Opinion | Forcing agreements and ignoring reservations
A South Sudanese gentleman asked me during my presentation on May 22, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, about the prospects for peace in South Sudan. Given that the two principal warring parties had just signed the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCISS), there was a considerable anxiety marked by thin hope about the possibility of peace being realized after nearly two years of bloodshed, political confusion and tribal division.
While I didn’t come out as predicting what would happen to the agreement, I sounded very pessimistic about a successful implementation of ARCISS. Since it was clear from the outset that the two leaders were forced into signing the agreement and Riek Machar was hesitant about coming to Juba, it was easy to see that the agreement would not hold.
First, President Salva Kiir refused to sign the agreement when it was signed by the opposition leader, Dr. Riek Machar, on August 17, 2015. President Kiir ‘wanted time’ to consult with his people in Juba. However, the international pressure and the threats of sanctions from the United States, the United Nations, and the Inter-government Authority on Development (IGAD) forced president Kiir to sign the agreement about a week later in Juba on August 26, 2015. As he signed, the president cited ‘serious reservations’ about the agreement. The fact that the two leaders signed the agreement on two different days and in two different countries with one leader citing ‘reservations’, should have called for a somber reconsideration against rushing to implement the agreement.
However, the peace partners and the mediators glossed over these issues as if these pertinent issues would magically disappear without being addressed. Bold writings were on the wall. When President Kiir refused to sign the agreement on August 17th, Seyyoum Mesfin, then the chief IGAD mediator said that ‘I hope that President Kiir will sign. There is no reason why he requested time. We call on President Kiir to reconsider his position so that they can sign and we can go ahead.’ Instead of addressing Kiir’s reservations as the mediator in order to assuage the feeling of discontent, IGAD was more interested in the ‘signature’ than the actual conditions necessary for a long-lasting peace in South Sudan.
When President Kiir finally signed the agreement on August 26th in Juba and cited reservations, the United States, which is one of the key partners in the peace negotiations and also one of the funders, said that it didn’t ‘recognize any reservations’ from President Kiir. The agreement was therefore signed under duress and obvious discontent so its implementation would limp under the same nervous conditions.
While no agreement can be completely free of ‘reservations’, the way in which the mediators dismissed officially expressed grievances and hesitations is a cause for concern. Essentially, the warring parties were expected to embrace the agreement under unfavorable, yet obviously belligerent conditions. In other words, President Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar had not voluntarily signed the agreement. Since the mediators knew the intransigence of the two leaders and their past disagreements, it seems the mediators were more interested in covering up their failure to make the two leaders regard the agreement as a necessary compromise. Forcing the signatories to sign under uncertain circumstances, claiming victory and then blaming any failure on the warring parties seemed to have been the interest of the mediators and the peace partners. While this sounds like an unfair accusation, the conditions of the mediation at the time warrant this conclusion.
Undoubtedly, the costly outbreak of fighting in July of 2016 after Machar went to Juba in April 2016 to implement the ARCISS was a consequent of a forced agreement.
Following the July 2016 outbreak of violence that killed more than 200 people in July, there was an outrage. However, the outrage expressed by the mediators and peace partners was rather dishonest. If they didn’t see the signs that the agreement would potentially fail, then the mediation process was unaccountable and seriously flawed. And if they knew it would potentially fail but just put their hope in its magical success then there is a lot to be asked about the ethical status of IGAD as the peace mediator.
But that is in the past and someone might say that we can’t cry over spilled milk. Admittedly, the most pressing and pertinent issue now is: what have we learned? As the world and South Sudanese wait for the implementation of the Revitalized-ARCISS, there is again much anxiety about what is going to happen in November. Since the R-ARCISS travelled from Addis Ababa to Nairobi only to end up being signed in Khartoum under the guidance of the former Sudanese President, Omer El Beshir and postponed again from May this year to November, it is understandable for one to be skeptical.
Mediation and coercion
Obviously, the chief aim of the mediators is to create an enabling atmosphere so that the warrying parties would find themselves comfortable to negotiate in good faith and make concessions when necessary. Unfortunately, this conducive atmosphere became rather a coercive one: sign or face sanctions. Going by effective mediation processes, the August 17, 2015 agreement was forced not mediated. Why did peace mediation become coercion? Was this coercive agreement a diplomatic experiment in South Sudan or was it a mediation of an agreement between two warring parties all of whom respect was not necessary? The diplomatic stick and carrot policy was inappropriate given the then precariousness of the South Sudanese situation.
While the onus was on the South Sudanese leaders to bring peace to the people of South Sudan, the mediators and the peace partners must acknowledge their role in the agreement failure to avoid repeating past mistakes.
Since the formation of the unity government has been moved to November at the request of the opposition leader, Dr. Riek Machar, it is now imperative that the mediators be very vigilant. It was a good sign that President Kiir, after first objecting to the extension of the formation of the government of national unity for another six months from May to November, decided to compromise.
Dr. Riek Machar wanted this extension for security reasons. ‘So we need to establish adequate security from the two forces,’ Dr. Machar said in April, ‘so that our people can have confidence that this agreement will hold.’ Machar’s security concerns are understandable given what government’s spokesperson, Michael Makuei, said in June last year: “Machar cannot be part of government. We have had enough of him.”
So, the way R-ARCISS is limping now needs the mediators and all the peace parties to be very vigilant to avoid repeating the atrocious events of July 2016. Paying attention to areas of discontent in order to help the two leaders come to a situation where they can meet without mediators is quintessential to the success of R-ARCISS. Since the extension of the formation of the agreement, the leaders are yet to meet.
IGAD, the UN, the United States and the AU, should ensure that areas of concerns are not dismissed the way they were dismissed in 2015 and 2016. South Sudanese live and the future of the country hangs on the successful implementation of R-ARCISS.
Kuir ë Garang is a political commentator, independent author and poet. He is currently a PhD Student at York University in Toronto, Ontario.
The views expressed in ‘opinion’ articles published by Radio Tamazuj are solely those of the writer. The veracity of any claims made are the responsibility of the author, not Radio Tamazuj.