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Comments on "Déjà Vu: Preventing Another Collapse in South Sudan"

By Steve Paterno

As the dateline for the formation of the transitional government of national unity is looming, in accordance to the peace accord, it draws a lot of discussions and commentaries on the prospect for the future of the country, particularly on the underlying contested issues of security arrangements and the number and delineation of states boundaries. For example, the International Crisis Group just issued a report entitled, "Déjà Vu: Preventing Another Collapse in South Sudan." The report points out in details the underlying issues recommends the way out in averting potential conflict and projects possible scenarios. I personally made my arguments on these particular pressing issues sparsely on several public platforms, however, this comprehensive report by International Crisis Group compelled me to succinctly emphasize on the major issues being overlooked in discussing this matter, some of these issues addressed in the International Crisis Group’s report.

The Issues

The title of the International Crisis Group report, "Déjà Vu: Preventing Another Collapse in South Sudan" echoes almost unanimous concerns of the many people following the crisis in South Sudan. The core issues are that basically, the two major signatories to the agreement, the government and the IO, reached a deadlock on two contested issues, the security arrangements and the number and delineations of state boundaries. On security arrangements, the government agrees on a gradual security process reforms, while the io calls for a total security overhaul, within specific timeframe prior to the formation of the transitional government of national unity. On the number and delineations of states boundaries, the government maintains that the current 32 states and their boundaries should be the basis for formation of transitional government of national unity, while the io says that there should only be at least ten states or the number of states io agreed on, but not 32, with clear demarcated boundaries to start with. As a result of the deadlock, the io says it will opt-out from being part of government formation comes November 12, 2019, and threatens for a return of war, unless another agreement is reached for extension of dateline on formation of government to enable ample time to thrash out the disagreements, particularly, the preparations of bodyguards. The government, on the other hand, however, vows, it will go ahead with formation of government on November 12, 2019, because unnecessary extension of that dateline is not warranted as such uncertainties jeopardize prospect for peace and stability, and after all, such extension was already granted on request of io, by six more additional months.

On Security Arrangements

The International Crisis Group report clearly points out the major underlining and somewhat hidden issue within the security arrangements, which is not given due considerations, when the report states, "The dispute over force unification, meanwhile, has obscured the largest of the outstanding hurdles: Machar’s security in Juba." This sentence sums the real huddle, missing in discussions of security arrangements, because for good reason Riek Machar fears of his own personal security in Juba and will rather opt to stay away, simply because of that reason alone. Riek Machar is really scared of Juba, referring to Juba a "death trap" ready to consume him alive. Otherwise, if this issue of personal protection is resolved, then it will become reasonably easy that other disputes, security arrangements in general and the number and delineation of states boundaries will be deferred to a later reasonable date, under different time table as they required longer processes to take lives of their owns. Scheduling timeframe for the formation of government such as on specific date like November 12, 2019, is an expectation of action on an eventful single day, which is required to take place on the exact date specified. Therefore, a specific event like this can never take place if time and resource-consuming elaborate processes such as security arrangements and an agreement on controversial disputes over the number and delineations of boundaries are subjected to it as a prerequisite for the event to take place.

If there are talks of unification of the armies, it indicates that there are several existing armies with competing loyalties as is rightly the case. Matter of fact, the volatility of arms conflict in South Sudan is due in huge part to existing several competing loyalties of the armies. Then the pertinent question is, why have several armies with competing loyalties in the first place? The short history of South Sudan provides answers. From the Turko-Egyptian through the Anglo-Egyptian colonial rules, there existed separate South Sudanese army units paralleled to the other existing colonial armies, who performed their specific and unique duties diligently and distinguishingly according to the dictates of their colonial rulers. However, during the Anyanya I struggles, there emerged a powerful distinctively South Sudanese military units, fighting the regime in Khartoum by demanding that South Sudanese interest and rights are realized, among which political, economic and social freedom and independence. By 1972, when the agreement between the government in Khartoum and Anyanya I signed the peace accord, the Anyanya I, made sure their army units remained separated and kept within their bases in South Sudan as a guarantor of South Sudan rights for political, economic and social freedom and independence. As it became obvious that the rights of South Sudan to political, economic, and social freedom and independence, were not being realized through 1972, peace accord, the bulk of those South Sudanese army units took to the bush as Anyanya II, resisting and struggling against the regime in Khartoum, which eventually led to the formation of the Sudan’s People Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M). The SPLA/M even grew into a more powerful independent army entity and by 2005, when it signed a peace accord with the regime in Khartoum, it took over governing structures in entire territorial South Sudan, and stood as a guarantor of South Sudan rights for a total independence within the transitional period of six years. During the transitional period, from 2005-2011, the independence of SPLA/M army of safeguarding the interest of South Sudan as a whole was severely compromised by tribal, insecure and corrupt leaders, who recruited a presidential protection unit, known as Tiger Battalion, based on personal loyalties. Therefore, by 2013, when some of those leaders felt their selfish interests were threatened, they unleashed the furore of the Tiger Battalion. Not surprisingly, the Tigers started fighting among themselves, and eventually, the fight engulfed the entire country as those tribal, insecure and corrupt leaders began to mobilize their entire tribes behind their selfish cause. So, the quarrels started among the leaders, spilling into Tigers fighting each other, to the tribes butchering each other, and eventually to engulfing the entire country current crisis.

