Friday, July 12, 2019

Coercion and mediation in South Sudan: Forcing agreements and ignoring reservations

By Kuir ë Garang*

"However, the peace partners and the mediators glossed over these issues as if these pertinent issues would magically disappear without being addressed. Bold writings were on the wall."
Downplaying reservations

A South Sudanese gentleman asked me during my presentation on May 22, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, about the prospects for peace in South Sudan. Given that the two principal warring parties had just signed the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCISS), there was a considerable anxiety marked by thin hope about the possibility of peace being realized after nearly two years of bloodshed, political confusion and tribal division.

While I didn’t come out as predicting what would happen to the agreement, I sounded very pessimistic about a successful implementation of ARCISS. Since it was clear from the outset that the two leaders where forced into signing the agreement and Riek Machar was hesitant about coming to Juba, it was easy to see that the agreement would not hold.

First, President Salva Kiir refused to sign the agreement when it was signed by the opposition leader, Dr. Riek Machar, on August 17, 2015. President Kiir ‘wanted time’ to consult with his people in Juba. However, the international pressure and the threats of sanctions from the United States, the United Nations, and the Inter-government Authority on Development (IGAD) forced president Kiir to sign the agreement about a week later in Juba on August 26, 2015. As he signed, the president cited ‘serious reservations’ about the agreement. The fact that the two leaders signed the agreement on two different days and in two different countries with one leader citing ‘reservations’, should have called for a somber reconsideration against rushing to implement the agreement.

However, the peace partners and the mediators glossed over these issues as if these pertinent issues would magically disappear without being addressed. Bold writings were on the wall. When President Kiir refused to sign the agreement on August 17th, Seyyoum Mesfin, then the chief IGAD mediator said that ‘I hope that President Kiir will sign. There is no reason why he requested time. We call on President Kiir to reconsider his position so that they can sign and we can go ahead.’ Instead of addressing Kiir’s reservations as the mediator in order to assuage the feeling of discontent, IGAD was more interested in the ‘signature’ than the actual conditions necessary for a long-lasting peace in South Sudan.

When President Kiir finally signed the agreement on August 26th in Juba and cited a host of reservations, the United States, which is one of the key partners in the peace negotiations and also one of the funders, said that it didn’t ‘recognize any reservations’ from President Kiir. The agreement was therefore signed under duress and obvious discontent so its implementation would limp under the same nervous conditions.

While no agreement can be completely free of ‘reservations’, the way in which the mediators dismissed officially expressed grievances and hesitations is a cause for concern. Essentially, the warring parties were expected to embrace the agreement under unfavorable, yet obviously belligerent conditions. In other words, President Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar had not voluntarily signed the agreement. Since the mediators knew the intransigence of the two leaders and their past disagreements, it seems the mediators were more interested in covering up their failure to make the two leaders regard the agreement as a necessary compromise. Forcing the signatories to sign under uncertain circumstances, claiming victory and then blaming any failure on the warring parties seemed to have been the interest of the mediators and the peace partners. While this sounds like an unfair accusation, the conditions of the mediation at the time warrant this conclusion.

Undoubtedly, the costly outbreak of fighting in July of 2016 after Machar went to Juba in April 2016 to implement the ARCISS was a consequent of a forced agreement.

Following the July 2016 outbreak of violence that killed more than 200 people in July, there was an outrage.  However, the outrage expressed by the mediators and peace partners was rather dishonest. If they didn’t see the signs that the agreement would potentially fail, then the mediation process was unaccountable and seriously flawed. And if they knew it would potentially fail but just put their hope in its magical success then there is a lot to be asked about the ethical status of IGAD as the peace mediator.

But that is in the past and someone might say that we can’t cry over spilled milk. Admittedly, the most pressing and pertinent issue now is: what have we learned? As the world and South Sudanese wait for the implementation of the Revitalized-ARCISS, there is again much anxiety about what is going to happen in November. Since the R-ARCISS travelled from Addis Ababa to Nairobi only to end up being signed in Khartoum under the guidance of the former Sudanese President, Omer El Beshir and postponed again from May this year to November, it is understandable for one to be skeptical.

