Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Siad Barre’s Style: ‘Rebooting’ South Sudan

It (food) must be put back into the pot so that we serve it. No visitor serves food; if you don’t put it back into the pot, we will tip it over.
(By Akut Kuei - A group of young Dinka traditional singers. They sang about Arabs’ exclusive use of national resources in the Sudan at the expense of long time indigenes)

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development, IGAD, plus the Troika (USA, England and Norway) and China have brought the negotiations for peace in South Sudan to what seems to be a successful ending. The South Sudanese government and the rebels convened in Addis Ababa on the 17th August 2015 to sign the final peace accord. It had taken almost twenty months of fruitless deliberations. The government and rebels, all along, showed little remorse for the suffering that war had wrecked on the people. Even as peace draws nigh, it was how it first started, the savage way it had been fought and the peacemaking process that dragged on in attempts to ending it that presented many concerns in its dynamics. 

South Sudan is the youngest country in the world, but looking at her messes as well as the ambitions of her leaders, one could surely be persuaded that political climate, as the nation moves further into the future,  would not be an all time easy. The reason for uncertainty is visible in the post-independence war of 2013. Post-independence war in this country has highlighted that cruelest things, such as events that cause the loss of life, easily spiral into abysmal ending whilst life-preserving undertakings, such as peacemaking and forging of strong national attitude, assume highly visceral hatred that it becomes impossible to balance the books of normality. In other words, what appears normal to the leaders of this new nation is not a march towards prosperity but a ‘rebooting’ of the country to its prewar and war-time eras. All this is aimed at bringing the country down if aspired political and existential space for ascending to the top job in the land is not guaranteed. Meaning, ambitions for top leadership and nationalism, the two values that should go concurrently, are far apart. Nationalism itself, has no place.

Compromised Peace proposal

The recent peace negotiations tell us more of what occupies the minds of South Sudanese leaders; the very reason it is important to compare the situation with that of the failed state of Somalia and the way her independence leader, Siad Barre, behaved towards the end of his rule in 1990s. We begin at the recently debunked climax of peace process in Addis Ababa. We may ask, why was it so hard to quickly agree when destruction stares everyone in the face in the country? Why was there a rush to gloss over issues that might entrench war longer than was the expectations? These questions have simple answers: leaders were worried about their own positions. The rush was meant to run away from more problems, especially on the side of the rebels who suffered a deep breakup. The government, on the other hand, was not ready to push on with the war unnecessarily because the economy was shrinking badly. Continuation of war might lead to multiple rebellions, which would be hard to quell. It was a distressed situation, similar to Middle East’s nuclear talks, which prompted Christopher M. Jones to title his 2010 book on the subject as “Rushing Ahead to Armageddon.” Rather than pacifying with confidence that would be meaningful in the healing process, the warlords of South Sudan have rushed to uncertainty with peace. Peace was signed with bitterness. That was not a good sign. Wars might be consequences of rushed decisions; fired up by emotions and hatred among the populace and substantiated by inexperience, ineptitude and callous over-ambitiousness among the bearers and would-be bearers of power, but procurement of peace is expected to walk the path of peace, because it is meant to result in justice and responsibility.

The Signing Game

Despite the rushing, however, the day of reckoning saw no unanimity in the agreement. Better put, there was half peace, the one signed by the armed opposition and the stakeholders, clustered as the Group-10, but rejected outright by the government on the pretext of abrupt and surreptitious new and unclear texts that needed time for proper deconstruction and selling to the public. President Kiir simply used the word “consultation” and only initialed the document and declined to append his signature and requested for more time. He was expected to sign in fifteen days from the previous deadline set by IGAD-Plus mediators.

So, there was no complete peace signed in Addis Ababa on the final day. Instead, there was some kind of a multilateral show orchestrated by IGAD and Partners to ensure the war had ended. IGAD -Plus have worked very hard to see South Sudan returns to peace and quietude, but had inadvertently got locked in the tangram of controversy, not by choice, but by intention as ‘powerful third parties.’ That alone caused some bitterness and fears. Armed opposition sat back and felt that IGAD-Plus was their backer and a power broker, ready to launch military actions against the government in Juba or lobby for sanctions that might cripple Juba and gives them the advantage. The government and supporters felt betrayed by complacent mediations. What was clear in all this was that: peace was coming home more imposed and forced than voluntarily agreed upon by the rivals.

Globally, treading the path of pacifying two groups had never been easy to any peacemaker. Peace writers such as David Johnson content that “imposing the peace suppresses the conflict but does not resolve underlying grievances and does not establish positive long-term relationships among the disputants.” If South Sudanese situation turns out to work differently under peace imposition, many people would be relieved. But the character of the disputants means that physical retribution remains a big worry.

