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By James Gatdet Dak - 22 Oct 2019

Opinion | Is lack of ‘political will’ an incurable disease in South Sudan?

October 21, 2019 – Without political will, commitment and trust among leaders in South Sudan, achieving peace and stability will painfully remain an illusion for a very long time in the world’s youngest nation.

I am fond to say that challenges in South Sudan are resolvable. Peace and stability can be achieved. What is needed from our leaders is a political will, as one of the missing elements, in order to resolve all sorts of challenges facing the country. This is by fully and accurately implementing provisions of the revitalized peace agreement they inked on September 12, 2018. The agreement has addressed most of our challenges. It is only let down by lack of political will, commitment and trust among our leaders and parties as well as by stakeholders, to some extent.

Political will is central to achieving policy change, or call it reforms as well, and it involves commitment to solutions. Like political will, lack of commitment equally paralyzes implementation of agreements due to a high degree of disregard and resulting inaction. Political commitment is a driving force that stimulates the implementation process. Without it, things come to a standstill or breakdown completely.

Lack of trust amongst South Sudanese leaders is also another element which compromises their willingness to commit to arrangements they themselves agreed upon. This also erodes citizens’ trust in the leaders in whatever they say to be doing. Political trust is supposed to instill confidence in leaders and citizens. Even in marriages, without commitment and trust, many of such marriages never last. With trust, you can even create an imaginary society around the globe. Trust anchored on a common interest can glue people together, no matter the language or distance that separates them. Even in economics or business world, trust is vital. If you are not trusted, your credit rating can hit the bottom of an abyss.

South Sudan went to war against itself in 2013 due to mistrust amongst its leaders, coupled with dictatorial tendencies. It also lost peace again in 2016 due to the lack of the trio: political will, commitment and trust.

Today, the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCiSS) has faced similar challenges largely due to the lack of the three vital elements. An eight-month pre-transitional period was measured and agreed to by the parties in order to implement all the pre-transitional arrangements. Lack of commitment has again made the implementation process to move at a snail’s pace.

Again, the pre=transitional period was extended for six months. 100 million United States dollars was promised by the government of South Sudan to fund what was to be an expeditious implementation of the required provisions of the A-ARCiSS before the November 12 deadline. Although the R-ARCiSS does not require him to go to juba before formation of unity government, Machar has now three times travelled to Juba and met President Kiir in order to boost the implementation of the peace deal. The government on the other hand failed to pay even half of the $100 million, despite the urgent need. The international community, including the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), did not bother a lot about yet another would-be missed deadline. As a result, nothing moved! UNSC had to wake up on October 20, only three weeks to the November 12 deadline, to only tell the parties, form the transitional unity government, anyway.

Maybe members of the UNSC who came to Juba on October 20, and met with the leadership of the parties to R-ARCiSS, did not recall that rushing the parties to prematurely form a transitional unity government was repeating exactly the mistake made by the international community in 2016, which led to the collapse of the 2015 peace agreement. The international community, although it was clear that the pre-transitional arrangements were not implemented, rushed Dr. Riek Machar to go to Juba and form the government with President Kiir. The result was disastrous! This was because the rival armies were not unified and Machar was allowed or rushed to go to Juba with only over one thousand troops: bodyguards and police units, with only light weapons. And this was when Juba was not demilitarized and the government had over 25,000 military and police forces combined inside the capital. They had heavy artilleries, armored vehicles, tanks and helicopters, combined with the state resources which they also used to hire mercenaries from a regional country. Because Machar had no huge force which would have deterred President Kiir’s faction in the government, elements within the government or in the army found it an opportunity to take advantage of Machar’s vulnerability and attacked him. Like in 2013 when government forces and allied ethnic militia forces butchered thousands of members of the Nuer ethnic group, simply because Machar happened to come from the same ethnic group, the international community could not do anything, again, in 2016 crisis to save the situation. Machar’s bodyguards, numbering less than 70, were surprisingly attacked at J1 palace by more than 400 troops. His residence was also attacked, as the government further deployed all its armed forces in Juba. Every type of weapon known to Juba and within their reach was used to try to kill him. He was pursued towards the Congolese border for about 40 days. Nobody acted from the international community or the UNSC to contain the situation by restraining the government. Even the UN peacekeeping force in Juba was dumbfounded. As a result, peace collapsed. It left many people to speculate about a number of conspiracy theories one could think of. Is this what the UNSC wants to repeat on October 20 by urging Machar to come back to Juba and form a transitional government before a proper implementation of the pre-transitional arrangements? Sometimes really I wonder what some people want to happen in South Sudan. I however largely blame leaders of South Sudan.

Why is it so difficult for the current South Sudan’s leadership to commit to peace agreements signed, and even endorsed by parliament? Does this result from pursuit of personal interests? Or is it simply a game of ‘us against them’ without putting into consideration the endless suffering and death it brings to the people?

European nations, which political systems we currently try to mimic, from the start succeeded because their leaders put their respective nations and peoples above their personal interests. A leader’s good legacy after a service for the common good of the citizens was/is their motto. A leader’s desire should be to historically remain great for generations to come as a result of his or her good deeds in service to his people. If a leader wants to be morally selfish, he should instead crave for historical greatness which should come as a result of a great leadership in terms of caring for his or her people. It should not be about self-enrichment, fragmentation of people and creation or perpetuation of wars and suffering.

