South Sudan: Restoring Peace Short-Term
Thursday, February 09, 2017
By Machien Luoi*
Restoring peace in South Sudan has been and remains a daunting task. In the middle of December 2016, President Salva Kiir launched a National Dialogue. It is a great gesture from the man at the helm.
Yet starting with National Dialogue is like putting a cart before the horse. Applied in the current context of political and economic volatility, National Dialogue as envisaged may yield no tangible results to the dismay of the President and bewilderment of its backers. For a meaningful National Dialogue to have currency, appeal and taste, guns have to go silent first; inclusive political dialogue to recommit “estrange” political forces as Festus Mogae call them, to Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCISS) and Transitional Government of National Unity (TGONU); and TROIKA, AU and IGAD to recommit resources and efforts.
The President envisages a “forum and process” to galvanize South Sudanese to “redefine the basis of their unity” in the National Dialogue. As a “bottom-up approach,” it would commence at grass-roots and wrap up with a national conference (which would settle contentious matters unresolved at previous stages).
As a forum – National Dialogue would serve as platform for open deliberations of painful matters and to facilitate forgiveness for erroneous atrocities and mistakes committed. As a process- it would take the form of consultations - probably with carefully identified participants involved at varying levels.
Complimentary duty “to do peace rallies in Juba and across the country to educate people about peace and Unity” is designated to Presidency, while South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) and Think Tank groups such as Ebony Center, Juba University’s Center for Peace and Development and Sudd Institute would design the forms and shapes the National Dialogue will take.
Hitherto, much needed details of the envisioned National Dialogue remains obscured, the devil in the details is at large and therefore inspiring queries for possible assumptions made by its architects. Is it assumed South Sudanese are tired of war, therefore willing to dialogue to end the conflict freely? Is it surmised that grass-roots (communities) are accessible, thus conducting dialogues in remote places would be easy ride or possibility? Is it acceptable that four months of nationwide dialogue engagement would help South Sudanese take a detour to peace, just like that?
Has it been supposed that SSCC and Think Tank groups have the capacity and influence at grass-roots, therefore will be welcomed custodians or peace messengers by citizens? Is it held that the holding-out political forces will take National Dialogue as opportunity to relevance than reject it? Is it assumed that political elements holding out of ARCISS and TGONU will lose their political constituencies should they not respond to the President’s National Dialogue initiative?
Shall the initiative be fully funded and logistically supported to reach all South Sudanese? Is the National Dialogue going to cover IDPs and refugees despite them staying away from their homes?
Gauged with reality of South Sudan today, irrefutable answers to above questions would point to the fact that National Dialogue as visualized by the President is impossible under the existing political context.
Consequently, TGONU and “estranged” political forces (ones that are not taking part in TGONU) should convene a new roadmap to recommit to terms of ceasefire signed on 23 January 2014 and Cessation of Hostilities Agreement embedded in the ARCISS.
Festus Mogae, Chairman of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC), acknowledged that security situation has escalated in Equatorias, Upper Nile and Unity since November 2016 (08 Feb 2017 – Reports by Eye Radio and Radio Tamazuj). Other parts of the country are not spared too.
It is a high possibility that the state of insecurity will continue in those regions. With that in mind, recommitment to previously agreed terms of ceasefire would silence guns and create obligation and respect for ceasefire by all parties. This is the first step in restoring peace.
Direct political engagement by TGONU with “estranged” political forces would ensure no more feelings of political exclusion. A return to the political dialogue table will enable commitment or rededication to ARCISS and TGONU by all parties.
In Wau, David Shearer the head of UNMISS in South Sudan, recognized the need for inclusive dialogue, but underscored that National Dialogue “will not bring warring parties together,” (07 Feb 2017 – Radio Tamazuj Report).
JMEC’s Festus Mogae concurred with Mr. Shearer by conceding that “for dialogue to have real meaning and effect, it must include more than those who already agree with the government and take account of all views and concerns,” (08 Feb 2017 – Radio Tamazuj Report).
So, a political dialogue for all political forces is necessary to restore peace in the short-term. This second step is important in refurbishing peace, because feelings of political exclusion drive those who are fighting against government.
TROIKA, AU and IGAD (notwithstanding IGAD countries’ current desires to exploit South Sudan’s sorry conflict state to their parochial selfish interests) have been key players at resolving Sudan and these days, South Sudan conflicts. TROIKA’s finance might and influence, and AU’s galvanizing character in trying to find “African solutions to African problems”, will help parties resolve political differences.
There has been much talk about inclusive dialogues or recommitment to ARCISS without concrete steps to achieving what is being said by AU, UN and IGAD. As expressed in a letter to AU by 60 African Civil Society organizations recently, “worthy intentions bear no value if they are not followed by genuine action commitment.”
Nevertheless, should recommitment to ceasefire agreement of the 23 January 2014, faith in ARCISS (by signatories who are “estranged”) and pledge by TROIKA, AU and IGAD to support the first and second steps succeed, peace will be restored in the short-term. After these, security situation will drastically improve; access to grass-roots will be possible; participation of all tribes would be guaranteed to some extend; and economy may improve.
A ground will have been laid for the President Kiir’s National Dialogue to commence as a long-term mechanism for stability and unity. Should the Short-Term steps for restoration of peace be forfeited, President’s National Dialogue may as well follow. Civil strife, fear and feelings of disenfranchisement will engulf South Sudan’s land escape.
As Geoff Mulgan wrote in the Book, Good and Bad Power, “hatred ratchet up in the heat of battle and turn limited engagements into unlimited disasters. Sensible goals succumb to tangled messes. This is why wise leaders treat war as a last resort, and if necessary divert the pressures for war rather than welcoming them.”
The author is a South Sudanese and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.