Opinion: Have the opposition's "Reservations" been addressed in the revitalised peace agreement?
Finally, the revitalisation process for the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS) drew to a close. The South Sudanese people and indeed the world at large, witnessed the signing of the peace agreement on the 12th of September 2018 under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and in the presence of the IGAD Chairman, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Dr Abiy Ahmed.
But the striking feature that emerged from the signing ceremony was that people were not all smiles. We saw how Dr Riek Machar extended his hand to shake President Kiir's hand while the latter did the same but not looking him in the face. It's reminiscent of what we saw in Khartoum at the initialling ceremony of the Peace Agreement where President Kiir refused to shake hands with Dr Riek Machar. If such an attitude could not be hidden away from the cameras on a world stage, is it realistic to expect a minimum of a healthy working relationship between the two leaders?! People still do remember President Kiir's statement that he can never work with Dr Riek Machar and that the latter can only be allowed to return to South Sudan as a citizen. Would the attitude mentioned above not reinforce the fact that Salva Kiir hasn't indeed changed his mind about working with Riek Machar?!
The South Sudanese people do not deserve leaders to fill up positions doing nothing while plotting against each other. They expect a lot of hard work from those at the helm to move the country forward. Our people want a government that would ensure the upholding of the rule of law, the provision of services, the commencement of development projects, and above all a lasting peace in the country. It's evident that such aspirations are to be put on hold in the presence of the current sort of relations between the President and his would-be First Vice President. At best, it would be more of the same if the July 2016 scenario doesn't recur.
Mixed reactions received the peace agreement both from the South Sudanese people and from the international community. From the government side, it was quite obvious how jubilant was the Information Minister, Michael Makuei Lueth, declaring that all have signed the peace agreement which was untrue. The National Salvation Front (NAS), the People's Democratic Movement (PDM), the United Democratic Republic Alliance (UDRA), Former Political Detainee (FPD) - in opposition if you will, the National Resistance Front (NRF), and the United People's Democratic Movement (UPDM) rejected the peace agreement. The reason that the Minister of Information could hardly hide his glee is that those who signed the deal have handed the government legitimacy on a silver platter. Should things go wrong, and the agreement isn't adhered to, it would continue as a legitimate government, and that would allow her to conduct elections on its own.
As for the majority of the South Sudanese people, it looks like a Deja vu of what happened in August 2015 albeit this time the reservations were from the side of the opposition. Scepticism is rife because as we speak, violence is underway in many parts of the country. It's only yesterday that the Sudan People's Liberation Movement - In Opposition (SPLM IO) Deputy Spokesperson brought to our attention the on-going fighting in the Yei area and Unity State. But on top of that, there are new factors that weren't there before complicating the whole situation. The recent deployment of the Uganda People's Defence Force (UPDF) in Equatoria and the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) in Upper Nile has introduced a new dimension to the conflict that could quickly degenerate into a regional war. The great African war (aka the African World War) of 1998 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is still vivid in the memories of many people. The notion of such a situation happening in South Sudan is not far-fetched. These forces are there to prop up Kiir's government making it almost impossible to establish any trust between it and the parties to the agreement.
The international community did send out a message of its own regarding the revitalised ARCSS. Firstly, we noticed that the Troika group of countries and the European Union (EU) did not append their signatures to the revitalised peace agreement.
Secondly, the Troika showed its scepticism concerning the deal unequivocally. In a statement following the big event, it said a significant change from the parties in the implementation of the agreement needs to be seen on the ground before it could support the deal. It also cited the repeated ceasefire violations that resulted in the recent death of civilians in Wau and the killing of 13 aid workers since the beginning of the peace talks.
Thirdly, it did cast some doubts on the implementation of the agreement in spirit and letter to the extent that it threatened to withdraw funding should nothing tangible happens. Many international personalities thought what was signed in Addis Ababa on 12/09/2018 was a caricature of a credible peace agreement. John Prendergast, Director of the Enough Project and Co-Founder of The Sentry, said I quote " Today's peace deal lacks meaningful checks and balances on a presidency that already wields immense powers, which are primarily used to loot the country's resources and deploy extreme violence against opponents".