Ethiopia has just celebrated the achievement by their Premier, His Excellency, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, who won a Nobel Peace Prize of 2019. This resulted from his political will and commitment that brought peace back between his country, Ethiopia, and Eritrea. I congratulate the great people of Ethiopia on the great exemplary success. Dr. Abiy is also the chairman of the east African regional bloc, IGAD, which successfully mediated the revitalized peace agreement in South Sudan, etc. This is another lesson which should remind other leaders that whenever you make and promote peace for your people and the world, people are watching you even from a far distance, and will someday recognize your efforts. Likewise, if you fail to make peace for your people, others are too watching your failure.

Can current South Sudanese leaders commit to peace, stability and unity of their people? Yes, they can! South Sudanese leaders have the ability to disagree, and even split, but they can also reconcile, reunite and forgive one another for the common good of the people. There are good examples that one can extract from the past!

A very good example was the ability of our late leader, Dr. John Garang and our current first vice president designate, Dr. Riek Machar. Despite their clashes of ideologies, strategies and objectives in 1991, they finally came back together. I owe it to the fact that they were at the same level of understanding and common interest for the welfare of our people. Both had political will and commitment to adhere to their Nairobi Declaration agreement of January 6, 2002. They followed through with their agreement. They both saw the importance and the need to reunite their forces and efforts. They successfully harmonized their conflicting positions of the ‘New Sudan’ project within a would-be secular united Sudan and the ‘Self-determination’ for the people of then southern Sudan and of Abyei. They transformed their rival factions into one greater political and military force with a clear vision and mission to take their people to the next level. Secular united Sudan and self-determination became twin, but competitors, harmoniously. This subsequently resulted to the exercise of the right to self-determination and the birth of the Republic of South Sudan on July 9, 2011.

Also the current South Sudan’s President, His Excellency General Salva Kiir and his brother His Excellency, Dr. Riek Machar started well in 2005/2006 after the untimely demise of Dr. Garang. They united or continued to unite “all” the people of South Sudan. The two leaders presided over the establishment of a transitional government which ran for six years and ‘finally’ led the people of South Sudan to independence. Why does this spirit seem to be fading away, and at the time when the people of South Sudan need to be taken to the next level? I hope my readership knows what I mean by the “next level” and its ingredients thereof.

It was also a political will and commitment that led former Sudanese President, Omer Hassan al-Bashir, to let South Sudan go. He allowed a peaceful exercise of referendum without interference. He also accepted the outcome of the vote that led to independence. His government was also the first to recognize South Sudan as an independent state, breaking it away from the Sudan. That was a tough decision made possible largely by political will and commitment.

After losing over 2 million lives during several decades of liberation struggle against oppressive regimes, the people of South Sudan expect their leaders to cease wars and suffering and establish a foundational democratic system of governance and deliver services, among many others. This cannot happen without peace and stability. And peace and stability cannot come out of the blue without a commitment.

The parties should implement the pre-transitional security arrangements as stipulated in the R-ARCiSS before a revitalized transitional unity government could be formed. We don’t want a repeat of the 2016 breakdown of the previous agreement. It was largely blamed on failure to fully implement and adhere to the provisions of that security arrangement.  Unfortunately, some people for a reason only known to them, tried to come up with an imaginary finger pointing against some wrong people, but the truth shall always remain the truth! It is a shame that truth is always the first casualty in South Sudan’s politics and in its politically influenced justice system. I hope we shall correct it.

The parties should also agree on the number of states and their boundaries. This should be carefully tackled to avoid unnecessary conflicts over boundaries during the three years of transitional period. A rushed fragile unity government based on a shaky foundation, can easily crack or collapse and ruin the current ceasefire which is being observed in the country. Forming a transitional coalition government prematurely and unilaterally without the main armed opposition group, the SPLM/SPLA (IO) and its first vice president designate leadership, will not achieve peace. It will simply be the status quo with accommodation of, maybe, some position seekers from some other insignificant parties. To me, the parties should instead agree on a further extension of the pre-transitional period, at least for a few months, in order to implement the remaining unimplemented vital pre-transitional arrangements. The UNSC should have recommended to the parties the extension, for a few months, the pre-transitional period, and with material support in order to expeditiously and successfully implement the pre-transitional security arrangements! Appeasement of the regime in Juba for whatever reasons will not bring peace to the people of South Sudan.

But, of course, lack of political will is a curable disease, but only if leaders are willing to take the right medication for it. However, as things stand now, without the badly needed political will and commitment, the further extension may not too, regrettably, bear the desired fruit. If left unchecked by the international community and the UNSC for that matter, the current arrogance and lack of commitment to peace by the leadership in Juba will continue and so is the suffering of the people of South Sudan.

The author is a former Press Secretary in the Office of the President (Vice President’s office) and a former Official Spokesman of the leadership of the SPLM/SPLA (IO). He is also the author of a testimonial book, ‘My Painful Story, Abducted from Kenya, Imprisoned in South Sudan.’ His email address is:

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