South Sudan’s Third Independence Anniversary: Re-imagining Peace?

Published in South Sudan Liberty News on July 10th, 2014

After three years of independence, South Sudan has drastically dashed the widespread hope, expectations and optimism not only of the people of South Sudan but also the well-wishers and contributors amongst the members of the international community to its independence, which was first celebrated on July 9th, 2011.

No sooner did our dream of freedom and independence came true than these same global actors who assisted in the birth of South Sudan watched as South Sudan turned into a nightmare. With the country now wallowing in blood, rampant death and abject suffering of the masses, South Sudan has exceeded even negative expectations and predictions, thanks to sorry political leadership.

We are ranked number one failed state in the world. Tens of thousands have died and sanctity of human life has been rendered meaningless in a senseless and brutal civil war of greed for political power that has left more than a million and a half displaced.

Famine looms within weeks as political and humanitarian crisis reaches a nadir, subjecting a third of South Sudan’s population to the risk of dying from hunger while yet again reducing our people to the undignified, shameful and dishonorable state of having to beg for humanitarian assistance that remains elusive to prevent further loss of life.

Water borne diseases and malnutrition are acute and in the past couple of months have claimed more than two hundred lives of mostly children in Unity State alone. Our daughters have been reduced to harlotry and prostitution as an alternative means to secure livelihood and survive.

Wanton human rights violations, rape of women, war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed and are well documented. Requiems have been written about us and South Sudan has already been dismissed as the death of a dream to create a viable state. The list of failures is endless and arguably justifies the prevailing skepticism and awe.

Indeed, the current poor political leadership has ill-advisedly demonstrated as predicted that South Sudanese cannot govern themselves. They have fulfilled the predictions that we cannot create a viable state or forge a cohesive nation in the new country. It can now be confirmed that the country’s independence has caused more evil than good, is more of a curse than a blessing and has contributed to more suffering of our people like never before. As such our future looks bleak, we remain hapless awaiting for some intervention and mercy.

In this regard and as I wrote during the second independence anniversary and the one before it, there is nothing worth celebrating in the first three years of South Sudan’s independence. This remains true today as several analysts have already poignantly opined, and will remain true as long as the status quo continue to prevail or the one before the July government reshuffle is reinstated.

Question then is: can we re-imagine peace in South Sudan under the current grim state of affairs? Or is this the death of a dream and of South Sudan?

The pessimist in me has resigned to South Sudan being the death of a dream to live as a united, viable state and a cohesive nation. It is only a matter of time before South Sudan disintegrates into independent tribal enclaves forever locked up in the logic of war, animosity and cross-border inter-communal violent carnage.

But the optimist in me believes against all the prevailing odds, dismissals and resignations that a viable and prosperous state will emerge from the present wreckage of violent mayhem and a cohesive, peaceful and just nation that will become the envy of many can still be forged in South Sudan once the present generation of leadership has passed on.

Nonetheless, in the meantime in order for current pessimism and despair to be overcome by renewed hope and optimism, we will have to re-imagine peace in South Sudan and collectively work to set its foundation, along with the foundation of justice, national reconciliation, healing and forgiveness. Re-imagining peace in South Sudan as such pertains to soberly raising and addressing new set of questions at the center of which is the question of how exactly did we get it wrong in the first place?

There are several angles to examine South Sudan’s failure, which I have articulated on many previous occasions, most notably in “Why South Sudan Liberation is Gone Awry,” and “Reloaded.” I have also extensively discussed numerous causes that brewed the current civil war in “Cry the Beloved South Sudan in its Second Independence Anniversary,” “What are they Waiting for in South Sudan?,” “the Dinka Problem in South Sudan: I & II” and in the “Absurdity of Peacebuilding in South Sudan: I, II & III,” among others.

While it is true that it takes approximately the same amount of time it took for a violent conflict to fester to redress the underlying causes of the conflict and effect lasting peace after the signing of a peace agreement, the main problem in South Sudan’s current crisis is leadership deficiency exacerbated by misguided foreign and humanitarian policies of our regional and international stakeholders and the humanitarian community. This means that not only the underlying causes of the conflict remain unaddressed but have been exacerbated by bad policies.

