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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Incompetence or Indifference: AU Mediated Peace Talks


It is a general knowledge in South Sudan that Inter-Governmental Agency on Development (IGAD) successfully mediated the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in Sudan between 2002 and 2005. The advent of relative peace in Sudan and the eventual succession of South Sudan from Sudan can be credited to IGAD. However, this point of view is being put to an awful test as IGAD’s negotiators seem lost and confused…or even grossly incompetent. The modalities IGAD is using are mediocre at best and uselessly circular at worse.
In January this year, South Sudan’s Assistant minister for foreign affairs, Peter Bashir Bandi, told one SSTV host that IGAD plays down any initiatives generated by South Sudanese themselves. Anytime South Sudanese made headway in negotiations, Bandi argues, IGAD would postpone the talks without any explanation. And when the talks are resumed, IGAD would give new discussion guidelines and all parties start from scratch. This raises many questions as to why IGAD doesn’t give South Sudanese a greater role in drafting negotiation policy positions.

If IGAD successfully mediated Sudan’s CPA then why is it so heard now for IGAD to do so when the conditions of belligerence between the two warring parties are different?  The conditions that led to the current civil war are by far less problematic than the conditions that caused South Sudanese to take up arms against the Sudanese government in Khartoum.
General Lazarus Sumbeiywo, who helped bring peace to South Sudan and is now part of the mediation team, knows this. The differences between SPLM-IO and SPLM-IG are ideological, personal and slightly tribal. They are not as grossly divergent as the racial and religious differences between the then South and North. What exacerbates the difficulty in the mediation process now in Ethiopia is the mechanics IGAD is applying. The modalities are meant to force peace, claim credit for the job well done and then blame the warring parties should this peace unravel. South Sudan doesn’t need a myopic process as an easy way out of this war. Any short term solution is going to be a long-term political and security nightmare in the country. Is IGAD planning to destroy South Sudan?

Why is it the IGAD that drafts the negotiation substance and blueprints? This is not peace mediation but peace enforcement. South Sudanese leaders are the ones who very well know the problems that led to this crisis; and they are the ones who will lead South Sudan should peace come. It is therefore prudent for IGAD to allow all policy positions and negotiation contents to be drafted by the warring parties. IGAD should only be there to actually do its job: mediate. This draft-and-reject, draft-and-accept process is a waste of both money and time; and it continues to endanger lives of South Sudanese. The only hope for South Sudan has been placed in the hands of IGAD for South Sudan credit IGAD with CPA. This hope is being betrayed by IGAD.
This article might appear like it’s excusing the originators of the problem. Far from it! South Sudanese leaders have shown little to no practical compassion for the suffering South Sudanese. Neither SPLM-IO chairman, Dr. Riek Machar nor President Kiir Mayardit, sees the need to call a press conference to address the grievances and needs of South Sudanese who were killed, bereft or displaced by forces under their commands. They hear humanitarian agencies constantly warning about famine but these leaders show little interest in the suffering of the people. Internally displaced civilians are living in squalor conditions in UNMISS camps yet none of the leaders shows interest. They only pay lip service about being the one fighting on behalf of South Sudanese.

So what will it take for IGAD to realize that South Sudanese leaders should be held more accountable for the current crisis? IGAD needs to put South Sudanese at the centre of the negotiation process. And if sanctions are to be imposed then practical measures need to be taken instead of constantly warning the warring parties without actually putting in place punitive measures. Both Cessation of Hostilities Agreement and the Cease Fire have been violated with no consequences. Monitoring and Verification Mechanism is a complete joke! So why would people who face no consequences be serious about peace talks they are not even meaningfully part of?

It is one thing to impose sanctions, but it is a completely different story to keep on warning the warring parties without any intention to impose sanctions. If the warnings are meant to condition the two sides to sign the peace agreement then IGAD has admittedly failed. Undoubtedly, the purpose of mediation is to create an enabling condition so that the warring parties can build lost trust. What IGAD is doing is postponement of trust building through forced agreement. If IGAD is unable to create enabling conditions for the talks, then it’s time for IGAD to call it quit in order for South Sudanese to seek an alternative process. If IGAD can’t mediate peace, it should stop forcing it.
And this also makes one wonder if the problem is IGAD’s incompetence or indifference to South Sudanese suffering. In addition, this brings another phenomenon to mind. IGAD’s failure tells South Sudanese that CPA was not made possible by IGAD but by the ten two principals: Dr. John Garang de Mabior and Ustaz Ahmed Mohammed Taha. The exemplary leadership and tactical humility showed by the two leaders made the difference. And peace came to South Sudan because Dr. Garang and Ustaz Taha created a level of mutual respect and trust; and they put the needs of the Sudanese people first.

This is what IGAD needs to dig out of Dr. Riek and President Kiir. Until there is a level of trust created between the two leaders, any naively forced peace will not last. Essentially, conditioning a peace agreement that will not last would be a great disservice to South Sudanese people as it would put the nation on a constant state of war, instability and insecurity. Development and prosperity would be impossible dreams for people who’ve not known true peace for over half a century.
Another blow to the peace process is the questionable credibility of IGAD’s mediation team and lack of exemplary leadership in the IGAD leadership as a whole. Sudan, which has General Mohammed El Dabi as a member of the three-member peace negotiation team, is a country that has its own civil wars. It is just inconceivable how Sudan can be a credible peace negotiator when it can’t solve the war in its own backyard? How do you negotiate something for others; something you have no ability or a desire to bring to your own country? War and famine are ravaging Southern Blue Nile, Southern Kordofan and Darfur. If IGAD an AU were serious about bringing peace to South Sudan, they have to think about nations that have credible resumes to negotiate peace.

President Museveni of Uganda has already taken side in the conflict yet he’s part of the mediation team. Where in the world does that happen? This is either an insult to the integrity of South Sudanese or it’s purely incompetence.
In addition, Ethiopia is a nation of dubious human rights records. Time and again, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports arbitrary arrests, detention, torture and intimidation of political opponents. A quick perusal through HRW website will convince a South Sudanese that Ethiopia is in no position to make South Sudan what it [Ethiopia] is not and doesn’t want to be.

It is therefore difficult to know if the difficulty IGAD faces in negotiating peace in South Sudan is a result of incompetence or indifference to the suffering of South Sudanese people. If these mediators don’t care about the suffering or the rights of their own people, how do we expect them to care about the well-being of South Sudanese?