Why South Sudan’s peace process is complicated

As you know, South Sudan is a country that was part of Sudan and came to being through disagreement between the Sudanese which led to a civil war between the South and the rest of Sudan. My understanding is that, at the beginning, this thing was not about secession; it was a civil war which ended in secession. When the war raged on, the sympathy of most Africans went to the underdogs, the South Sudanese, and when the agreement was reached for peaceful separation between Sudan and South Sudan, we all heaved a sigh of relief.

We were not only excited about the new nation but also about Sudan itself because it has done the right thing to let them go if they wanted to go.

As President Bashir once told me, they considered the South Sudanese part of Sudan in the first place and that he let them go because this is what they wanted, and he will no longer stand on their way but he still consider them Sudan’s citizens.

In the first place, how did you get involved as a peace maker? 

You see, when the civil war broke out, and it was vicious and atrocities were committed, it was most regrettable. We applauded the South Sudan neighbours, like Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya for having mediated in the peace which ended up in a seven-chapter agreement for the country to go forward. So when I was asked by the presidents of those four countries, to chair a commission which will oversee the implementation of the seven-chapter agreement, I was also excited to participate in the peace making process, particularly in a nation which has tremendous potentials. It’s a good thing.

But how prepared were you for this highly demanding role?

I worked as a civil servant for 20 years and ended up being a politician also for 20 years. But my experience is mostly in development economics and nowadays I’m more of development practitioner than development economist.

A country like South Sudan is a wonderful opportunity to do what I think I know best.

Are you satisfied with the pace of peace making in South Sudan given the supports from international community?

Unfortunately, the peace making in South Sudan is going very slowly. I have had to be a mediator by default because from day one, the parties refused to do what was agreed. At every stage I had to come up with compromises, sometimes I will seek authorisation from Inter-governmental Authority on Development, (IGAD) to sell comprise like the question of state creation, it is a violation of the agreement. It may be a good thing in itself but in terms of the agreement, it is a blatant violation.

What I had to do was to go back to IGAD and to the parties themselves with the compromise that the government should be persuaded not to operationalise the unity state until the government definition of the unity had been formed and he, the president, should appoint an inclusive commission to look at the appropriate number of states and related boundaries. That was accepted by both IGAD, in the first place, and the parties.

When we were reconstituting the cabinet and the national assembly, again my commission, which consists of both South Sudanese and the international community and IGAD, supervised the secretariat that interviewed the participants, those who claimed they are entitled to be members in terms of the agreement. Once we verified, then we submitted their names to the National Constitution Amendment Committee chairperson who will then pass them to the president.

But the government rejected the first chairperson who was an eminent constitutional lawyer, and it took time for us to find the second one. Ultimately, they accepted him, and by this time, he himself had lost interest. Finally, we did find a suitable person who was accepted and has done a good work in the short time that he has been working, and the constitution making process has been completed. A draft constitution has been submitted to the government. There is progress, but it is almost two years behind because this constitutional process was supposed to have preceded all the other things we did. In fact, why that happened was that we, pursuant to the provisions of the agreement, would identify which people are eligible.

With so many factions and diversity of interests, was it really easy identifying the eligible candidates?

We consulted with various parties who are entitled to some cabinet positions and identified them and submitted their names to the president. That was how the council of ministers was formed. The same process has been with the reconstitution of the National Assembly.

Nevertheless, we made some progress because the cabinet and the national assembly were reconstituted. And initially, the leader of opposition and other oppositions came back and the government of national unity was formed. And we are now pushing ahead.

It will appear Juba is now peaceful to the credit of all stakeholders? 

But unfortunately we suffered some regress when, in July, new fighting took place in Juba and some people were killed and many of the opposition fled and we have been trying to repair that. Lots of complications have emerged, the opposition has fragmented. The main opposition has split into two, other small groups have emerged? There have been deflections from both the government and the opposition. New militias have also emerged, and we are dealing with that, which unfortunately has complicated the peace process.

We have recommended to IGAD and they have agreed to revitalise the agreement. None of the parties are too keen about the revitalisation. Different people of course have their own ideas of what should happen, but at least they agreed that something is being looted once more.

It is quite a challenge, but initially, everybody was skeptical but once the consultation began under the special envoy that have been appointed to do this particular thing with our professional support, very interesting ideas have been generated and many people have come forward to say what they feel and is being interesting. But it is not going to be easy. Some harm has been done; so many people have been killed, including some of those that worked with me since I came to South Sudan. It is a great pity. I will hope that the South Sudanese leaders will compromise. In my statement, I always call for absolute overriding necessity for compromise; for them to compromise and accommodate one another politically rather than defeat each other militarily. That is very disruptive, and not what the people of South Sudan are looking up to. Even they, the leaders, are not looking up for that. But of course they blamed all the wrongdoing on each other.

Some people have called for military intervention by the  AU as a way of disarming the local militias. Will that be the solution?

Not at present time because there will be more bloodshed. Couple of months ago, I went on a campaign asking IGAD authorities to speak with one voice for the South Sudanese leaders to listen to them. Then the next thing is they should do something about revitalisation of the agreement. I want the IGAD, the Security Council of the African Union and that of the United Nations, to speak with one voice on the South Sudanese issue.

If you say they should speak with one voice, what do you expect them to say?

About the need for peace, the moral authority of IGAD, the AU and the UN should be enough because, for instance, many people are refugees in neighbouring countries, plus the approximately two million internally displaced, some of them living in what I called the protection of civilian centres. That is not what they aspire for as a people and the leaders themselves. Right now, as I’m speaking, the parties are still issuing statements against one another.

There were concerns that some of the IGAD member states are actually…

Well, actually there is that perception, but it may be right or wrong to a lesser or greater extent. As I said, I just prefer to put it in the positive way, that they should speak with one voice to stabilise the situation in South Sudan. They should not loose their patience. I hope the South Sudanese leaders will realise that the international community would not be patient with them forever. There are a number of positive options that can be taken, but much will depend on the South Sudanese leaders themselves.

Given the level of destruction and devastation we have seen in South Sudan, what message is that sending to those who are agitating for secession in other parts of Africa, especially in Nigeria and the Cameroon?

It is obvious that violence does not solve the problem in Africa. Where violence has taken place elsewhere in Africa, development of the country has retarded, the aspirations of the people have been betrayed. Africans have not been seen in positive light by the rest of the world whenever this kind of thing happens. Violence does not solve the problem. If there are grievances, there should be dialogue. Violence never seems to be the optimal solution.

What’s your message to political leadership in the continent?

I hope we are learning by our mistakes as Africans. I hope we would not get tired of talking. We should realise that we can resolve our problems by sitting together. And when one is in power, he should realise that any action not in the interest of the country as a whole is a betrayal of the promises he makes as a leader.