Many months of negotiations since the outbreak of war have seen many peace drafts that would, in normal circumstances, qualify for a bipartite ratification and acceptance gone by without concrete pacification. The international community that supported the peace process got weary, death toll from war surpassed surprises and eroded sympathies, the yearn for peace among the population heightened, mediators got frustrated and only the competing leaders maintained their unyielding and dogged demands for the right share of power. Severally, neither the government nor the armed opposition (and the stakeholders) budged from their tabled positions particularly on issues related to power and security arrangements. In attempting to cut the power cake according to needs, the mediators have many times almost ran the risk of reproducing 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that divided the Sudan in 2011. It had quite often been reflected in the power sharing and security provisions.

Jumping from Draft to Draft

The first of the latest draft proposal granted armed opposition 53% of power in the three states of former Upper Nile Region. This, together with demilitarization of Juba, the national capital, to the radius of “twenty five kilometres “within ninety days of signing the agreement” and placing the security of the city in the hands of foreign forces that would come from a combined deployment of the “Transitional Third Party Security Unit” (TTPSU) which included the UN forces (already present in the country in huge numbers) and a contribution of further supplementary contingents from IGAD member states, the AU and the UNMISS, enraged the government and many of its supporters. The text of the first draft of the three documents summarized the status of the national capital as “Special Arrangement Area (SAA).”
 TTPSU seemed to be acting as the police force in the city during the transitional period since the role of the police is never stated anywhere in the entire proposal.

The proposal was a hot pie for government to sell and was expecting a high turn out against it. Public demonstrations were held across the country to reject it. This was a clear contradiction to the position presumed by IGAD mediators and partners who seemed to think that any agreement to end the hostilities would be readily accepted by the general public without resentment. Based on the public outcry following the first draft, it was possible to note that citizens of South Sudan read the proposed agreement in twofold: the end of one war and the beginning of another which was being made conducive by ambiguity in the agreement. Interpretations of the draft from the protesters across the country showed that the first draft was clearly rejected. It also highlighted the need for a just peace; a peace that sets no preconditions for a cyclical suffering. There was also panic grounded on the assumption that recently gained sovereignty from colonial Sudan was being replaced by another, this time, a massive international and regional coalition backed by multinational companies and businesses that see South Sudan as resources' mining field to be exploited.  Nothing gave this thought more credence than the clause which made the national capital a ‘Special Arrangement Area’ during thirty months of transitional period. Many leaders in the armed opposition and Former Detainees have been quoted as randomly pleading the UN to take over the country if they failed to dislodge the government. The chief mediator, Seyoum Mesfin, recently confirmed the fears.

Following the first draft, however, the government wrote to IGAD member states and the mediators, pushing for more changes. It led to the second version, the Kampala version, which convinced Juba that it had won the favour of many IGAD’s heads of states who all agreed on the government’s suggestions and made changes to the draft. As president Kiir went to Addis Ababa, despite his initial refusal to show up, he was aware of a new favorite deal. It turned out that the new deal was re-made even more new than he thought. The third and final version of the deal appeared on the final day in front of him for immediate signing. This time, there was no time to push for changes. This version removed authoritative control of armed opposition in the three states of former Upper Nile Region, reducing its power influence from 53% to 40% and gave the government 46% of power control. Juba remained to be demilitarized, only the change of terminologies were made. Armed Opposition moved on to get 15% power influence in all other states of the country. That further extended opposition power tentacles to the new influencing level. Stakeholders in the name of Former Detainees were also given a reasonable percentage. The result caused commotion on  government side . Being in charge of the country with so many other political groups, civil society organisations and interest groups, there was a need to make consultations and bring everyone on board. President Kiir believed he was signing himself out of power. His reservations matched the calculations of the opposition resentment to his demands: we all get the power or we all lose it.

The mediators felt that there was no more room to consult and tried to force the deal through. The international pressure that followed mirrored Siad Barre’s Somalia toward the end of his rule. The warring parties became entrenched. Observing from the rear, one would see that South Sudanese leaders can and have the powers to turn the country into whatever state they desire. They know they fought and brought the country to independence and desperately want to be part of it as long as they are alive. To be edged out by an equal partner in the liberation of the country is not an easy option to accept as long as South Sudan is what it is today. Every liberator in South Sudan believes that without his/her participation, there would be no country. Since many of the top leaders were comrades-in-arms, they believe that none of them has the authority to push the other, for the sake of peace or not, out of the country. If one still has the military power, a thought they all possess without regrets, the best way is to cause trouble for all so that one is recognized and maintained. In case of failure to use past military background to acquire political power, going Barre becomes the apparent way out. This can best be viewed as a self-destructive strategy and here is how:

Cornered by Africa Watch, Human Rights Watch and inter-clan rebellions, all aiming and pushing him (the independence leader) to cede power to the people whom he was accused of being their contemptible totalitarian, Siad Barre knew he was not going to stand his ground. He remembered how he alone maintained the cohesiveness of the greater Somali community and state; he recalled how he single-handedly shaped education by introducing Somali language in Latin scripts. He also remembered discouraging clan significance in civil society and in governance affairs, hence, a success in forging a strong nationalism for his people. In a mood of desperation to the people he then thought were ungrateful to his cohesive leadership and deliverance from the yoke of
colonization, he somberly, audibly said for the last time:

“When I came to Mogadishu,” he thundered on, “there was one road built by the Italians. If you try to force me to stand down, I will leave the city as I found it. I came to power with a gun; only the gun can make me go.” Mohamed Diriye Abdullahi quoted him in his book, Culture and customs of Somalia (2001), p. 41. Barre was ousted soon after and fled to Kenya (the country that secretly blamed Somalia in the events leading to The Shifta War of 1963-1967, in which ethnic Somalis from Kenya aspired to join Somalia), then to Nigeria where he died of heart attack. No question, the Somalia he left behind was the Somalia he prophetically told he would bequeath on his people. Today, the situation in Somalia is everybody’s concern. The federal government of Somalia (Dowladda Federaalka Soomaaliya) in Mogadishu is powerless and is constantly guarded, guided and protected by forces of African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), a force that is largely and technically fighting for Ethiopia for Somalia’s alleged historic support of the insurgency in Ogaden Region where ethnic Somalis of Ogaden Clan (Barre’s mother is from Ogaden Clan) have formed the Ogaden National Liberation Front and sought to unite with the motherland Somalia. AMISOM is drawn from countries that once criticized Barre’s leadership. The territorial integrity of Somalia today is shambolic. Somali waters today are fished and used as dumping ground for toxic wastes from multinational companies of the countries that formed regional and the International Community that were his staunch critics. Security in Somalia following the emergence of militias, such as Al-Shabab, makes everybody twinge with embarrassment. Foreign drones with lethal weapons fly the skies without entry permissions, kill with impunity unmindful of human rights violations, and leave without departure orders to do so. Also, unannounced encroachment on Somali waters by foreign fishing vessels has depleted the local fishing grounds, leaving fishermen with no survival means, and turning them towards piracy. All in all, a simple request for leadership change has set Somalia up for international meddling.

Could South Sudan go Somalia?

Many citizens are concerned that this might happen if leaders do not take nationalism seriously over simple leadership ambitions. The young intelligentsia must not fall prey to tribal affiliations but wake up with serious national agenda and focus their energies on restorative justice in order to bring South Sudan back on course as a country for all. However, coupled with the behavior of the international community, backed by regional groupings that have interests to cater for by venturing into the green Savannah of South Sudan, and informed by the aggressive nature of the Nilotic of this country, logic tells that it is possible to bring down this country to her knees. Sad, but a reality.

What was wrong with the peace deal in South Sudan?

IGAD'S error, first and foremost, was the ambiguous push to force the deal through. It was a serious discontinuity in the rules of effective, genuine, neutral and honest processes of negotiations or conciliation in which disputants are expected to reach a compromise in atmosphere of concessions. If shuttle diplomacy had not been shelved to oblivion, then it would have been an efficient tool used by IGAD-PLUS to avail and discuss the compromised peace deal to its desired ending. Herding the parties into the signing ceremony without fully securing positions of acceptance or rejection on the document was futile at best. For both parties to be completely trusting in the deal and in the process of mediation, both parties must have signed at the same time, having all agreed to the text in its conclusive form. Allowing one side to sign and the other to refuse is a weakness that mediators should not have permitted to happen because of tendency to burst neutrality and instead, inculcates mistrust. The agreement was muscular, ignorant, rushed and overtaken by impending pride of having won over the warring sides. It was a recipe for renege on modalities of implementation .

The Way Forward

Finally, South Sudan is not home to IGAD and Partners, but for South Sudanese. The buck ends with South Sudanese themselves and their leaders. Therefore, the government and the rebels must know that South Sudan needs nationalism, not destruction and surrendering it away because of bitterness and frustrations. The nation must repossess itself and not to prove to the world that as much as her refugees depend much on international aid and humanitarian assistance, managing her national affairs is also subject to international assistance. A country that ignores her leadership worth should not even call herself sovereign. 

In the words of Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping, an eloquent former Sudanese ambassador to the UN, Chief Negotiator for G77+ China at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2009, Copenhagen, “Our government has chosen to give away our national sovereignty and territory, as demonstrated by Mile-14 and the presence of foreign troops and military advisers to maintain-in-power a regime as politically and morally bankrupt as never witnessed in the region.”

Lumumba had since joined the rebellion against the government in Juba. He spoke these words on his maiden day in the bush. I guess we know what he was saying, it was ‘rebooting,’ more or less.

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