The collapse of the IGAD-led power sharing negotiations on South Sudan revealed the inherent flaw with the process and justified various critiques that have previously been expressed by many commentators. At the heart of those criticisms was the concern that IGAD has managed to reduce South Sudan’s peace process into a power sharing façade aimed at appeasing the very elites responsible for the war. Political power will simply be redistributed among the same leaders at the expense of addressing the central issues that culminated in the violent eruption on 15th December, 2013.
The underlying causes of the conflict, including proximate causes or causes derived from political leadership failure, have had little bearing on IGAD’s peacemaking initiative. The well-documented crimes and gruesome atrocities perpetrated against the civilian population, often across ethnic and tribal lines, are increasingly seen as being neglected in determining an adequate course of action to both end the violence in the short-term and foster a lasting peace.
Social and economic problems created by misrule and mismanagement of the country seemed peripheral to the talks. These include but are not limited to rampant corruption and embezzlement of public funds, tribal politics, nepotism and the little regard given to merits and qualifications in employment practices in the public sector, which have in turn been reflected in government failure to maintain peace and security, law and order and deliver any meaningful social and economic services.
From a conflict transformation perspective, the previous IGAD initiative was best described as a power-sharing initiative. We should not be misled into thinking this was a peace process, because it was mainly driven by collective or individual power-sharing concerns and not public ones aimed at addressing the underlying causes that led to and continue to sustain the violent conflict.
Meanwhile, the general humanitarian situation remains dire as unspeakable mass suffering and civilian displacement continues. In an ideal world, reason and international rule of law would dictate that justice, accountability and due process would lead to some form of punishment of the implicated parties. Instead, political power-sharing – which will ultimately reward the wrongdoers with renewed terms in political office – remains the favoured approach.
IGAD plans to restart the process in April. The renewed initiative dubbed “IGAD-Plus” will be more broad-based in terms of participation than its unsuccessful predecessor. It will include representatives from the ‘Big Brothers’ – namely the Troika States and South Sudan’s guarantors, the United States, Britain and Norway – as well as key international players, including representatives from the European Union, China and the African Union. What role the new players will assume and to what purpose remains to be seen, and so does the agenda for the revived process.
Business is unlikely to resume as usual, but to what extent anything will change remains unclear. IGAD has pledged that a new “reinvigorated” and “reformed” peacemaking initiative in South Sudan is in order, given the failure of the previous attempt. But it is probably unwise to hold one’s breath regarding the extent to which “reform” and “reinvigoration” will be injected in to IGAD-Plus.
Power-sharing between the principal parties to the conflict is likely to remain the central driver of the renewed initiative. The United Nations Security Council has accordingly decided to allow the warring parties a second bite of the cherry by withholding punitive action for the time being. Resolution 2206, which members of Security Council recently unanimously endorsed, and which establishes a legal framework for the adoption of punitive measures against peace spoilers and rights abusers, will probably be shelved (pending the outcome of the revived mediation process).
The central message here is that the International Community has continued to exercise patience and leniency towards South Sudan’s warring parties, despite the dire reality and the continued suffering of the people of South Sudan at the hands of their own political leaders. South Sudan’s warring parties and their violence-prone hawks are still regarded by regional and international stakeholders as intrinsic to any new political dispensation that would end the war.
But the support these leaders continue to command from members of the International Community is on the verge of being eroded by their continued stubbornness and inclination to continue a devastating New War that is entirely ‘man-made’, or designed by the political leadership in South Sudan. As a result of mindsets that favour violence rather than democracy as a means to fulfill personal ambition and retain or gain power, they are missing repeated opportunities to share power and remain relevant to the political processes in the country.
South Sudan’s leaders’ failure to protect the country’s people deserves nothing less than these leaders being locked behind prison bars. However, the people of South Sudan are generally kindhearted and the warring leaders may still be able to atone for their failure and be forgiven by demonstrating courage and making the necessary concessions to share power in a transitional arrangement.
The ordinary South Sudanese living in the middle of the violent conflict only want to see this nightmare end, regardless of the quality of such a peace. They will grab anything that will end the violence, mitigate their suffering and avert further regionalisation and internationalisation of the conflict so that they can begin to heal and rebuild their lives.
A final opportunity to reach peace through power sharing has presented itself in the IGAD-Plus, but it is entirely up to South Sudan’s leaders to seize this opportunity.
Tongun Lo Loyuong is a conflict and peace researcher. He studied at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and is currently pursuing a PhD in the UK. He is reachable at:firstname.lastname@example.org