South Sudan needs fresh start without Kiir, Machar - Dr Miamingi

Dr Remember Miamingi, a South Sudanese academic based in South Africa. PHOTO BY GEOFFREY SSERUYANGE

What you need to know:

First, I want to put on record that the problem of South Sudan is not Salva Kiir or Riek Machar; it is a problem much bigger than them even though they contributed significantly to starting it

What brings you to Uganda?
Uganda is a very, very strategic country and strategic partner for peace in South Sudan. For some time now, some of us have been exploring the possibility of putting on table an alternative road map to a just peace in South Sudan and we have engaged with people back home and on the ground. We have talked with parties to the conflict, we have talked with people in the diaspora on the possibility of building a movement that will put pressure on the parties to the conflict, pressure on our partners in the region, pressure on international partners to go for nothing less than a just peace.

And after finishing this national level of discussion and informal consultation, we thought it would be good to talk to colleagues and friends in the region, to try and listen to them as passionate and committed observers of what is going on in South Sudan.
We want to know what in their opinion the problems are and what could be the possible way forward so that as we put together the road map, as we put together the action plans, we can take into consideration these concerns. And the first country on the list is Uganda. So I came in to try and talk to civil society organisations, talk to political parties, to the academia and to individuals who have been engaged with the issue of South Sudan.

Who are the “we”?
We are a group of South Sudanese who do different things at home – they teach, they work in hospitals, they are farmers. We represent South Sudanese who are in the diaspora, who are in refugee camps and have been basically uprooted from their homes, who are all united in the desire for peace in the country; peace which unfortunately we think is not within the ability and willingness of the leadership to bring about. And peace we think we should, as a matter of fact, push for even if it is at the cost of our lives.

Do the “we” have a name?
Now, the “we” is organised around what we call the “Four-Point Campaign for a Just Peace in South Sudan”.

What do you mean by “just peace”?
For a very long time, South Sudanese had yearned to live a life of dignity; a life of freedom. And it was because they were oppressed and suffered double discrimination, first because of their colour, and then because of their religion, that they took up guns to say we want to fight and safeguard and defend our basic humanity and our dignity. That was a war with costs. Unfortunately, that war solved only one problem; and that was separating us from our immediate oppressors, our brothers in the north.

It, however, did not deal with the pain that we had inflicted on ourselves in the process of liberating ourselves; the scars that have survived with us for a very long time. We are talking about people who had their children raped, their brothers killed and communities wiped out, like in the 1991 episode.
So we had these open wounds. And when we thought we had delivered ourselves from our oppressors, we thought that we had time to deal with these problems. Unfortunately, that was not going to be the case. Power simply transferred itself from the hands of the Arab oppressors into the hands of a few elites in South Sudan who unfortunately used the same tactics and mechanisms with which they were enslaved by the Arabs to torture the South Sudanese.

So the result, what emerged from that was a policy of exclusion, inability to meet the yearning of South Sudanese, the complete shattering of a dream of a people to sit together and negotiate the terms of a possible just future. These unattended to wounds are what exploded in December 2013.
Any peace process that will not address the root cause of this problem as I have outlined, cannot be just and, very unfortunately, this is what we see happening within the framework of Igad [Intergovernmental Authority for Development]. Despite the fact that the Igad efforts are sincere, there is an attempt to do exactly what the CPA (The Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005) did, and that is power sharing among war and power mongers.

And that is what we say cannot lead to a just peace. Therefore, a just peace for us should deal with the root cause of the problem, restore power to the South Sudanese and ensure that those who were part of the problem do not benefit from it and that the framework is guaranteed by a plausible international mechanism that can be enforced even by force. It should also ensure accountability and reconciliation.

What is the “Four-Point Plan” you refer to?
Number one is that to have a just peace, the process must be all-inclusive, a process that brings on board civil society, religious-based organisations, a process that brings to the table people who hold arms and those who do not.
And this is not to discuss power; power belongs to the people, you can’t discuss it. It is to discuss conditions of the nation that can stay at peace with itself. Because now look, as we speak, the people who were released from prison were told that they cannot be part of the negotiation process because they have no arms. What are you telling me? As an academic I cannot talk about what is happening in my country; that I must first buy an AK47 to be able to contribute to peace in my country?