On more than one occasion leadership as a catalyst for South Sudan’s problems have been identified and acknowledged by the same international actors who have partnered or as some prefer to describe them were bedfellows of the myopic and draconian Juba regime. Most recently the departing Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) in South Sudan, Madam Hilde F. Johnson has acknowledged this fact.

In a strongly worded farewell message before boarding her plane to her safe haven, Madam Johnson is cited as squarely holding South Sudan’s political leadership responsible for the current abysmal plight of the South Sudanese. “The leadership, across all factions of the SPLM, whether they are inside or out of government, released from detention or in the bush, are responsible for this,” reiterated Madam Johnson emotionally.

Our leaders are “self-serving elite,” on whose behave development in South Sudan has been “set back [by] decades.” They are solely accountable for causing the impending “man-made famine,” and are sick with the “cancer of corruption,” Madam Johnson is further reported as venting her frustration.

Madam Johnson’s remarks are spot on. But the bitter irony is that the political leadership under president Kiir would not have thrived in their policies of South Sudan destruction without feeding off the poor policies of Madam Johnson’s United Nation Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), together with the humanitarian policies of other organizations and the foreign policies of South Sudan’s regional and international stakeholders.

As Alex De Waal has recently rightly observed, South Sudan’s “[mal]functioning cannot be separated from those global forces and how they incentivize and facilitate certain kinds of elite behavior.” In effect De Waal is stating that our crisis has been nurtured perhaps deliberately so in a globally self-serving elitist, naïve or perhaps even ignorant and apathetic environment with little regard to the real plight of our people.

The involvement and intervention (or the lack thereof) of these actors in South Sudan has equally contributed to our downfall. This is amply evident in their foreign policies in South Sudan as elsewhere which continue to be shaped by the exigencies of realpolitik or “interest but friendship,” and which have sadly also influenced the humanitarian policies of international “non-governmental” organizations (INGOs).

In lieu of these national interest driven considerations a more pro-active preventive policies and approach would have been pursued to pre-empt the conflict and prevent the needless loss of lives when all indications suggested all was not well in South Sudan. Instead business as usual and politics continued to dominate policymaking pertaining to South Sudan globally, regionally and locally.

Within South Sudan, the government benefited from this global political trend of promoting self-interest by scaling up patronage politics for instance, to determine the reshuffling of the government in July, 2013 and to decide the firing and hiring of civil servants, including the assigning of religious and spiritual related state and national functions to the clergy.

Even the much needed national healing, peace and reconciliation came to be politicized. Obstructionist and derailing tactics were used to stall the smooth functioning and democratization of the ruling party leading to frustrations within its leadership that ultimately triggered the violent outbreak.

Of course, while all this is unraveling the international actors turned the other way or tried to explain things away as normal part and parcel of challenges associated with building a new nation and state, keeping with the government corruption and nepotism cover up tune of “starting from scratch.”

As an example, when South Sudan was ranked fourth failed state last year, a number of these global actors, including the American Ambassador to South Sudan, refuted this ranking and asserted that South Sudan was not a failed but a “fragile state.” Sure enough when South Sudan finally assumed the number one status of a failed state in this year’s index the name has been altered to “fragile states” as opposed to the long standing “failed states” description when Somalia was scooping the prize. How convenient?! Simply no one wants to be associated with failure!

The apologetic international politicking related to South Sudan is equally expressed by other international actors in South Sudan. For instance, on numerous South Sudan Security Council briefings, instead of stating the facts as they are, Madam Johnson regularly expressed what she called “cautious optimism,” despite a visibly alarming evolution and deterioration of the political, economic, social and even humanitarian terrain in South Sudan.

At time “cautious optimism” was expressed while the government in Juba was increasingly iron-fisting and strongly licking its lips to create a police state in South Sudan, through widespread human rights abuses, including of international humanitarian workers who were often manhandled by security agents and arbitrarily detained or even expelled from South Sudan.