Mediation and coercion
Obviously, the chief aim of the mediators is to create an enabling atmosphere so that the warrying parties would find themselves comfortable to negotiate in good faith and make concessions when necessary. Unfortunately, this conducive atmosphere became rather a coercive one: sign or face sanctions. Going by effective mediation processes, the August 17, 2015 agreement was forced not mediated. Why did peace mediation become coercion? Was this coercive agreement a diplomatic experiment in South Sudan or was it a mediation of an agreement between two warring parties all of whom respect was not necessary? The diplomatic stick and carrot policy was inappropriate given the then precariousness of the South Sudanese situation.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Moral Contradictions and Ethics of Writing: A Collegial Reminder to Dr. Adwok Nyaba

By Kuir ë Garang*

Photo: Unity of Buffalo
This article addresses some issues in Dr. Nyaba’s article, Letting the Cat out: Jieng Dinka Attempt to Impose Hegemony and Domination in South Sudan!! [SSN, June 03, 2019]. Note that this is not a rebuttal to the central idea of the article but a reminder about some arguments that risk undermining our collective fight against political and tribalized totalitarianism in South Sudan.
Essentially, there are many fundamental sociopolitical issues all conscientious South Sudanese can agree on. Certainly, the Jiëëng elites, especially the infamous JCE, are to blame for most of the problems in South Sudan since 2013. It’s equally reasonable to argue that these Jiëëng elites have a chauvinistic attitude they’ve tried and continue to impose on the multiplicity of tribal nationalities in the country. 

All conscientious Jiëëng intellectuals would agree with this. While different ethnic communities have committed heinous atrocities against one another, it is still reasonable to put the blame on the Jiëëng community (minimally) and JCE especially because of power imbalance and strategic positionality in the structures of power and leadership machinery.

Other unproblematic issues are the questions of land, tribal marginalization and persecution of those whose views diverge from the official narrative. A nation of a single opinion is what JCE would want to institutionalize into our national consciousness. 

So, admittedly, the ideological state apparatuses (ISAs) as Marxist theorist, Louis Althusser, would call them, are guided by Jiëëng elites and operationalized by a militarist tradition staffed mostly by Jiëëng military officers. “But there are other tribes in the army, the government and all the law enforcement agencies!” someone might say. Yes! But there is this thing.
Yes, this: I would see the tokenized non-Jiëëng elites and officers as ineffective survivalists. Indeed, the superstructure informing the ruling national consciousness is informed by Jiëëng elite’s ideas because of the legacy of SPLM/SPLA and the manner in which state-building materialized (or failed) in the hands of men and women who got lost in the sea of petro-dollars between 2005 and 2012.  

As a confession, I have in the past questioned the silence of these non-Jiëëng officials and military officers; however, I have come to understand that hegemony, as Antonio Gramsci tells us, can work by consensus. There are cases in which people are dominated with their consent either because they have been forced into silence, or they have been duped to accept the ruling narratives as the ultimate truth. So I would tell Dr. Nyaba that hegemony doesn’t have to be imposed.
So far, these are the issues on which I can say I agree with Dr. Nyaba.

A Moral Responsibility of a Writer
However, there is something that we, as writers, need to answer. Do we write for the sake of writing? Do we write because we feel good writing the things we write regardless of their moral content? Reasonable writers would say that a writer must have a message and a social responsibility. Some writers even write for social justice; to ‘speak truth to power’ as Edward Said argued in Orientalism. So, admittedly, we have a social and a moral responsibility, I take it. However, Dr. Nyaba, as an imminent intellectual and elder in our community sometimes seems to forget the ethics of his writing. It is one thing to criticize JCE because this monstrous tribal organization has done a lot to harm us and destroy the country.

