Home | Comment & Analysis    Thursday 12 October 2017

Accountability, National Dialogue, and Elections: Which one of them comes first?

By Dr Lako Jada Kwajok

Conflicts or wars are the offspring of failures to have constructive dialogues in resolving problems between parties. The parties could range from countries, groups of allies, organizations, and others. Even the mafia outfits and the drug cartels do fight wars among themselves. Civil wars are no different but are often the result of revolutions by peoples against their governments. They all represent the end of diplomacy and a way to bring into play new dynamics and realities on the ground or to strengthen the position of the winners in case of future negotiations.

Carl Von Clausewitz’s famous aphorism " War is the continuation of politics by other means"; is not always right. Terrorist organizations like al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and ISIS; believe in conquering the world to impose their ideology. There is no room for any democratic dialogue with them. It’s either their way or the highway.

Of all the civil wars that had happened in the world, the one happening in South Sudan right now; stands out. It’s unparalleled and senseless when you ponder over its causation. The American Civil War was triggered by controversy over slavery and States’ rights. In Europe, the Spanish Civil War was a struggle between ideologies - the Republicans, Communists and anarchist on one side, and the Conservatives and the Monarchist under General Fransisco Franco on the other.

What is seen in South Sudan never happened anywhere in the world? A bitter power struggle within the SPLM party; degenerated quickly into widespread hostilities. In the world of cool heads and common sense; a domestic fight would not be allowed to spiral out of control to involve the neighbourhood let alone the city or the whole country. The irresponsibility and recklessness displayed by those who issued the orders and ignited the war are mind-boggling.

War is a grave and expensive undertaking. Thus, it’s the responsibility of the leaders to avoid it at all costs and more so when a Civil War looms. The Commander-in-Chief needs to think wisely before endangering the lives of ordinary citizens or sending troops in harm’s way. Likewise, the high-ranking politicians and Generals have duties and obligations towards the citizens of South Sudan and shouldn’t allow themselves to be led like a flock of sheep by the Commander-in-Chief. Presidential orders that are against the Constitution and the interests of the South Sudanese people are non-binding. The December 2013 Juba massacre of the Nuer civilians embodies the situation when leaders abandon their essential duties to the people and go against the Constitution. Instead of safeguarding unity and doing the people’s business, they got embroiled in a power struggle in pursuit of personal interests. The South Sudanese people did not participate in starting the war but fell victim to it. The appalling lack of concern by the SPLM party leaders regarding what befell the common man and the country as a whole; amounts to treason.

Now the people who opened the gates of hell and pushed the country into a brutal civil war that was uncalled for, are very vocal regarding an urgent need for a National Dialogue. Let it be clear, national dialogue per se is not an option but a necessity because the very existence of South Sudan and indeed any viable State hinges on a vibrant national conversation. In fact, the national dialogue is not a one-off exercise but rather a continuous process. The moment that process stops, the State ceases to exist and disintegrates. The National Dialogue, however, needs to be conducted within the context of full accountability and transparency. It’s only by doing so, that reconciliation and healing could be achieved.

It’s evident that the perpetrators of the conflict are working hard in a bid to use the controversial national dialogue as a vehicle to evade justice. They want the country to open a new page with the status quo maintained. The tens of thousands of lives that have been lost seem not to matter to them. The destruction of the meagre infrastructure, people’s homes, and properties are to be swept under the carpet. No one is to answer for those heinous crimes. They are propagating the lame argument that accountability and justice for the victims, would create more instability and impede national dialogue. Unfortunately, this notion is shared by some influential opportunists in the international community and the regional powers. The fact of the matter is that national dialogue will never materialize in the absence of full accountability. It’s outrageous that the same leaders who brought death, disease, and famine upon the people of South Sudan, have the nerve of wanting to continue ruling the victims.

There are people within the SPLM party and government who are true nationalists and patriots. They do not bear the responsibility for the atrocities committed by the regime though they carry the moral part of it. Such people, who constitute a significant number of the government followers, would not be affected in a major way by the accountability process. The reason is that when Human Rights abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity do occur, you don’t go after the low-ranking officers or officials but after the leading officers and the prominent politicians. In simple terms, if a battalion commits a massacre of unarmed civilians, you do not prosecute the foot soldiers but the commanders who issued the orders.

