South Sudan talks: A lasting peace or marriage of convenience?

Rooting for peace. Right to left: South Sudan President Salvar Kiir, Sudan President Omar Bashir, President Museveni and the former Vice President of South Sudan Riek Machar shortly before addressing delegates and the media during the Khartoum Round on Facilitating IGAD Peace Process for South Sudan in the Sudan capital, Khartoum on June 25. PPU PHOTO

What you need to know:

  • Destruction. There are those who believe Kiir is committed to peace while others think he is a war-monger who has set the country on a path of destruction.
  • Excluded. However, as these initiatives continue, many players have been excluded including the group of 11 former political detainees led by Amum, former Chief of General Staff Gen Oyai Deng and Deng Alor who was appointed Foreign Affairs minister under the unity government and has since fled Juba.

Peace talks. In modern-day politics, it is unfathomable that a leader can make a return to the vice presidency for a third time to be part of a government led by his adversary. But in Africa’s youngest nation ripped apart by conflict, anything is possible, writes Emmanuel Mutaizibwa.

The last time President Kiir and Riek Machar tried to have a government of national unity, it culminated in a shootout, leaving a coterie of bodyguards dead on the evening of July 8, 2016.
Kiir revealed shortly after that Machar had arrived at J1 Presidential Palace with a pistol and was plotting to kill him. When I visited Juba in October 2016, the lasting vestiges of this battle were still visible at the presidential palace.
Machar was later pursued with his roughly 1300 SPLA-IO bodyguards from Juba as he fled by foot to DR Congo where he was rescued, later flown to Khartoum and then South Africa.

This was a second time he had escaped. Earlier in 2013, Machar had fled Juba in haste after President Kiir dressed in military fatigue addressed the nation on television alleging that his former SPLM comrade had orchestrated a coup, which was crashed.
In the aftermath, Gen James Hoth Hai, a chief of staff, and consummate military was sacked. To his allies, his cardinal sin was being Neur, the ethnicity of Machar. Gen Hoth Hai was among the officers who used to carry the derogatory tag ‘Garang boys’ because of his close ties to the late SPLM leader John Garang.
In some African regimes, where the army occupies the super-structure of government, paranoia runs high when it comes to ethnicity and the question of allegiance.

As Kiir lost territory in areas such as Bor in Jonglei state, his major ally, Uganda, heeded to the clarion call of the battle trumpet.

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Gen Peter Gadet, a Neur officer who was a commander-in-charge of the SPLA’s 8th Division in Jonglei state, defected on December 13, 2013, overran military bases and captured Bor.
Bor occupies a high place in the SPLA/SPLM struggle. It was not only the birthplace of Garang but it was where the first bullet of the second struggle against the Khartoum government was fired in 1983.

I was among the first journalists to reach Bor after the Ugandan army captured the area in January 2014. The stench of death permeated this area as locals struggled to bury the dead.
Once a bastion of the SPLA struggle against the Khartoum government, Bor had become a ghost-town with the entire community holed up at the UN camp and a few SPLA militias roaming the streets.

In the outskirts, were piles of bodies that had not been buried. Since then, a shooting war has resulted into death and despair as thousands of people remain holed in the squalid conditions in IDPs while others have fled to refugee camps in neighbouring states such as Uganda.
Highly placed sources reveal that with the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the donor community running out of patience, with the recent round of talks, the regime in Juba was jolted to speed up talks.

Juba reached out to Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga and in May he travelled to South Sudan where he held talks with President Kiir. With Kiir’s blessing, Odinga met Machar in South Africa in June.
Sudan President Omar Bashir also sent his influential intelligence chief, Salah Gosh, to Juba as the neighbouring state was keen to play a key-role in the talks. This was the shuttle-diplomacy that culminated into last weekend’s face to face meeting at State House Entebbe between the two implacable foes on what some sceptics have termed as ‘a third marriage of convenience,’ if the deal is concluded.

Power-sharing government
The Entebbe meeting was meant to hammer out the finer details of a power-sharing government.
The meeting discussed a proposal to reinstate Machar as the First Vice-President and amended the Revised Bridging Proposal by creating a fourth vice-president.

