Do Riek’s Rebels Have Incentive To Sign A Peace Agreement?

"If asset freeze is instituted, the logic goes that those around Kiir would get more serious about listening to the West and its IGAD allies, and sign peace. Riek is aware that those in his camp may be less affected by asset freeze than those around Kiir"

By Joseph de Tuombuk*

As the U.S. President, Barack Obama, wraps his visit to East Africa, there’s a renewed sense to inject much-needed impetus into the flagging peace talks aimed at resolving South Sudan conflict. It appears that the U.S. is focusing its effort on allies of the government and rebels, Uganda and Sudan, respectively, to drive home the message that maybe it is time to sign the peace deal, or else we will withdraw support. Uganda may prevail upon President Salva Kiir to sign what may a slightly favorable peace than putting meager resources on a prohibitively expensive effort to outright winning of the war. Since the West has effectively muzzled Kiir’s ability to actively engage in offensives, the chances of Kiir defeating insurgency are dwindling. So, it may not take much to convince Kiir to take what is on the table and postpone the fight until election time. But does Riek Machar have any incentive to sign any peace agreement any time soon?

While Uganda may convince its Juba ally to sign peace, Sudan sees no utility in convincing rebels to sign a peace. It may actually encourage them to continue fighting in the hope that with rebels controlling South Sudan, the odds of Khartoum defeating its own myriad of insurgencies may improve. Khartoum would also like to get something in return for throwing the Riek’s insurgency under the bus. If the deal is attractive enough, Khartoum may withdraw support, which in turn will spell the death to rebellion. For now, Khartoum has no incentives to convince Riek that it is high time to sign peace. The price has to be right and Khartoum as a long list of things Obama ought to offer to change its behavior (lifting of sanctions, removable from list of terror sponsors, dropping the pesky ICC indictment that has caused President Bashir some sleepless nights on clandestine foreign trips and the list goes on).

Moreover, Riek believes that the longer the war drag out, the higher the chance of him actually winning this thing. In the minds of the rebels, fighting war grows ever more expensive for the government than it does for rebels. Rebels don’t need to spend money on salaries and running of the country. All their resources are directed towards a war effort. Meanwhile, government’s resources are constrained by the need to actually provide services to people and to govern. If you do the math, Riek have worked it out that in 4-5 years they could triumphantly enter Juba as victors.

From a strategic perspective, it would appear that Riek’s best option is to continue talking while maximizing battlefield gains. This is the preferred option for many of rebel field commanders, and they are making it known to rebellion’s political leadership that signing peace is a worthless idea. They are convinced that making a deal with Kiir’s government does a disservice to ‘thousands’ massacred in Juba. Riek was able to rally a section of Nuer tribe to his cause by alleging that Kiir’s security forces have committed ‘genocide’ against the Nuer people. Therefore, the rebels intend to dedicate all efforts on reaching a deal –if any -- that removes Kiir from the office, or preferably results in defeat of the SPLA forces. The latter is an unattainable objective and the former is something that IGAD-led peace process is reluctant to pursue.

Riek’s insurgency is also betting that the longer the conflict continues to play out, the less patient the world would become with both sides. It’s already becoming increasingly possible that the West and their IGAD stooges may institute a global arms embargo against the both sides to the conflict. An arms embargo would be advantageous to the rebels and detrimental to the government. Rebels would continue to receive ample arms from Khartoum, while Juba will be left struggling to replenish its stock. Again, if this were to happen, the rebels would find it even harder to reach a peace deal. Think about it, if the arms embargo results in weakening of the SPLA forces positions across theaters of operation, the rebels will be hard to convinced on the need to sign a peace deal even if Juba makes unpleasant compromises to rescue itself. Juba could offer the house to rebels, but they may demand the clothes on the back of Mr. Kiir. This is why an arm embargo is actually counterproductive.

It’s also something that Uganda would not allow to happen because the thought of Juba government collapsing would spell geopolitical catastrophe for Museveni. A triumphant Riek and Bashir could simply convince Mr. Joe Kony to move from Kafia Kingi enclave to Nimule with his band of terrorists. The economic costs to Uganda would be astronomical and Museveni’s days in office would be very finite. So, Uganda would do everything possible to make sure that the SPLA forces are equipped.

Riek knows that, as its patience run low, the international community would soon expand sanction list to include influential personalities within Kiir’s government and possibly on the rebel’s side for balance. With the help of Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia, the West would be able to identify wealth owned by some members of Kiir’s government. If asset freeze is instituted, the logic goes that those around Kiir would get more serious about listening to the West and its IGAD allies, and sign peace. Riek is aware that those in his camp may be less affected by asset freeze than those around Kiir. Under such conditions, Riek may actually improve his bargaining position and extract more concession from Kiir and Co.  This analysis would suggest that Riek would be less inclined to sign peace as punitive steps escalate as they are actually advantageous to Riek’s insurgency.

Based on foregoing analysis, it would appear that Riek has would have no incentive to sign peace and is more inclined to be intransigent as he seek to maximize concessions at the negotiating table, and work to maximize battlefield gains. In a strange way, the West and their allies may actually be prolonging the conflict and unwittingly rewarding a bad behaviour. It’s hard to fathom that Riek has not made this strategic analysis.


*The author is a South Sudanese analyst and commentator. He can be reached at He is solely responsible for opinions in this article.

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