South Sudan is in flames again a few months after a peace accord was signed. Did this come as a surprise to you?
Absolutely not, because for many observers the question was not if, but when, the country will disintegrate to absolute chaos and the reasons for this pessimism are numerous.
One is that the peace agreement was a cosmetic surgery to the extent that the root causes that led to the breakdown of law and order and the conflict in 2013 were only partially dealt with in the negotiations and the agreement that came after the same.
The second issue is that the agreement was an orphan as it was not owned by the parties to the war. As a result, we had a transitional government of national unity in place while the principal parties to the conflict didn’t agree to the rules, process and roles in that transition, so chaos was inevitable.
What are these root causes which were not addressed in the negotiations and agreement that have come to haunt the world’s youngest state?
Number one is that until December 2013 we had disintegration of the normal. The first problem is that the war of liberation sorted only our political differences with the Sudan and not differences between South Sudanese. So as a people we are yet to agree on the terms of our co-existence.
Secondly, the transition from the Sudan to South Sudan was poorly managed. So South Sudan as a state, de facto, was a stillborn. Thirdly, as someone put it, South Sudan was not a country with an army, but an army with a country. We had the army, the party and government as one and the same thing.
As known, the SPLM was the liberation movement that lead the fight for liberation and eventually became the political party.
The SPLA was the armed wing of the movement that eventually became the national army. So, once there was division in the party on issues of governance, of power sharing and transfer of power, and failed to be handled peacefully in the party, this inevitably led to a clash in the military. So we have a political problem that wasn’t addressed.
How would it have been addressed?
First, immediately after independence, there was a need for a south-to-south national dialogue to discuss, negotiate and agree on the terms and conditions of our co-existence. This should have addressed the political question and provided a solid foundation for peace, state and nation building.
Secondly, there was the need to demilitarise the country. This could have been done through a clear distinction between the national army and political party. SPLM is one of 23 parties in South Sudan. That distinction didn’t take place. As a result, what happened in Addis Ababa, was SPLA/SPLM around the table discussing national issues and sharing the national cake to the exclusion of all others. Thus, the exclusion in addressing the political and security questions in Addis Ababa is at the core of the continued conflict and destruction in South Sudan.
How serious is this as a causal link to the conflict in South Sudan because from the look of things, the exclusion of those other political forces doesn’t feature as prominently as the rift in SPLM? It appears the problem is the SPLM internal contradiction and less of some forces feeling excluded
If you look carefully at what unfolded in Juba you realise that there might be a third force at play. These are people within SPLAIG [in government] and SPLAIO [in opposition] who are disgruntled with how SPLM handled the negotiation for peace and the entire conflict.
This could partly explain the reason why these thugs who killed and looted in Juba were not answerable to either Riek [Machar] or [Salva] Kiir because the two figureheads do not exercise effective command and control over them. This is not to exonerate these two leaders from liability, because at least they allowed it and benefited from the actions of these criminals.
The point I am making is simply that to say the spread of conflicts across South Sudan and thus, the solution to the conflict lies with and within the SPLA only might be under estimating the crisis-taking place. As Juba was unravelling, so also were active combating going on in Western Equatoria, Upper Nile and Bahr Ghazal regions of the country. These difference forces fighting for space at the national table should not be ignored.
Who is this faceless third force and can we put name to the men and women behind the scenes?
The SPLM in government and in opposition have no effective leader and the vacuum of leadership has been taken over by different military and political forces, some with faces, others without. So we will have to see how the crisis unfolds to be able to identify the trigger points and these disgruntled elements.
How long can we wait as human suffering and misery hit the roof?
I think what started in Juba has exposed a number of fault lines that indicates clearly the state, as we know it, is in deep crisis and is crumbling so leadership ceased to exist, we have interests conflicting and fighting, we can’t wait long enough for the unravelling of the situation and decay. It won’t be long. But we need not wait for the unidentified forces to be unmasked before we act to end the suffering of the people of South Sudan.
In fact, as country and as a people, we are so scared and tired of the leaders and government we have now that the prospect of removing them and replacing them, even if with the unknown, does not scare us.
When you speak of interests, that begs the question of if there might be forces with vested interests in a South Sudan engulfed in conflict and these forces might be outside your borders
Of course, just as the political actors in South Sudan are not satisfied, the regional actors in South Sudan are also not satisfied with the outcome of that agreement, specifically Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya.
All these have different roles and interests in and related to what is happening in South Sudan, but internationally we have Russia and Chinese interests in the country also not addressed by either the agreement or conduct of government after. We also have Troika and Western interests that want national reconciliation, accountability and rule of law.