As part of the blueprint, cabinet ministers will be increased to 55 ministers: 30 for the government, 10 for the SPLM-IO and others for the remaining opposition parties.
Parliament will be composed of 550 members: the government 400 MPs, SPLM-IO 100 MPs and 50 seats for the other opposition factions.
SPLM-IO National Information Committee chairperson Mabior Garang De Mabior said the proposals by President Museveni and Omar Bashir of Sudan were not final.

“The proposal presented by President Museveni was discussed verbally, in a cordial environment, but there was no official document presented to the chairman (Dr Machar) and, therefore, the proposal, is not official,” the statement reads in part.
“We are following the IGAD peace process and the Movement shall not accept any shortcuts to peace by vested interests, whether locally, within the region or beyond,” the group stated.

David Amour, who is a South Sudan embassy official in Kampala, told Daily Monitor : “First of all, the talks between President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar mediated by the two brothers, President Museveni and President Bashir, is not something new. This is meant to speed up the IGAD [Inter-Governmental Development Authority] process. Too many cooks spoil the broth. Indeed it has yielded fruit rather than the big group.”
This report will be submitted to the chief rapporteur of IGAD, who is Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta, said Amour.

“Hopefully there will be peace. This means a lot. The war was driven by the interests of the political elite and locals do not support this (war). The people will be able to rebuild their lives, rebuild the country, and as a region, we shall share the dividends. The peace of South Sudan is the peace of Uganda, Kenya and the rest of the neighbourhood,” Amour opined. Yet many sticky issues remain unresolved. If Machar is to return, how will the unity government ensure that the mistakes in the past will not be repeated? How will the SPLA-IO officers be re-integrated into the national army, when will South Sudanese hold free and fair elections to elect the president at the time Kiir is seeking an extension of his term till 2021? How will other tribes who feel excluded by the Dinka and Neur treat this third experiment?

It is the pattern of scepticism that has greeted the neighbouring state right after the death of SPLM’s charismatic leader Garang on July 30, 2005.
Dr Francis Mading Deng, a scholar and former UN under-secretary who served as South Sudan’s envoy to the General Assembly in New York, has opined that Garang had a complex vision for South Sudan. It is perhaps a dream that remains elusive for Kiir and his supporters.
Others opine that even Garang would have struggled with the complexities of South Sudan. In his first term as president of the independent South Sudan in 2011, Kiir was confronted with monumental challenges.

He needed to form a government of technocrats yet most of those hired for these roles only had the expertise of the battlefront.
The political elite then looted the coffers including aid and the revenue from the oil fields in the south.
Militias continue to roam the countryside and every time, Kiir attempted to placate one of the warlords with gifts such houses and V-8 Land-Cruiser vehicles, another rebellion sprouted.

Kiir also tried to address the issue of ranks within the SPLM political bureau. After the death of Garang, Kerubino Kuanyin Bol, William Nyuon Bany and Arok Thon Arok, Kiir who was number four in ranking emerged as the leader and Machar in the second position of the politburo. In 2002, the current vice president, James Wani Igga, had in act of magnanimity given his place to Machar when he was re-integrated. He had rebelled against Garang in 1991 when he formed the splinter SPLA – Nasir with Dr Lam Akol.

With Machar, fleeing Juba in 2013 and returning to form a government of national unity, Igga who had replaced him in second position, reluctantly handed him this coveted position for the second time.
Kiir also had to deal with the question of ethnicity. When the former SPLM Secretary General, Pagan Amum, was detained in 2013, Kiir reached out to Dr Lam Akol who was of the Shilluk ethnicity and appointed him minister to assuage tribal sentiments. Akol later resigned in 2016 and joined rebellion.

There are those who believe Kiir is committed to peace while others think he is a war-monger who has set the country on a path of destruction. His supporters argue that if Kiir is against peace, he wouldn’t dispense an olive-branch to his rival for the third time.
However, as these initiatives continue, many players have been excluded including the group of 11 former political detainees led by Amum, former Chief of General Staff Gen Oyai Deng and Deng Alor who was appointed Foreign Affairs minister under the unity government and has since fled Juba.

Former Governor of Northern Bahr-el-Ghazel and Chief of Gen Staff Paul Malong has also joined armed resistance.
But before he rebelled, Malong referred to as King Paul, was the regime trouble-shooter and popular within the Dinka Council of Elders, a supremacist group that believes the presidency is a good bargain for the tribe’s role in the SPLA struggle.
He was also the de-facto leader and his influence was felt in every sphere of life in South Sudan.

