Elusive peace in South Sudan and the need to change course in the mediation

The conflict in the world’s newest nation, South Sudan, is approaching its second year without resolution. Seven cease fire agreements have been signed and none of them has been implemented. Since its beginning, the conflict has cost the lives of thousands of civilians and displaced nearly one in five of every South Sudanese.

The Inter-Governmental Authority for Development has taken the responsibility to mediate. Ambassador Seyoum Mesfin, a long serving foreign minister of Ethiopia and currently an Ambassador of Ethiopia to the People’s Republic of China is assigned as the chief mediator. Several initiatives were launched to help the South Sudanese conflicting parties move towards peace but none of them have showed any tangible results. This suggests the need to understand the problems within the process.

Parallel and contending processes?

The IGAD process was launched by the foreign ministers of the IGAD states (Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, and Eritrea, although Eritrea’s membership is currently suspended) at the outset of the conflict in December 2013, with the backing of the United States, United Nations and African Union. At the beginning its objective was to restore the political status quo prior to the outbreak of the civil war.

In parallel, the Arusha peace process and the ANC/EPRDF jointly launched a forum to help the SPLM address its internal problems and address the conflict problems from a reunified SPLM. All the parties engaged in the mediation publicly insist that these processes are not parallel to the official process and their objectives are tied to enhance the quality of the IGAD led mediation. But this is questionable, as the two processes frame the problem and the ways of addressing it differently.

The Arusha process frames the conflict as an internal SPLM issue and something that could be addressed once the relationships within the SPLM are straightened. Whereas IGAD addresses the conflicting parties as independent of each other, and the solution within ‘agreed sharing of power and wealth and placing appropriate security arrangement’. These varying approaches to the conflict have also produced varying results. The Arusha process, with the objective of mending SPLM internal divisions, reinstated Pagan Amum as secretary general of SPLM, while the IGAD peace process made him sign the latest August 17 accord as a representative of the Group of 13, former officials that were under the custody of President Salva Kiir. It appears the parties are shopping for conferences and processes, and are picking one anytime they see some benefit to it. This highlights the need for a strategic coordination of all efforts and the leadership capacity of the mediation to come up with such a strategy and implement it.

What the IGAD and Arusha and party processes have in common is that they deal with the South Sudanese political-military elites. They have not engaged with the broader South Sudanese populace. The mediators have rarely travelled to South Sudan, and on those few occasions, they have not ventured beyond Juba or the headquarters of the SPLA-IO.

A mediation that doesn’t have undivided political support from its political sponsors

Mediators could be communicators, formulators, and manipulators depending on the obstacles that impede direct negotiations between the conflicting parties. Mediators require undivided political support from their political sponsors, without which they turn into individual actors who solely depend on the goodwill of the conflicting parties. The political support for the IGAD mediation is supposed to come from its sponsoring governments, meaning the governments of IGAD member states.

However, it appears that there isn’t a unified interest among and between the governments of the IGAD member states. Uganda is perceived as a party to the conflict because it has sent its troops to protect the government of South Sudan and its troops are aligned to South Sudanese armed forces in their fight against the SPLM/IO. Sudan is allegedly providing logistics, weapons and bases to Mr Machar’s army. The Kenyans have commercial interests in South Sudan. Ethiopia is particularly interested in peace as its absence affects the stability of the Western Ethiopian regional states with fragile peace. There is no way for the mediation to get an undivided political support from its political sponsors when their interests are in conflict to one another and this is a complicating factor to the mediation process.

One can see, for example, the complication this creates in the process of the most recent peace mediation proposal tabled to the conflicting parties. The IGAD mediation presented a proposal to the parties and asked them to consult with their constituencies and come to Addis for 10 days direct negotiations, with a deadline to sign it on August 17, 2015. The proposal included legislative and executive power sharing both at federal and state level, among other things. The Heads of States and Governments of the IGAD member states in the middle of this process called a summit related to the upcoming negotiations on South Sudan and came with what the belligerents call the ‘Kampala Accord’ which allegedly revised the already tabled peace proposal, scrapping the state level executive and legislative power sharing part of the agreement. When the representatives of the conflicting parties came for the final negotiation they received a revised proposal. Salva Kiir’s chief negotiator complained that it did not reflect the spirit and agreements of the Kampala Accord, and the SPLM/IO argued that it reneged on previous proposal and confused the process.