Point number two is that those who started this and caused this mayhem must not benefit from it. It is a process committed to removing every single obstacle that stands in the way of peace, and that means that those who contributed to it – be it Salva Kiir, Riek Machar or any of the generals – should not benefit from it.
How can you expect peace when those who deliberately and without reason disrupted it benefit from the process. How can you reward a man who has presided over monumental massacre over his own people? So those people must not benefit from this.

The third action point is that once we have an inclusive process, once we have excluded the problem makers, we want to have an interim arrangement. Issues of South Sudan cannot be discussed in Addis Ababa, they cannot be discussed when people are dying, and others are all over scattered in camps and are rendered hopeless and helpless.
We want that all that gets discussed in Addis Ababa is that all those who are shooting should stop shooting and that all South Sudanese should come home and discuss together the terms, everything.
The interim arrangement should be supervised by a technocratic government; not politicians. The interim government should have clear mandates to facilitate national reconciliation, draft a permanent constitution, have a referendum and get the constitution adopted, arrange to put in place a mechanism and state institutions and those who want to come after that to contest may stand in the elections after the mess has been sorted out.

The last point is that we want a guarantee mechanism for this initiative to be within the framework of the AU Constituted Act, Article 4 (h&g), that mandates the AU to intervene militarily, but also within the framework of the UN Charter, Article 7, so that should any of the parties try to subvert the will of the people, we can have the military might, from within and outside the region, to intervene.

South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011 as the outcome of a 2005 peace deal that ended Africa’s longest-running civil war. However, the young state plunged into crisis in December 2013 amid a power struggle between president Kiir and his deputy whom he had sacked. FILE PHOTO

How do you enforce point number two; that those who started it must not benefit from it?
You know compromising is part of life. But it takes different sides to reach a compromise. Unfortunately in South Sudan, we have two belligerent parties who have refused to make the compromises needed to secure peace. You have leaders who are saying, “If you don’t stop corruption we won’t stop fighting”. For heaven’s sake, who will stop corruption for? The people are dying. You want to reform; who will you reform for? People are dying. They are people who are not ready to make genuine compromises. And the things they discuss there; they are discussing who should be president. But who should be president for who? For the people who are dying? That is not the kind of compromise we need.

If people who have known nothing but suffering for all their lives require that you step down or you suspend your pursuit of power so that they can first be saved from dying, is that too much to ask for? I am 41 and all I have known is death and destruction; people whose dreams have been shattered and communities completely destroyed. Do you think it is too much for a leader to say, “you know what, I will step down so that this mess can first be sorted out”?

How much of a humanitarian crisis is unfolding in South Sudan?
South Sudan is subjected to an artificial humanitarian disaster that has probably no comparison currently except what is happening in Syria. That it is happening in a country with no basic infrastructure and facilities comparable to what they have in Syria makes it a double tragedy. We have people who cannot feed themselves and are dying on a daily basis. Parents are looking at their children dying from just hunger; something which was unknown in South Sudan.
People have no access to hospitals and are dying on a daily basis. We have at our hands such a crisis that any leader who is worth his name would not be able to sleep one day. The crying that you will hear in the Upper Nile, indeed in any region; the deaths that you will hear of, even people who are risking their lives to put food on the table of dying people are not safe. South Sudan is dying and her leaders are dining in the capitals of neighbouring countries. It is unfortunate; a tragedy.

So how do you come to speak for this initiative?
I have been a victim, and as I told you, my entire life. I have grown up in refugee camps, first in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the Central African Republic, in Chad, in Cameroon, in Nigeria, all over. With no family; with no hope. And I see that happening again in my life time. And for a long time we kept silent. We trusted our leaders. We said these people fought; they gave everything. Salva Kiir is a decorated general who fought and fought strongly. Riek and all those people; we trusted them. Unfortunately, they let down even themselves. And so right now we are saying every single South Sudanese has a right to talk, and to talk loudly.

