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Saturday, October 11, 2014

South Sudanese ‘Peace Talks’: what we need to know


In my last appearance on Lagos based TVC news, I sounded a little more optimistic regarding the prospect for ‘peace’ in South Sudan, a position that’d sound naïve to anyone who’s familiar with the intransience and job-focused nature of politicking in South Sudan. Anyone, who takes what South Sudanese politicians say literally, risks falling into the unforgiving side of history. That is a good thing to remember when it comes to South Sudanese political mechanics. However, that shouldn’t mean a good step taken shouldn’t be acknowledged despise the constellation of obstacles facing the peace process.

The Obstacle: Jobbization of National Agenda
The talks in Ethiopia are indeed about the future of South Sudan. However, they are by no means tailored towards the future of the average South Sudanese.  The talks, mostly about jobs and not peace, are purely about personal ambitions and political positions. What Dr. John Garang De Mabior saw as jobbism disguised as patriotism among the Anya Anya II leaders is what’s characterizing the current conflict. Almost everyone in the SPLM in opposition has grievances about a job lost or a job one didn’t get. On the government side, it’s about protecting one’s job not necessarily about standing up for the people of South Sudan. This is a great obstacle for peace in South Sudan. As long as both parties don’t see something written down, something that guarantees them government jobs and ensure job security and longevity, we wouldn’t see the peace signed soon.

The Obstacle:  IGAD, Medley of Incompetence and Dictatorship
Inter-Government Agency on Development (IGAD) is credited as having successfully mediated the peace process that culminated in Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005; and eventually ended with the peaceful secession of South Sudan from Sudan. However, a number of things have to be considered before that assumption takes hold in history as having a definitive Truth Value.

CPA was realized because of a number of factors we don’t see now in Ethiopia (Addis Ababa and Bahir Dar).

-          The documents aren’t drafted by the very people who know why the war started in the first place. The warring parties just receive IGAD drafted documents.

-          IGAD isn’t mediating but dictating the terms. A credible mediator doesn’t threaten but convinces the warring parties. The fact that IGAD threatens the warring parties is a clear indication of mediation and mediators’ failure.

-          The key players in Sudanese war took charge of the peace negotiations in Naivasha and no great consultations were required outside the peace venue.

-          When Dr. John and Taha took charge of the talks, the world knew that the ideologues behind the Sudanese religio-military, socio-economic and politico-racial dimensions were at the table and could adequately reconcile the war paradigms and dimensions.

-          Taha and Garang struck a cordial working relationship that, to everyone, indicated that the language of peace was here and that ‘peace was coming.’ We don’t see that now in Ethiopia.

-          CPA wasn’t about who gets what job-wise, but the security of the agreement, fail-safe mechanisms for referendum, resources sharing and everything that was in the interest of the people of South Sudan. Now, in Ethiopia, it’s all about JOBS.
IGAD has proven itself to be an utter failure. Garang and Taha were the ones who brought the CPA. The leadership, moral courage and patriotism shown by Garang and Taha have been replaced by self-interest driven talks meant to secure one’s political survival. Mediators should create an enabling atmosphere for peace to blossom. Instead, IGAD has created a poisonous atmosphere where the warring parties don’t trust it. How can an organization mediate between two parties that don’t trust it? This is a fallacy IGAD isn’t ashamed to maintain.

But what did we expect from the likes of Yoweri Museveni, Paul Kagame, Omer Al-Beshir, Ismael Guelleh, Isaias Aferweki, Haile Mariah Desalegn …among others? These are leaders with a sorry-state human rights records. How can we possibly expect them to care about South Sudanese if they don’t even care about their own citizens? Anyone who checks the human rights records of these leaders and their political control mechanisms would just feel sorry for the people of South Sudan.  How can these leaders give South Sudanese something they don’t have in their own countries?
Why would they allow President Kiir to stop what they actually cherish: Absolute Totalitarianism and Unquestionable Leadership for Life?

Lack of Accountability
South Sudanese leaders aren’t accountable to anyone. With no doubt they can do what they want and when they want. It’s regrettable that they have extended this state of mind to regional and world leaders. They duped South Sudanese, plunged them into perpetual misery and poverty, and proved to the world that civilians don’t mean anything. The Cessation of Hostilities agreement was signed on January 23 and Cease Fire agreement signed on May 9 by the two Principals, all of wish were violated with no consequences. The leaders recommitted themselves in June to sign the agreement and end the war by August 10. That day came and went. Then recently the leaders of IGAD (naively, I think) conditioned the two Principals to sign the agreement in 60 days. This day came and went on October 9.

Despite the threats of sanctions and the threats of famine on the people of South Sudan, the two warring parties refused to sign the agreement. And they have done so without any consequences.
One is left to ask: Why would these people sign any agreement if they face no consequences. They treat the people of South Sudan like dirt and insects and get away with it. And they are doing the same thing with world leaders. Like South Sudanese, the world and regional leaders are just as helpless.

Why would the regional and world leaders expect leaders to comply when they aren’t accountable to anyone but themselves?
Glimmer of Hope

Despite all the dishonesty and lack of concern, South Sudanese leaders seem to have taken a small step towards peace and that is something worth noting. Federalism and creation of the position of Prime Minister were dismissed outright by the South Sudanese government side. Accepting these controversial issues is a step in the right direction.
I have come to realize that South Sudanese leaders say a lot of things they don’t mean and even things they wouldn’t do. Michael Makuei Lueth, the South Sudanese minister of information and the current spokesperson of the government, talks in a manner that makes it hard for people to believe him. I have ceased to take him seriously. A man with no sense of courtesy towards others, doesn’t care about the consequences of what he says, is not someone you can take seriously.

He says a lot of things that are not only detrimental to the government but to South Sudan as a whole. However, I’ve come to realize that it’s what is signed in Addis that matters rather than what the perpetually disgruntled Makuei says.
And in an equally annoying manner, Mabior Garang De Mabior, the opposition PR person, says a lot of things that are dangerous for peace in the country. Mabior has great potential to positively contribute towards socio-economic development in South Sudan; however, the young man is filled with mysterious bitterness and anger that undermines the supposedly national interest he’s fighting for.

I have therefore started to see these two men as talkers rather than men whose ‘settling of scores’ statements mean anything. My glimmer of hope therefore rests with the papers signed rather than what these two men say. They are meant to talk and propagandize ad infinitum and so far their talks mean nothing.

And US’s Stephen Rapp beautifully summarises, while speaking in Juba recently, the risks of focusing on the elite power-sharing while excluding the needs of the average South Sudanese due to lack of accountability.

“But the point is if this conflict will end just with some kind of deal between elites, or some kind of power sharing, that will not bring peace to this country. It will indicate that in the future, acts of violence could be rewarded. And so genuine peace requires that accountability element...”

There are indeed on-and-of talks in Ethiopia; but they aren’t necessarily talks about peace or the well-being of South Sudanese but jobs, simple callous quest for jobs.