However, we have an ethical responsibility not to blur the line between Jiëëng as a community and JCE as a chauvinistic lobbying group with vested interests. A quote below confuses Nyaba’s message. Is this meant for  Jiëëng  community or  Jiëëng  chauvinists?
Not that many of us didn’t know the consequences of this Jieng parochial vanity, but we’d hoped the logic and imperatives of constructing a state in modern times would impel prudence on the part of these Jieng chauvinists to prevent backward drift towards savagery.” (emphasis mine)
JCE works for its members not  Jiëëng  as a community and that should be clearly stated by any serious writer. Nyaba’s part quoted above makes no such attempt. If JCE worked for the interest of Jiëëng and for Jiëëng to dominate as a community, then how come they don’t stop the bloody internal conflicts in the former Lakes state and between Apuk, Aguok and Awan of former Warrap state? How come they’ve not developed any Jiëëng towns? It’s our moral responsibility to make distinctions as writers. 
No reasonable Jiëëng intellectual would defend what JCE has done even if we understand that they have their right to exist.  While Dr. Nyaba doesn’t necessarily blame  Jiëëng  as a community, his writing doesn’t make matters clear and it’s his responsibility as a writer to strike an unequivocal sense of moral clarity.
Archaic, Colonialist and Anthropological Language
It is reasonable to argue that unhelpful and dangerous ideologies need to be discarded or reformed. However, it is sad to see that Dr. Nyaba is using the same language and state of mind 18th and 19th century racist European anthropologists used in rationalizing African sociopolitical and socioeconomic realities. They generalized and denigrated Africans before studying them. The use of archaic anthropological terms like ‘primitive’ is both unfortunate and worrying. What exactly does ‘primitive’ mean in this sense? Does it mean useless, outdated, or does it simply mean inappropriate for our time? Dr. Nyaba owes his readers an explanation.
In a way, this reminds me of what Kwesi Prah said in Beyond the Color Line about African elite who adopt European attitude toward fellow Africans.It accepts,’ Prah writes, ‘the ideology of primitivism of African culture and removes itself away from its historical belonging.’ Calling fellow South Sudanese ways ‘primitive’ is to fit into what Fanon calls colonial and racist pre-set framework. For someone like me, Collo,  Jiëëng , Nuer and other tribal nationalities have something to learn from one another instead of amplifying conflictual climates.
Besides, the manner in which acephalous communities are rationalized in the article is both misleading and archaic. ‘As an acephalous society …’ Dr. Nyaba writes, ‘the Jieng [sic] are in a state of perpetual segmentation and therefore never evolved a tradition of indigenous statehood or centralized authority.’ From the outset, this assumes that tribal nationalities with centralized tribal authorities (like Zande & Collo) have no ‘perpetual fragmentation.’ This flies on the face of historical facts. So, the quote either means Dr. Nyaba doesn’t understand how acephalous communities operate or he’s being intentionally misleading for I don’t think someone of his caliber doesn’t know. 


Dear Melbournians, the South Sudanese people to be precise. Do you think we have seen it all? Do you think we have seen that: I mean in the aftermath of yesteryears, in regard to our culture and the notions around identity and belonging? Do you think we have seen the true reaping of what we sowed years ago? Do you really think so? After all, did we really sow anything like seeds and that there’s something to be reaped? Did we really live it out well to be seen today?

I am sorry to have bothered you, my potential readers, with questions regarding our social, economic, and political location in our host society: Australia. I think we have not seen it all and as a whole: The idea that people are bound by certain values and beliefs of significance to them. This requires cooperation and role-specific obligations on the roles of every man and woman across a given people and their society.


While it is possible for us to racially discriminate or judge people we know, the chances of judging people we know diminish significantly the more we know them. An easy example of the importance of understanding others is the attitude people develop when they want to harm others or when they want to deny them something valuable. Essentially, before you fight someone, you insult them. Insults are attempts at diminishing the value of people, an attempt at estranging them, as Toni Morrison argued in The Origin of Others. It is easy to discriminate against strangers or make others strangers or dehumanized in order to discriminate against them.

Transformational Leadership, Inclusive Institutions and Service Provision

Leadership, given what is happening now in South Sudan, and generally in Africa, fascinates me. And it fascinates me not in a good way but because of the sociopolitical and socioeconomic ills facing the African continent and most of the so-called 'Third World.' To me, South Sudan, now, is a classic case.

Rebellion by disaffected politico-military leaders and repression by the government of South Sudan in Juba have stunted institutional development and leadership growth. This has made service provision almost irrelevant as political survival has taken primacy and supremacy. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE

‘Black’ as an Identity Oversimplification and Mockery

Black as a universalized cultural identity of the African Person (AP)* is a residual effect of slave and colonial mentality; a racial/race paradigm. It is a malady I call, conservatively speaking, stuck-in-the-past syndrome of color constraints. Black could be an on-the-street ‘social identifier’ of race figures not a meaningful phenomenon of deep cultural identification on a universal scale.