salva Kiir, who has further concentrated authority in a small circle of trusted officials and is unwilling to step aside.
Many hoped for regime change via a coup but did not consider the dangers. The goal should manage transition to a government that includes, but is not dominated by his loyalists. He might be willing to go along if he concludes greater disorder or even a rebellion is growing more likely, but only if the right incentives are in place. The international community should contribute to these provided a credible and inclusive transitional government, a meaningful national dialogue and a road map for permanent change in how Southern Sudan is governed are first put firmly in train.
The regime in Juba is in crisis, faced with multiple challenges that, combined, profoundly threaten it’s existence and South Sudan’s stability. Dr Riek Marchar’s members are deeply unhappy with the leadership, its policies and massive corruption. Feuding factions within the ruling party are jockeying to present an acceptable alternative to the current government.
At the same time, political opposition forces are growing more assertive, and the war is slowly expanding, bleeding the military dry and draining the treasury.
Many hope a coup, or popular uprising, could force Kiir’s regime out, but there is a great risk that either event could trigger more violence. Since he came to power after the death of John Garang, he has deliberately fragmented the security services and frequently rotated commanders to make an army takeover more difficult. Unless commanders are united, the army could easily split into competing factions. Added to this combustible mix are numerous armed tribes outside of Juba that would seek to take advantage of turmoil in the capital to create facts on the ground difficult for a new regime to reverse.
Kiir must know that the dangers of the present phase are greater than the social and economic troubles they have survived in the past.
The international community should learn the lessons of past failed settlement initiatives: South Sudan needs a truly comprehensive peace agreement, not a partial settlement that serves the government’s divide-and-rule tactics and perpetuates the unacceptable status quo. At the same time, Kiir needs to be part of any transition. Leaving it out in the cold would be costly. It is elites are too powerful to ignore, and the opposition is too divided and inexperienced to rule alone. A comprehensive solution and genuine political reform including national reconciliation acceptable to all, with Kiir on board, is the only way out of the trap of endless conflict.
The president and his colleagues will have to reach their own conclusion that the present crisis requires more radical adjustments than those they used for survival previously. If they do, however, the international community, by providing incentives, can help them to act on that conclusion consequentially and responsibly. These should be carefully tied to Kiir and meeting specific, irreversible benchmarks, such as the current conflict.
Such cooperation might be unpalatable to many who hold Kiir responsible for arresting political opponents, but it would be necessary to prevent further conflict and continued humanitarian crises in South Sudan.