Miscalculation
On October 3, 2016, this newspaper spoke to Malong three months after the shootout at the presidential palace.
“On that day (of the initial clashes), I was at Regency Hotel closing a media workshop and I got a call that there was movement of troops from Jebel towards J1 (State House) where (the) president was meeting Machar. Machar had also entered the meeting room with a pistol. We had to re-organise (and) stop them,” he said.

“He left Juba with the same miscalculation,” Malong said. “He first asked for ammunition and guns to go back to war. But this miscalculation is coming to an end. Machar is not a threat anymore.”
But Machar’s spokesperson James Gatdet accused Kiir and Malong of plotting to eliminate Machar.
“That day, (president) Kiir invited Dr Machar to State House with a plot already hatched and with intentions of killing (him). Luckily, he escaped. How could he have planned a coup with only 70 bodyguards (that) he went with to the State House?”

Accused of nursing ambitions, Kiir in May 2017, fired Malong and later placed him under house arrest. He was freed for treatment and while away he accused the Juba government of harassing him and his family, which compelled him to rebel.
As Malong prepares for war, the man he pursued could be preparing to return to the coveted seat of vice presidency. This is how complex and notoriously-fickle alliances are made and broken in South Sudan.

Alongside Malong is Lt Gen Thomas Cirillo Swaka, a former deputy chief of General Staff for Logistics who formed the National Salvation Front to fight the regime of Kiir.
Besides the rebellion, the government in Juba must quickly lift its economy from a tailspin. With a disillusioned citizenry who equate Kiir and Machar to tribal powerbrokers, they must find technocrats to perform an economic miracle, which will provide services to the underclass of South Sudan.

Kiir’s term in office also poses a question of legitimacy. South Sudan’s government has proposed extending President Kiir’s term in office for another three years until 2021
Without a clear succession plan, the Troika alliance championed by Britain, Norway and the US, accordingly to highly placed sources favours former Foreign Affairs minister Nhial Deng Nhial who was present at the Entebbe meeting last week.
A Dinka from Bar-el-Gazel, Nhial Deng Nhial is a son of William Dheng Nhial, one of the revered founders of Anyanya struggle against the Khartoum government. He was assassinated in 1968.

To his Western allies, Nhial is a safe pair of hands who will take care of their interests. The Juba government has not been in the good books of the United States, which was at the forefront of demanding for South Sudan’s autonomy from the north.
When South Sudan was granted independence after a 2011 referendum, China edged out the West after it was given lucrative oil contracts. Perhaps Nhial Deng will tilt the balance in favour of the West.

In the neighbouring countries, Uganda’s role attracts ambivalence. Could it be an arbiter, or a conflicted party trying to shore up Kiir’s government? Before the war broke out, South Sudan was Uganda’s leading export market. The South remains a major security concern to Uganda.
South Sudan, while under the Khartoum regime once offered sanctuary to the LRA and its leader Joseph Kony. But as relations between Khartoum and Kampala have thawed, President Museveni believes he alongside Bashir once his enemy now a friend, can deliver a deal that can guarantee lasting peace in South Sudan.
Yet doubts remain abound!

Key issues at hand
Destruction. There are those who believe Kiir is committed to peace while others think he is a war-monger who has set the country on a path of destruction.
Excluded. However, as these initiatives continue, many players have been excluded including the group of 11 former political detainees led by Amum, former Chief of General Staff Gen Oyai Deng and Deng Alor who was appointed Foreign Affairs minister under the unity government and has since fled Juba.
Uganda-Sudan relations. South Sudan, while under the Khartoum regime once offered sanctuary to the LRA and its leader Joseph Kony. But as relations between Khartoum and Kampala have thawed, President Museveni believes he alongside Bashir, can deliver a deal that can guarantee lasting peace in South Sudan.

What they say...
David Amour, a South Sudan embassy official: Hopefully there will be peace. This means a lot. The war was driven by the interests of the political elite and locals do not support this (war).
SPLM-IO: We are following the IGAD peace process and the Movement shall not accept any shortcuts to peace by vested interests.

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