The Nuremberg Trials, over half a century ago, saw the prosecution and sentencing of top Nazi leaders. Goering, Ribbentrop, Keitel and others received capital punishments. The low-ranking Nazi officers and officials were spared. In the far east, General Tojo, the Chief of the Imperial Japanese Army and afterwards Prime Minister of Japan and 5 of his colleagues ended up being hanged for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Closer to home, the perpetrators of the Rwanda genocide were prosecuted, and some were handed down death sentences. Still closer to home, in April 2012 former Liberian President, Charles Taylor was sentenced to 50 years in prison at The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

People across the globe already know that gross Human Rights abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in the Republic of South Sudan. Our country is not an isolated island in the middle of nowhere. We are part of this world and fall under the prevailing international law. The people of South Sudan expects the international community to desist from cutting corners or applying double standards. What it needs to do is to follow the above precedents since they have yielded the desired results. The same remedy that brought peace and prosperity to Germany, Japan, Rwanda, and Liberia should be good enough for South Sudan.

Thus, many South Sudanese are dismayed by the mixed messages emanating from IGAD, the Troika, the regional powers and some in the international community. There appears to be a concerted effort by some well-known players to overlook accountability and allow the current regime to continue ruling the country. In essence, they want more of the same with a bit of spices added to it. It all boils down to the fact that a regime change would bring along undesirable consequences to them. In the presence of a responsible government in Juba, their meddling into our internal affairs would abruptly cease. Also, the unprecedented trade deficit coupled with the corrupt and unjustified leniency in government dealings would come under heavy scrutiny by qualified and competent South Sudanese. It would be the end of the extended honeymoon that they have enjoyed since 2005.

The policy of exuberant support to an unpopular regime by a neighbouring country is short-sighted and risky. It’s even much worse when the government of a neighbouring country engages in doing the dirty work for the regime at hand. It creates animosity between the oppressed people and that government which could spill over to instigate hatred between the two peoples. Dictatorial regimes do get overthrown; people don’t. Hence, for the long-term, it’s wiser to be in people’s good books rather than being friendly with the regime while hated by its populace. We all know how the unlimited support by the USA to the Shah of Iran played out. That policy not only failed to save the Shah regime from collapse but created extreme animosity for decades between America and Iran. Also, as a result, the US incurred trillions of Dollars losses in trade, and arguably the ordeal bred international terrorism.

Last February, while on a visit to Yei River State, Kiir announced his intention to stand for elections in 2018. It must be remembered that Kiir’s Presidency was never straightforward. He was elected as President of the Transitional Government of Southern Sudan in April 2010. Presidential elections were never carried out following the independence of South Sudan on July 9, 2011. Sabotage by the SPLM party and the joy of freedom that blinded many South Sudanese, somehow, allowed Kiir to become the first President of the Republic of South Sudan without elections. As we all know, no elections were conducted in 2015 and Kiir extended his tenure in office for three years along with the National Legislative Assembly ( NLA). In reality, Kiir has been all along a de facto President rather than an elected one since independence from Sudan. Many see Kiir’s contemplated candidacy as an audacity of the highest order. They wonder what achievements would the President run his election campaign on?! And most importantly, how would he rid himself of the responsibility for the Civil War to meet the requirements for candidacy?!

Free democratic elections need an environment of full security, free speech, free press and free movement across the country. Those elements are lacking in the prevailing situation in South Sudan. With millions of citizens in the refugee camps across the borders, and more in the famine-stricken parts of the country, how could the participation of such groups be guaranteed?! Moreover, where would the money to fund the elections come from if the economy is already in tatters?!

Genuine national dialogue cannot take place in the absence of accountability for the simple reason that, it’s all about resolving issues that fall under it. Matters relating to atrocities and land grab must be settled before national dialogue could be realized. Hence, in the context of the civil war, accountability and national dialogue are inseparable. In my view, accountability should precede national dialogue, or both be conducted simultaneously. It must be understood that accountability does not only mean bringing suspects to book but also weeding out criminals from ever taking up public offices.