3 Aug 2020


“African Solutions to African Problems”?

"Some Thoughts on the IGAD Peace Process for South Sudan"


By Phillip Winter


The current IGAD-led process to bring peace to South Sudan is adjourned; the parties have spent six months wrangling and have not properly honoured their commitment to a ceasefire and negotiation.  The longer the process is stalled, the more public security in South Sudan deteriorates and the less control the government has. As in the period from 1989 to 2005, the international community is obliged once more to try to protect the population from the humanitarian consequences of state failure.


The IGAD process was begun in haste, for good reason, since the situation was dire, but it suffers from some structural problems:

It is a mediation, not a facilitation, and has tried to force antagonists to adopt positions they did not devise. This reduces the likelihood that they will honour any undertakings.

 Whilst there is advantage in having a regional body broker talks on its own turf, each member of IGAD has its own interests. Thus Uganda sent troops to protect a neighbouring government and Sudan too publicly supported Salva Kiir. Many nonetheless believe Sudan is also assisting the rebellion, backing both horses as it were, and would deal with Riek Machar if it concluded Salva’s government had become too weak to protect its oil income. Ethiopia and Kenya are both partners and rivals while General Sumbeiywo, who chaired IGAD’s CPA process, is now subordinate to an Ethiopian diplomat, Seyoum Mesfin. Division amongst interested parties reduces leverage, credibility and the chances of success.

iii) The May 9th Agreement is the one visible “roadmap” or negotiating framework. It is insufficiently detailed. By contrast, the DRC peace negotiations and transitional process, between 1999 and 2006, were based on the Lusaka Accord, which was also a ceasefire agreement with provision for a national political dialogue, military monitoring, a government of transition, elections and a new political dispensation. Crucially, the Accord also specified how the national dialogue was to be structured and who was to be represented there. The parties agreed on a facilitator, with the help of the AU and, after three years, the process was concluded when the transitional government took office in 2003.

iv)   The lack of international leverage on the parties is striking, particularly when China, Malaysia and India have substantial oilfield investments at risk. The US and Troika can of course twist the diplomatic arm of the disputants and the US has begun a sanctions process, but it is regional sanctions, were they imposed, that would be most likely to work on the leadership of each side, since the region is probably where most leaders hold most of their assets and have interests that could be targeted. The only leverage with any chance of success is the combined efforts of all the interested nations.

When a Process Falters

At a comparable point in the DRC process in 2002, the EU and USA encouraged the government and MLC rebels to sign a bilateral agreement in the expectation that the RCD rebels would be forced to follow. They did not, and the whole process had to be brought back on the rails by a new stratagem. The then UNSG, Kofi Annan invited all interested parties, except for the Congolese, to an “informal consultation” in New York, at which the US government representative, one Charlie Snyder, came close to apologizing for supporting this failed initiative and urged the international community to “sing from the same song sheet” – i.e. adopt a common position on the way forward and leave the parties no room to wriggle out of their commitments.

The Congolese were outraged at not being invited to the meeting, but they got the message. Subsequently, with the help of Mustapha Niasse, Haile Menkerios , Thabo Mbeki and his team, this approach got the process back on the Lusaka track. The result was a final cessation of hostilities, a transitional government, credible elections and peace in eight out of eleven provinces. The remaining three in the eastern DRC proved beyond the capacity of the new government to stabilize (the Kivus and Oriental Province.) The UN could consider convening a similar informal meeting.

It is unlikely that IGAD’s role can be terminated or that the process will be allowed to collapse, but it may have to be reinforced.  For example a figure from outside the region, such as Cyril Ramaphosa, who is already involved through the ANC, could be brought in to chair a reinvigorated process, retaining the three current envoys as advisors. Additionally, the Troika could encourage China to form a new group of backers, a quartet. This Quartet, the AU and the region would also make up whatever oversight body any eventual agreement requires.

 Can This Process Work ?

In the case of South Sudan today, it is possible to discern the outlines of a way forward, troubled as the process is. Whilst the President, Salva Kiir, however compromised, is the elected president, his government reaches the end of its term in April 2015. Were he promised from that point on that he would benefit from a bodyguard, pension and secure retirement in Bahr el Ghazal, to be guaranteed by the AU, IGAD, and a Quartet, Salva Kiir might be persuaded to support negotiation of a transitional government before that date and then stand down on the expiry of his mandate.

Riek Machar, whose goal is clearly the presidency, has already said that he would not wish to be part of a government of transition, presumably calculating that it may fail and he would anyway need to build an electoral support base with his new opposition movement. He may also believe that, in case IGAD fails, the military option is his best chance of becoming president. Should he wish to adopt such a course, the AU, IGAD and Quartet together might be able to dissuade him.

If the two leaders can thus be put aside, the goal of the mediators would then be to use the time before April 2015 to devise with the parties and install a government of technocrats who would oversee a constitutional debate, some measure of national reconciliation and the preparation of elections in, say, 2018. Ideally any former politician would be entitled to stand in an eventual election but not to serve in the transitional government.

The only mechanism available for ensuring some credibility in such an election is the UN mission. The UN mission supported the successful referendum process in South Sudan in 2010-11, with much help from the US and the EU. MONUC performed a similar role in the DRC in 2006, when the US and EU also funded the process and the mission devoted considerable effort to making sure it was credible. If such support can succeed in the DRC and South Sudan, then it can be surely be repeated in South Sudan.

It is rumoured that the USA  favours Pagan Amum as the leader of a transitional government. Whether this is or is not true, obvious support from a foreign power is in the end detrimental to the recipient. It would be better to let Pagan Amum take his chances in future elections and persuade the parties to agree on public figures without presidential ambition or a compromised past record as the leaders of the transition –Abel Alier, Bona Malwal and Francis Deng for example, with younger figures from the churches and civil society to back them up.

The objective would be to give the people of South Sudan a realistic chance of changing their leadership by democratic means. To have any chance of success, the transitional government would need to be overseen by a body such as CIAT (Comite pour l’Appui a la Transition) in the DRC, from 2003-6. This was a regular meeting of the UNSC P3 ambassadors, plus Belgium, South Africa, Angola and other interested nations, with the government. It was designed to review progress and hold all parties to what they had agreed. When it faltered, Thabo Mbeki, then still President of South Africa, intervened. Today, a putative Quartet for South Sudan, with the assent of the UNSC, AU and IGAD, would have to form some such mechanism of oversight and support.

Lastly, the transitional government, with the help of the AU and others, would need to devise a long term process of national reconciliation based upon a documenting of atrocities, if possible a listing of the dead, an acknowledgement of responsibility and, probably, the creation of hybrid courts as well.  Should either Salva Kiir or Riek Machar be indicted by a hybrid court, they would have to take their chances, but ultimate impunity should not be offered by the mediators as an inducement to them to support a negotiated transition.

Any of the suggestions above may prove impossible to negotiate or to set up. They are nonetheless offered, based in part on a comparable experience in the DRC, as a contribution to the discussion of ways in which South Sudan can be kept from further collapse.

PEW, 7-7-14


Posted in: Opinions
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