So, the reasons for maintaining separate army units is clear as history shows. In the case of colonial armies, they were to protect the specific interest of colonial powers. The Anyanya I, separate army units, were to safeguard the interest of South Sudanese within the era of 1972, peace accord. As for the SPLA/M, it was to guarantee the independence of South Sudan, base on 2005, peace accord. And for the io militias, it is to protect the positions of their leaders in the next transitional government, hence, their instance on personal protection, in other words, the need for bodyguards. This calls by io for a total security overhaul as a prerequisite for the formation of the transitional government of national unity is just a gimmick and smock screen. All reasonable people, including IO leaders, are aware that a total overhaul of the security sector is a process that requires ample time and tremendous resources. A total security reform certainly can never happen in the era of Riek Machar who overly relies on tribal militias for security.

Hence, since the real problem is masked generally under security arrangements happens to be known as personal security protection guards for the io leaders during the transitional period, then the solutions should be narrowed into that as opposed to calling ambitiously for total security reforms, within specific time frame as a prerequisite for formation of transitional government of national unity. First, it is understandable that Riek Machar witnessed his personal bodyguards decimated throughout the war, particularly in 2016, in J1. So, he is in a dire need to replenish the loses. Screening, training and deploying of new ’loyal’ (emphasis here is on ’loyal’, given the prevailing circumstances) guards will take awful time and huge resources, hence, it is not surprising that Riek Machar is demanding for more time prior to the formation of the government to at least get the bodyguards ready. Therefore, reaching compromise on the extension of dateline here, is a solution, albeit, with drawbacks, such as public losing momentum on confident for peace and stability and it does not rule out a déjà vu or a repeat of breakout of conflict in future by training and maintaining selected exclusive security guards, whom their loyalties are for individual leaders. Nevertheless, such breakout of the conflict can be averted by embedding a neutral third party forces among those guards as suggested by International Crisis Group. The second option is to have a third party personal security guards as suggested by the report of Crisis Group. However, this will clearly infringe against the independence and sovereignty of South Sudan. Besides, it will also take time to sort out the logistics and the agreements of the compositions of such a body. The third option, is for Riek Machar and his scared io leaders to just man or woman up, by showing up in Juba and bank their personal security protection on the people they believe to be fighting for. Those people are supposedly all over the place across South Sudan. There are so many talks of lack of political will among South Sudanese leaders to implement the peace accord. Well, that will mean having confidence in the people you believe fighting for in guarantying your personal safety.

On Number and Delineation of States Boundaries

Since the formation of administrative states and the delineations of their boundaries are processes that required time, it should not be tight as a prerequisite to a single day event, prior to the formation of the government on November 12, 2019, but rather deferred to later dates for possible execution, preferably subjecting it through referendum. Since Riek Machar is claiming he is fighting for the people and the people feel that this is one area they feel to be part of making a decision on, then why not allow it for people to decide. After all, the aim of Riek Machar rebellion was not to fix the number of states and draw their boundaries.

Rewards and Punishments

The international community, particularly the UN, the IGAD plus, the troika, and the neighbouring countries all signed to guaranteeing peace, stability and prosperity in South Sudan. Besides providing necessary assistance, they also play the role of rewarding and punishing the parties to the agreement on good and against bad acts. Thus far, the parties to the agreement are praised for adhering to the longest cessation of hostilities, improving much of the security situation in the country. Nevertheless, despite the commitments of those parties to the cessation of hostilities, they never saw any rewards for such good acts from the international community. In its part, the government also pledged a hundred millions dollars for peace implementation, though the government is struggling to pay off this sum among its other competing priorities, there has never been reciprocity from international and other partners to finance the peace implementation. The government other positive peace gestures such as willingness to negotiate and compromises, release of political detainees, general amnesty, etc. all are never rewarded. Instead, the country is being imposed with sanctions, threatened with more sanctions, and being boycotted as a dangerous place that foreigners should never invest in or travel to. IGAD plus, which is specifically tasked with resolving the issue of numbers and delineations of states through Internal Boundary Commission (IBC) has thus miserably failed in this task, which led to the current impasse. And yet, the IGAD plus is acting as if it is not a party to this colossal failure. On the good side, the IGAD is doing fairly well in the entire mediation process, and exerting its power of punishments very well, such as dramatic reductions in violence and holding of cessation hostilities is due in large part to IGAD controlled detention of Riek Machar, who is triggered happy to unleash his armed militias erratically. Now that Riek Machar is threatening of a return to war, perhaps it is a right time that he is ought to be rereminded that he is being controlled and under detention.

In Conclusion

Yes, "South Sudan is not yet ready for a unity government" as concludes by International Crisis Group report and perhaps believed by many others. This is only true if the main focus centred in the demand that total overhaul of the security sector is never yet achieved as ambitiously argued by io and the agreement on number and boundaries of the states is the most important prerequisite for the formation of government as called for by io. However, if the focus is narrowed to the issue of personal protection of io leaders in their positions during the transitional period, then the formation of government is possible, even before November 12, 2019. The justification for personal protections for io leaders in their positions is that in order to enable them to implement other provisions in the agreement while being secured. Otherwise, staying out, guaranteeing them a chance to missing out from implementing reforms they are rhetorically advocating for. Real reform within security sector is needed, but that is not expected to take place in the era of those of Riek Machar over-reliance on tribal militias. Of course, the prospect of io, opting out from the formation of the government and reigniting of the war is very possible. But, this will mean further disintegration within io camp than it already is and lead to its final defeat. So, io stands to lose big time through this gambles Riek Machar is engaged in.