Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1261, (3 - 9 September 2015)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1261, (3 - 9 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Illusory peace in South Sudan

Juba is on the defensive as tough decisions loom on the implementation of yet another elusive South Sudanese peace deal, writes Gamal Nkrumah

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Al-Ahram Weekly

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir signed a peace deal with his adversaries last Wednesday. Yet, he does not seem serious about implementing its stipulations, and the reticence of the world powers is no longer sustainable in the face of the crisis in Africa’s newest sovereign nation.

The international silence about the humanitarian disaster in South Sudan must end because the raging civil war in the country risks its becoming permanently warped before the true implementation of territorial integrity, national sovereignty and democracy gets under way.

Any efforts to intimidate South Sudan’s leaders, government and opposition from making peace amount to bully-boy tactics that have no place in a truely sovereign South Sudan.    

The United States is a key player in South Sudan. Why is this war-torn nation a foreign policy priority in Washington? Even without the red carpet treatment South Sudan stands accused of rolling out for China, Juba is courting Washington. South Sudan, after all, is an American creation.

The New York Times recently stated categorically that Washington “carved [the country] out of war-torn Sudan in a referendum largely orchestrated by the United States, its fragile institutions nurtured with billions of dollars in American aid.”

The politicians in Washington should speak up if they are to head off local lackeys instigating war in South Sudan. They need to answer the question of why the fighting on a tribal basis in South Sudan’s oil-rich Unity State intensified this week, even though a peace deal was signed on 17 August in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to end the 20-month long civil war in South Sudan.

The South Sudanese leaders lobbying for peace have a duty to make their voices heard. The focus on ethnic rivalries between the two largest ethnic groups in South Sudan, the Dinka and the Nuer, has not been counter-balanced by arguments over the rationale behind creating a new so-called nation that was in effect still-born.

Why have three successive US presidents, including President Barack Obama, been obsessive about South Sudan? Oil is the key, plus the rivalry between Washington and Beijing over control of the oil resources of South Sudan.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO), headed by Reik Machar, the former vice-president of South Sudan, has accused Kiir of genocide. And the war in Darfur has been intricately intertwined with the civil war in South Sudan.

“We question the political will of the government,” Machar stated this week in Addis Ababa, where the peace deal was signed. It should be noted that Ethiopia, too, is another key player in the South Sudanese conflict and is mediating between the various warring factions.

The international community must summon up the will to handle the humanitarian catastrophe facing the 2.2 million people that have been displaced because of the civil war in South Sudan. World leaders and the African Union should skewer the notion that South Sudan can continue to enjoy the right to be a sovereign state while exempting itself from international rules and basic human rights.

In short, South Sudanese politics is hampered by what seems like a conspiracy of silence on the part of the international community, and in particular by Africa.

Christian evangelists run South Sudan, a failed state that has been embroiled in civil war since its independence from Sudan in 2011. Machar inked the peace deal that is supposed to put an end to the conflict, but Kiir was reluctant to sign it until last Wednesday in part because it calls for demilitarising the capital Juba.  

“Is the government united behind the peace agreement, or do they have divisions,” Machar asked. The United Nations has also threatened to impose travel and financial sanctions against those suspected of obstructing the peace process. Commentators say the UN has been right to shine the light on those who deliberately hinder the peace process, adding that the perpetrators of systematic violence must be brought to book.

Machar on Monday accused government forces of repeatedly breaking the ceasefire. “There is danger looming that could wreck this peace agreement,” Machar said.

The failure to implement a peace deal has serious repercussions on the entire Nile Basin. The UK Royal Africa Society’s Richard Dowden has pronounced the war-torn country to be facing “the worst war in Africa at the moment.”

All this is linked together by a warp of self-interest. According to the new peace deal, Machar is expected to become first vice-president of the country. But it is difficult to envisage Machar and Kiir working together for a prosperous and peaceful South Sudan.

Some commentaries on social media refer to the “tubs of lard,” “drunkards” and “dipsomaniacs” ruling in Juba and draw attention not just to the real questions at stake in South Sudan but also to exasperation at the luxurious lifestyles of those who govern the country, one of the world’s poorest and least developed nations.  

The present writer is reminded of a final interview with the late, legendary leader of the SPLM/A John Garang in Cairo a few months before his tragic death in a plane crash. “We don’t even have a single paved road in South Sudan,” he sighed in indignation.

Garang wanted a united Sudan. He was against the very idea of a separate South Sudan, which is why many suspect that his ill-fated flight was meant to get rid of him. But today there must be reconsideration of Garang’s ideas. Why is an independent South Sudan such a drag on a united Sudan? Government by announcements from Addis Ababa is now a characteristic of South Sudanese politics.

Statements by South Sudanese politicians in the Ethiopian capital that are meant to receive favourable African and international media coverage will not do. The East African grouping the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has been instrumental in clinching the peace deal, as it had been in mediating between the two SPLM/A groups. But none of these peace deals is being achieved, even as assurances are given out that they will be.

“Of course, the IGAD-Plus peace document has not addressed all our concerns. It is, however, a bitter pill we have decided to swallow in order to end the suffering of our people,” Machar’s Press Secretary James Gatdet Dak was quoted as saying in the influential Sudan Tribune.

Ominously, he added that there were “positive and negative aspects” to the deal. He also spoke in vague terms about a “collegial decision-making process”.

The government of South Sudan, headed by Kiir, is reckless and in a state of desperation. The nascent country has many pressing development needs. The illiteracy rate is about 90 per cent, and average literacy for women is even lower.

Tragically, the drive for power, self-enrichment and economic greed by the powers that be in Juba is trumping the quest for peace and political stability in South Sudan. Peace is a prerequisite for the achievement of social goals. There should be no dwelling on chimerical announcements of hallucinatory peace deals signed in Addis Ababa, which are propaganda masquerading as news.

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