My intention here is not to recount the details of the ups and downs of the mediation, but to indicate the type of problems mediation faces when the interests of its political sponsors are divided.

This brings me to question on whether continuing the process under the IGAD mediation is to the benefit of peace. The mediators themselves are proving to be parties to the conflict, and unable to act in a consistent and impartial manner. These problems will be multiplied because implementing an agreement is a much more complicated task when compared to signing it.


3 thoughts on “Elusive peace in South Sudan and the need to change course in the mediation

  • September 3, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    There is no evidence that the Sudan is providing “logistics ,weapons and bases”for Machar.The Sudan has declared support for the elected and recognised government in Juba led by President Kiir and has never wavered.
    An African process is best .Dr Mahmood Mamdani has shown how the AU force in Darfur was starved of funds and helicopters in order to ensure AU failure.Both warring sides have
    now signed the IGAD -brokered agreement.A good beginning despite the expected breaches.With patience and with an added political dimension it could succeed.The conflict is not only military.

  • September 3, 2015 at 6:15 pm

    Dear Khalid,

    Thank you very much for your comments on this issue. I can’t agree more as to the political nature of the South Sudanese problem. It actually worries me on whether continued threat for more sanctions and additional military deployment to secure Juba and other demilitarized zones could accelerate the coming of a lasting peace in South Sudan. I am not sure if UNAMID has failed and so much because of lack of helicopters and funds if it is true. But I can’t agree more for the need of an African led process. I am sure you will agree with me that the IGAD led process is not the only alternative for an African led process. I am simply questioning the effectiveness of a mediation without a solid political support of its political sponsors. The least controversial issue is that Ugandan soldiers are on the side of Kiir’s forces in the name of protecting vital state infrastructure. I think you agree on the presence of this allegation on Sudan for supporting Machar’s forces as you are asking me for evidence. I am only recognizing the presence of the allegation and providing evidence will be for those with proper tools and mechanisms to either refute it or substantiate it. But, if Sudan has declared and practiced a firm support to Salva Kiir, as you stated it, then it becomes difficult to consider it for a mediator, as the elementary requirement for a mediator is being neutral regarding the conflicting parties. I am only doubting whether such political disposition will enable to effectively mediate the parties through the implementation of the agreement. I will definitely be pleasantly surprised if and when the ongoing process, without significant overhaul, will help bring an effective implementation for a complex agreement.
    Mulugeta Gebrehiwot

  • September 8, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    Dear Mulugeta
    To be more specific,the Sudan declared neutrality ;but explained that as an acceptance of reality it has got the SSudan government ambassador and his staff and has got several layers of official contacts that continue as usual between governments.Simultaneously ,as a mediator ,accepted by both sides,the Sudan received Dr Machar in Khartoum as part of the IGAD-led process.There is no contradiction in the Sudanese policy and both sides seem to accept it.
    Since both of us have written in early September,events have progressed rather positively.There is now a road map for a new government and a defusion of tension.
    There will be breaches,there may even be setbacks ;but we have an African-led process
    that stands a chance of success (partial or total)if complemented by a political process .By a political process I mean resuming what the US,UK and Norway had already started: Demobilisation,Demilitarisation and Reintegration into civilian life of the SPLA and making it an army for a state not for a political party.The revision of the Sudan Vision documents will also be necessary;with a new emphasis on development not armament .Part of this is what President Obama called for when he asked President Kiir in New York about support for rebels in the Sudan.Kiir asked Pagan Amum to answer ,maybe because Amum is the main advocate of proxy war with the Sudan in pursuit of the Sudan Vision agenda.
    Khalid AlMubarak

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