What do you think of the Igad process in Addis Ababa?
Igad has contributed significantly to leading us to where we are today as South Sudanese. Igad has over the years identified itself with South Sudan and when this crisis broke out, I was one person who said that Igad should not preside over the peace process. This was not because Igad was not capable, but because Igad countries had identified themselves with South Sudan for a very long time to the extent that they now have friends, and they also have foes in that country.

Second, we have active Igad members who have taken sides in the conflict. We have other Igad members who have been accused of taking sides in the conflict. You cannot be an objective arbiter when your own members have clear objectives and clear positions; when you have friends and enemies in a process you are supposed to negotiate. But even then, Igad is simply a mediator. If the parties were not willing to compromise, the process would achieve nothing. This is exactly the problem that happened with the CPA. It is about power sharing between people who have arms. I now really think that it is time for Igad, having done its best, to refer the situation to the United Nations Security Council through the African Union.

About Uganda specifically; what do you say?
Uganda is a very strategic partner and friend of South Sudan. Uganda has given so much for peace and stability in South Sudan. It is in the strategic interest of Uganda for South Sudan not only to stop fighting, but also to get on the road to sustainable development.
Uganda’s intervention immediately the conflict broke out in South Sudan, within just 72 hours, in order to protect lives and property, was a noble undertaking with hindsight. Because imagine if Riek Machar had brought his White Army into Juba, it would have been a disaster, especially after the genocide against the Nuer in Juba. It was averted. But once that was done, my humble opinion is that Uganda should then have reverted to doing what is in the best of South Sudan and Uganda. And that is playing the role of a referee.

I expected Uganda to play roles that other countries are instead playing today because Uganda has tied its hands on one side. In South Sudan we have a government that is predominantly one ethnic group. Riek Machar’s movement is also predominantly one ethnic group. So standing with Salva Kiir literally means standing with one ethnic group against another. That, in my opinion, places Uganda’s strategic interest in jeopardy. I don’t speak for Uganda but that is my humble opinion.
Secondly, it now gives other countries like Sudan the justification to intervene in South Sudan and try and settle scores that were not settled during the CPA. I can say that we are moving towards having a proxy war between Uganda and Sudan in South Sudan, where each country is looking to undermine the other’s strategic interest. As the war drags on, we can see Ethiopia and Eretria coming into the picture because when Eretria comes in on the side of the rebels Ethiopia will take the side of the government.

What do you say about the move to allow president Kiir three more years?
It is interesting that for two years now, Salva Kiir’s argument was that it was the legitimate, legally elected government of South Sudan. But that legitimacy will come to an end in July. And because they threatened to have elections they knew they couldn’t have, and because the bigger picture in South Sudan was not sorted out, the government decided to do something unfortunate. Even though Article 66 of the constitution says you can amend to extend the president’s term, there is a problem with the parliament. The parliament we have in South Sudan has only 170 members. 112 of these members were nominated directly by Salva Kiir; people who benefitted from him. So the actions of this parliament may not confer legitimacy on the continued presidency of Salva Kiir.

Do you fear there could be renewed war as a result of this extension?
Yes. What has been unfolding in South Sudan is really a situation where leaders and their partners have been entangled by war mercenaries; people who benefit and make profit out of the war. Unfortunately, the only people who benefited from the war are those who are participating in it and therefore may not want to see it end. And so there may be people on the side of Salva Kiir who are saying that there is only one big ethnic group in South Sudan and that this is the time to decisively deal with Machar. The reports we are hearing is that the two sides are rearing to go into full scale war. Even Machar who says the war was forced on him seems to be enjoying the game. He is now a war monger himself. He is training, he is arming, and he is amassing wealth to arm himself.

Any suggestions for the way forward?
First, I want to put on record that the problem of South Sudan is not Salva Kiir or Riek Machar; it is a problem much bigger than them even though they contributed significantly to starting it. So in addressing this problem we should go beyond them and we should be able to do it with or without them.
Also, any process that has to solve the problem in South Sudan must include everyone in South Sudan who is willing and able to participate in it. We need bold solutions; we need enforceable solutions; solutions that will compel Kiir and his forces, Machar and his forces, to give South Sudanese peace. We need a third force in the country.