Let’s single out Uganda in the discussion on regional players. As of Tuesday, the army here categorically stated that it had withdrawn all its troops and not a single soldier, to quote army spokesman Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, was in South Sudan. They have only sent a contingent on a rescue mission. How then do you say we still have interests in South Sudan?
We know and Uganda defence forces know that they have an active presence in South Sudan. If they were saying they were monitoring activities and Uganda’s interests that would be a different matter, but to lie that they withdrew all their troops is unfortunate. [Ed. Note: The last group of UPDF soldiers – of the four battalions – withdrew from South Sudan on October 30, 2015, as per the August 2015 peace deal]
So you contest the army’s narrative that they left no single soldier in South Sudan?
There are two things you should keep in mind. Some soldiers of the UPDF were in South Sudan under the pretext of fighting Joseph Kony under an international framework to hunt Kony. When the crisis broke out our government asked for troops and in 72 hours they were sent to secure Juba after that, Bor. They stayed for months. When the agreement was secured Uganda withdrew but subsequent to that agreement, it had not withdrawn all its forces from South Sudan.
Members of the defence forces here and those who appreciate the role UPDF played in restoring sanity might accuse you of being ungrateful
Uganda and her forces were and are not neutral in this conflict and this is unfortunate because Ugandans are our brothers and sisters; they have stood with our people.
The name of the chief of staff has featured. What is the role of Gen Paul Malong Awan in this conflict?
Mr Malong is the creation of Salva Kiir who has empowered him to recruit militias not in national army and use that to do his dirty work. Kiir wants someone who has nothing to lose, no name to protect, no conscience to do his dirty work and that is the reason he brought Malong to his current position. So if Malong has become too powerful for those who made him, then this is another testimony to the nature and scope of the leadership chaos we have in South Sudan.
A few days before the conflict he was in Uganda and held meetings with top officials here. Could this have had a bearing on the flames blaring in the country?
Gen Malong is said to have investments across Uganda and commercial interests involving some senior Ugandan security officials. He crosses to Uganda almost every week. It is rumoured, for example, that Malong is investing in housing estates in Kampala. We also know there are people, like Malong, in Uganda who believe that to have equilibrium of force in Juba is recipe for disaster. They prefer to have a strong force dominated by one tribe – either Dinka or Nuer – so that South Sudan can be stable under one strong tribe.
Certainly the forces at play in the conflict stretch beyond the regional players. Can you locate the place of international actors in this mess?
The conflict in South Sudan is yet another indication that the faultiness of the cold war era might still be shaping foreign policy in respect to emerging economies. We see Russia and China on one hand standing firmly on state sovereignty, using veto power against sanctions on people considered to be friends and allies. They have business interests but also in frustrating what they consider Western invasion here.
Now that we had the first Chinese causalities in Juba within the framework of UN peacekeepers and the secretary general has issued a call for an arms embargo, let’s see how China responds now that the same weapons it supplied are being used to kill their own citizens. May I hasten to add that even though the call for an arms embargo is commendable, it falls short of our expectations? This is so because attempting to solve the security challenges South Sudan faces without addressing the governance question is an ineffective strategy.
But back to what I was saying earlier, we also have an American administration that is not coordinated and backed by ability to act beyond strong words and Europe with its own issues back home.
That vacuum of constructive leadership at the international level has been taken over by multinational business cartels in the East and West but also individual politicians in the East and West to make a living out of the crisis in South Sudan. The military in South Sudan has spent billions of dollars on the war since 2013 on arms purchase; so it is a big economic enterprise.
With a messy political house in Juba, regional and international actors putting economic interests before the lives of millions of people, is there hope for South Sudan?
Yes, there is hope and it lies in the resilience and determination of people of South Sudan demonstrated by their willingness to fight oppression for 50 years and have a country for themselves.
We shall fight the clique that has captured the state and we hope our brothers and sisters in the region will take a historical stand with South Sudan.
Moving forward, I read the Igad statement and it captures the real issues. First, it acknowledges that the presidency in South Sudan has abdicated its roles and responsibilities and that the mandate to protect the civilians and vital state infrastructure be transferred to the United Nations, which should put in place an effective administration.
This country has failed and won’t work unless the following happens: first, an international military intervention to secure the country and protect civilians. Second, the replacement of the failed government in Juba with a hybrid administration of South Sudanese technocrats supported by our brothers from the region and international community. This transitional arrangement will reconcile, heal, foster accountability, restore order, hand it a constitution and after that process organise elections with guaranteed sanity.
That process must exclude the two generals in the administration of the country. Change of political leadership and transition is inevitable. I also think the hybrid court is a far dream and we should secure a referral by the Security Council of South Sudan to ICC and have the chief prosecutor activate the mandate of that office.
My call now to South Sudanese inside and outside the country is to embark on a process to form an alternative government that will make the current one obsolete.