In fact Madam Johnson continued to hold on to her imagined “cautious optimism.” This is until the civil war broke out and the government began to embark on what New York previously described as negative campaign against UNMISS for allegedly supporting the opposition forces. Ultimately she threw her hands up and declared that she did not see the violent eruption coming, just days after the investment conference was held in Juba last December, a view she held well into her last Security Council briefing while speaking to the media. What a shame.

Up until the civil war erupted the role of regional countries in South Sudan’s brewing conflict largely went unnoticed but was thrust into the limelight with Ugandan military involvement in the civil war to protect its interests, and the mediating efforts of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in the peace process aimed at ending the violent conflict. Despite IGAD’s tireless and constructive efforts to bring the conflict to a swift end, the peace process continue to derail in part due what has been described as the “stupidity” of the warring parties, but more significantly because of the self-serving politics of “national interests” of all the conflict stakeholders, including of the IGAD member states. But we will examine the various “national interests” calculations of the IGAD member states in the South Sudan’s civil war on another occasion.

However, clearly what is needed from all conflict stakeholders in South Sudan moving forward, particularly from our regional and international actors is their robust collective stance purely geared toward ending the civil war in South Sudan. Surely this can be aided by re-orienting the demands dictated by their political realism considerations or their politics of national interests. Essentially our interlocutors need to grasp that in fact their long term genuine national interests in South Sudan are better served by bringing the civil war to a swift conclusion.

All South Sudan’s stakeholders must therefore, collectively re-imagine peace in South Sudan anew and work to realize it through robust punitive measures and holding accountable the parties who have instigated the conflict and are derailing and spoiling the peace process to end it. It is as simple as that come the warring parties to the negotiation table or not. They will still need to be held accountable and the longer they continue political bickering and exhibit lack of political will to end the war, the lesser leverage they will have to negotiate their way out.

The current peace process must be re-convened to end the crisis immediately. And it must be held on IGAD’s terms not the terms of those who have massacred civilians and compromised regional and international peace and security. Else a peace process dictated by the terms and conditions set by the belligerents to the conflict is not a genuine peace. It will wound up incentivizing violence by leaving the impression that picking up arms and meddling with national, regional and international peace and security can be rewarded with a place in a peace negotiation table rather than be punished in a place behind bars in The Hague.

There are several punitive measures that can be used to induce a swift signing of a peace agreement to end the conflict in South Sudan and restore normalcy in the event that political intransigence of the warring parties persists. These include regionally and internationally enforced targeted sanctions, asset freezes and traveling ban of the lead conflict belligerents and their associates. Regional and international institutional actors will equally do well to expedite Security Council referrals of potential perpetrators of the well-documented human rights abuses and the mass atrocities to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for further investigation and prosecution.

Threat of punitive measures is the only way to expedite a peace agreement in South Sudan but has for far too long been discussed and by now ring hollow. This goes to show that there is little political will overall and regional and global politics of interest continue to dictate the fate of our people despite their unspeakable suffering, thereby entrenching the culture of global impunity. This must stop.

Lastly, as South Sudan commemorates its third independence anniversary, perhaps we should all take this opportunity to mourn our dead rather than celebrate our independence. We should take this opportunity to soul-search and contemplate on how it all went wrong for us in South Sudan in order to make it right. When we collectively reflect and acknowledge our different roles and responsibilities in contributing to where we are three years on after South Sudan’s independence, we may begin to grasp the scope of the tragedy and the suffering of the people of South Sudan as it is. This way we may begin to make real progress to ending the violence, re-imagining peace and working to realize it in earnest in spite of self-serving politics of national interest or what not.

May the souls of all fellow South Sudanese, who have lost their lives in this civil war and the souls of those who died since South Sudan’s independence was achieved and first celebrated on July, 9th 2011 as well as those who departed after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in January 9th, 2005, rest in peace.

Tongun Lo Loyuong is a PhD student in the U.K. beginning from September, 2014. His research interest is on the role of civil society in transitional justice and reconciliation in South Sudan. He holds two Master’s Degrees with honors and academic excellence from the United States. The last of his MAs is in International Peace Studies and Policy Analysis for Political Change, from the University of Notre Dame – Indiana. He is reachable at: tloloyuong@gmail.com.

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