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Why the South Sudan Peace Process is a Lost Case


In the just concluded but failed round of talks on the revitalisation of the South Sudan peace agreement convened by the High-Level Revitalisation Forum (HLRF) of Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) in Addis Ababa something stood out. This round was led by religious leaders. When I heard that the HLRF had adopted the so-called South-South approach to negotiation led by religious leaders from South Sudan, I thought to myself that it was a brilliant idea. Having been a critic of track-one summit negotiations that have largely characterised the South Sudan peace process, the idea of a South-South approach sounded musical. Little did I know this was a still birth. It is until I sought to get more information about it by speaking to two people involved in the process that I formed a different opinion. First, I spoke to a friend who is part of the process as a negotiator on the side of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A IO). The second person I talked to is part of the team working for the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) of the Peace Agreement on South Sudan. The responses I got from these two individuals quickly dampened my hopes. So, I knew, for a fact, that nothing was going to come out of this last round of talks. I expected them to collapse and it came to pass. 

Having gathered that the SPLM/A IO was questioning the impartiality of the religious leaders, I posed the following question to my friend. Do you think it is necessary to proceed with talks anyway or should there be sought some consensus between the parties on the mediator first? I do not recall him responding to this question directly. He, instead argued that the SPLM/A IO was not aware of the role of church leaders in this round of talks. He said and I quote “In February the church leaders came claiming that they were coming to pray for the stakeholders and to find out what were the challenges. On our arrival this time, IGAD announced that there will be South to South Dialogue facilitated by church leaders. We are fully participating in it because we are for peace, our fear is only the manner in which the church leaders who all live in Juba have sneaked themselves into the process and the credibility of some church leaders.”

On her part, the friend from JMEC argued that this was "too little too late" and even went on to question the efficacy of some of the religious leaders by opining that "even some of the religious leaders themselves have no buy-in into the process." She concluded by asserting that “the process has been focusing on the elite-people who are rich, their children are not in camps, they themselves don’t even live in Juba and are completely out of touch with the pain that the people are going through. Personally, I remain a MAJOR proponent of a bottom up approach to this process. Let the people themselves be involved in the peace-building efforts. Otherwise as they say, it is like doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

As the conversation of the peace of South Sudan went on, I recalled a presentation by Mr. John Katunga from April 5th, 2011 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6e2Sqkax-AQ&app=desktop) on the Independence referendum. I particularly was drawn to his assertion that South Sudanese should have moved from blood to sweat. Unfortunately, this never happened. On the contrary, South Sudan, in a typical military victory version, went on to celebrations that suffocated the opportunity to sit down, organize and strategize on how to work and make their new nation function. John Katunga talks of wealth sharing, which is OK. However, I think South Sudan did not and does not have enough wealth to share. The more reason the conversation should shift from wealth sharing to wealth creation. For this to happen, the focus of peace talks should shift from quick fixes such as power sharing and center, instead, on state formation and nation building.

The more time I took to follow the process in Addis Ababa, the more it became clear to me that IGAD was in desperate search for quick fixes. IGAD appeared to be under external pressure to broker a deal at all costs. So, the proposals on the table had a "take or leave it" label. This is what Fisher and Ury call the “one text procedure.” I am persuaded to think that while the one text principle works in some situations, it may not be appropriate in the case of South Sudan under the circumstances. South Sudan needs a broader-based, thoroughly inclusive and menacingly consensus-based approach well away from massaging the political egos of political elite and focused, instead, on building a state and laying ground for a cohesive 'nation' for posterity.

I am sceptical that the Addis Ababa process, no matter its shapes, sizes and frequency will birth peace for South Sudan. The just concluded and collapsed South-South revitalisation of peace agreement process as led by religious leaders was just another flavor of the same process that invites scepticism. IGAD is an inter-governmental body made up of states who in the words of Zach Vertin (https://www.ipinst.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/1804_Poisoned-Well.pdf) have made South Sudan a theatre for regional competition. We need spare thought for the peace of South Sudan. Actors must be ready to innovate and experiment on something new. We cannot cook solutions abroad, serve them hot to the South Sudanese elite in the African capital, Addis Ababa and expect solutions that will lead to stability and lasting peace in South Sudan. External solutions to local problems have not worked anywhere, they won't work in South Sudan. 

Why the South Sudan Peace Process is a Lost Case Why the South Sudan Peace Process is a Lost Case Reviewed by Ibrahim Magara on May 25, 2018 Rating: 5

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