Articles (Opinion/Analysis)

Advice to US and International Community on South Sudan Peace

By Roger Alfred Yoron Modi, 28th November 2020

On Monday, the Department of State announced calling back U.S. Ambassador to South Sudan Thomas Hushek “for consultations” related to the recent failure of parties to form the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity by the extended deadline of November 12. 

“While in Washington, Ambassador Hushek will meet with senior U.S. government officials as part of the re-evaluation of the U.S. relationship with the Government of South Sudan given the latest developments,” a Press Statement from Morgan Ortagus, the Department Spokesperson partly reads.

Earlier on, two weeks ago, the Department Spokesperson issued a statement that “The United States is gravely disappointed with the failure of President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar to agree on the formation of a Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity by the established deadline of November 12,” adding that, as a result, the US will re-evaluate its relationship with the Government of South Sudan.

While the calling back of the Ambassador may add pressure to the government to fulfil its obligations under the peace agreement, the US stance that the transitional unity government should have been formed by November 12th is misleading, given that the conditions under the agreement for that unity government to be formed have not been met. The US should have been giving much pressure to the parties, especially the government, on the non-implementation of several parts of the Agreement before talking about the formation of the transitional unity government which is itself conditional on the implementation of the pre-transitional tasks that have not been implemented.

Advice to US and International Community on South Sudan Peace

If the US and the International Community are serious about sustainable peace in South Sudan, they should do the following:

1-    Ensure that the government of South Sudan and the peace parties complete the incorporation of the peace agreement into the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan as required, prior to the formation of the unity government. That is how the peace agreement shall gain legal status under South Sudan laws and that is how the unity government to be formed shall gain legitimacy. In 2016 when the then unity government was formed, the 2015 peace agreement (ARCSS) was not incorporated into the Constitution, contrary to the provisions of the deal. What followed was the removal and replacement of Dr Riek Machar, actions which started the deviation from the terms of the agreement and ultimately ended with its non-implementation until the situation required a new deal that was signed in September 2018.

2-    Pressure the government and the parties to implement the security arrangements (training, unification and deployment of unified forces) as required by the agreement, prior to forming the unity government. It is worth recalling that the issue of the non-implementation of the security arrangements under the 2015 peace agreement was among the disagreements that ultimately led to the resumption of the war in July 2016, as the then unity government was formed but unable to move forward with the implementation of the deal, the government was saying there was no presence of SPLA-IO forces in Equatoria region while the SPLM/A-IO was saying the opposite. This now means another rush into forming the unity government before implementing the current security arrangements can never be a solution. The solution is in the implementation of the pre-transitional tasks as stipulated in the Agreement. That’s where the US and the International Community should be giving pressure to ensure adherence with the terms of the Agreement, then the formation of the unity government shall follow.  

3-    Pressure the government and the parties to the agreement to reach a solution on the deadlock over the number of states and boundaries in South Sudan prior to the formation of the unity government as stipulated in the peace agreement, as this was another stalemate that led to the war in 2016.   

4-    On how the US and the International Community should handle the non-signatories of the R-ARCSS: There are two major rebel groups that are not parties to the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan R-ARCSS, the National Salvation Front (NAS) of Gen. Thomas Cirillo and South Sudan United Front/Army SSUF/A of Gen Paul Malong. SSUF/A was avoided during the peace negotiations last year, while NAS of Gen. Cirillo refused to sign the deal, citing, among others, that they want the immediate introduction of Federal System during the transitional period, as opposed to during the permanent Constitution-making towards the end of the transition that the R-ARCSS has provided for.

In a communique in November last year, however, Igad council of ministers directed the IGAD Special Envoy to South Sudan Amb. Ismail Wais “to reach out to the South Sudanese stakeholders and any warring groups” who are not signatories to the agreement, to join in its implementation.

Since then talks between the envoy and the non-signatories on one hand and the government on another, have been going on and off with no known progress. Another November 2019 Communique of the Igad Council of ministers also directed the Special Envoy to continue engaging the non-signatories to the peace agreement.

Both NAS and SSUF/A say they stand for the establishment of Federal System of governance in South Sudan, however, NAS current position for the immediate establishment of Federal System during the transitional period is not only impractical but also a contravention of NAS own manifesto which called for “crafting and adopting, through a wide consultative process, a modern, democratic, truly federal constitution with institutional checks and balances.”

Establishing a Federal system in South Sudan does not only mean enacting a Federal Constitution but also reviewing all laws of the country to conform to Federalism. And that is not possible through a deal between the leaders without involving the people and the legislature. That is why the best time for the introduction of Federalism is at peacetime during the transitional period. The Igad mediation and the International Community have to make NAS of Gen. Cirillo understand this.