Such are the reactions of the majority of the stakeholders in South Sudan as well as the friends and well-wishers of the South Sudanese people. Those in the opposition who chose to sign the peace agreement are now trying vainly to sell it to the populace. They are saying that they signed the peace agreement because the IGAD heads of States resolved their 4-point reservations. I do not believe in the first place that they were genuine reservations but rather a ploy to save face for abandoning SSOA's stated positions.
I have seen a document purportedly written by Dr Lam Akol and also read what he said on Radio Tamazuj. He was trying to justify their decision to sign the agreement stating that their reservations were all met. However, he was deliberately inaccurate as he said all the opposition groups have agreed to sign the peace agreement. But now we know that there is a split within his Movement, the National Democratic Movement (NDM). Likewise, SSOA appears to have split up into two groups. Yesterday evening I came across the joint statement to the people of South Sudan and the international community issued by some members of SSOA explaining their reasons for rejecting the revitalised peace agreement. The group included NAS, PDM, FPD-in opposition, NDM, and UDRA. Ambassador Emmanuel Aban signed on behalf of the NDM.
But I would like to present a counter-argument to Dr Lam's assertion that all issues were resolved. Lam Akol is presumably talking on behalf of SSOA being the person tasked with matters related to governance. It's apparent that the agreement takes care of the elites by the formation of a bloated government but not the problems facing the common man on a daily basis in South Sudan.
1. The number of States: ARCSS is based on ten states; thus it cannot be revitalised by legitimising a violation namely the 32 States. Dr Lam Akol talks of two committees one for tribal boundaries and the other for the number of States. It means that they have recognised Kiir's 32 States. Furthermore, they have accepted the use of tribal boundaries to resolve a political problem setting a precedent for creating States on that basis. Perhaps it's the first time in contemporary history that tribal boundaries would now be employed to establish what is necessarily required for good governance, efficient administration, and equitable services delivery. The move would likely open a Pandora's box that would exacerbate the conflict. For example, what would they say if every tribe in South Sudan asks for a separate State? What would be their argument to deny the smaller tribes of having their States? Then would it be realistic to have 64 States based on tribal boundaries?!
2. Quorum in the council of ministers: The government still maintains the majority with the inclusion of 6 members from the opposition. It can decide on something without the opposition and enact whatever it wants. It would also be possible for the government to use covert means to recruit allies and achieve the quorum for a cabinet meeting. Here; those members of SSOA seem to forget that Kiir and his government lack legitimacy. The solution would have been a rotational Presidency and insistence on increasing the quorum.
3. Constitution: The explanation given is that the government wanted a review of the Constitution while the oppositions demanded a Constitution-making process. The resolution is to commence a workshop on the matter that would be facilitated with a renowned international institute like the Max Planck. The Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan 2011 (TCRSS 2011 amended 2015) never required a workshop, why now?! It's a deviation from the main issues. Strangely enough, there was no mention of federalism anywhere in the statement. It makes one wonders whether these leaders have fallen prey to the delaying tactics of the government or still worse, they might have foregone federalism.
4. The issue of the guarantors on the Security Arrangement: It's untrue to say that no force can enter South Sudan without permission from the United Nation Security Council (UNSC) because of the Arms Embargo. Sudan and Uganda have sent troops into South Sudan while the Arms Embargo is in full force. I have seen a video clip showing the UPDF entering the Yei River area. Have the two countries sought UNSC permission before sending their troops into South Sudan? As far as I am aware and presumably all of you, nothing of that sort happened.
As the war rages on even during the signing of the revitalised peace agreement, the beginning of the end is not in sight. Hence, peace remains elusive in the views of the majority of the people of South Sudan.
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.