Moreover, NAS of Gen Cirillo and the other non-signatories of the R-ARCSS have not publicly stated their preferred type of Federal System for South Sudan. Sources say NAS secretly presents to the mediation and others that their position is to establish a Federal System in South Sudan based on the former three regions of Bahr El-Gazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile while they keep their supporters and the general public in the dark regarding the Federalism they want. While it is true that at the level of Equatoria Conference of the ongoing National Dialogue initiated by President Kiir one of the resolutions called for a return to the former three regions, that resolution was reached from an uninformed point of view due to the lack of a free environment to discuss those issues, as well as lack of participation of several key oppositions and other stakeholders in the dialogue. Truth be said, the Country cannot afford a four-tier system of governance (National, Regional, States and Local Government). Federalism in South Sudan based on those former three regions is not a popular demand of the people of South Sudan. The people want Federalism based on states so that they rule and develop themselves and their places. Right now, the proponents of Federalism based on the former three regions are a few people from Bari Speakers (Karo) where Gen. Cirillo comes from and a few others from Zande tribe who all see themselves as the biggest tribes in Equatoria region and they would want to dominate the Federal region that they want to be established in Equatoria. There are a few uninformed or malicious others from the other tribes who support Federalism in South Sudan based on the three former regions. However, the majority who are for Federalism prefer it based on states. For example, the Equatoria region has more than thirty-five tribes, most of whom are not comfortable with Federalism that takes away their states and centralizing them under one region called Equatoria. Under South Sudan’s Transitional Constitution, the states have many powers over their affairs and what the people want is the addition of more powers and resources to the states, not creating another tier of government that shall end up taking powers from the states. The argument being presented by the proponents of a return to Equatoria region under a Federal System is that the biggest tribes of South Sudan (Dinka and Nuer) are united and dominating the Country’s leadership and for Equatoria to compete, it has to make sure that the three regions are re-established. That argument is extremely lame since the Dinka (Jieng) and Nuer are tribes while Equatoria is a region of over 35 tribes with mostly different languages, cultures and interests. Secondly, since the Dinka and Nuer are scattered in different states and they are able to unite, then the various tribes of Equatoria which are in different states can also unite and compete with the big tribes as tribes or even region if they want to. A return to the former three regions cannot be a prerequisite for unity. After all, South Sudan is so huge (619,745 km2), with at least 64 tribes and dividing it into just three Federal regions shall be unjust and problematic. 

The other category of people pushing for a return to the three former regions are former political leaders who are now mostly jobless and they want to create another tier of government as a source of quick employment (through appointments) for themselves. Those are personal interests that should be disregarded.

Another approach to ending the conflict in South Sudan, is, after including the non-signatories of the peace agreement into the pact, the mediation and all should ensure that the activities of the pre-transitional period including the training, unification and deployment of unified armed forces happen on time. Other activities to complete before the formation of the unity government is to make sure that all the parties to the agreement reached a settlement on the number and boundaries of states in South Sudan, and most importantly, the parties should complete the incorporation of the peace agreement into South Sudan Transitional Constitution as required by the deal, to give it a legal force in the Country. This shall avoid a return to war in the future once a party or some parties attempt to dishonour the agreement as happened in 2016.

Areas for Compromises with the non-signatories of the R-ARCSS

NAS of Gen. Cirillo should be persuaded to re-join the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA), a signatory to the Peace Agreement, from where Gen. Cirillo broke out, while explicit provisions should be added into the Agreement for an increase of the allocation of national revenue to the states as the other issues await all-inclusive participation of the people of South Sudan during the Permanent Constitution-making process towards the end of the transitional period. That would even be in line with NAS manifesto which wants “a wide consultative process” for the establishment of Federal System in South Sudan. Another area for compromise could be including provisions in the Agreement for sharing powers in the security sector between the national government and states, especially on the composition and leadership of the national security service, police and others.

If NAS of Gen. Cirillo refuses to re-join SSOA, the mediation should allocate for them and SSUF/A of Gen. Malong positions in the national legislature by reducing those allocated to the government, plus giving the two movements positions in the cabinet of the transitional unity government that is expected to be formed to implement the deal.

All these could be done before the 100 days extension of the formation of the unity government reached in November expires.

However, if the non-signatories continue to make unrealistic demands and it becomes impossible to incorporate them into the peace agreement, the mediation and the International Community should leave them alone since with time they will naturally grow insignificant since their demands are not popular among the people of South Sudan.