South Sudan: Challenges of Crafting a Post-war Foreign Policy

Published on 10th May 2016

Before December 2013, South Sudan had a cohesive Foreign Policy with the president as chief of foreign relations, unitary August House directing foreign relations, and several ambassadors posted to country’s foreign missions receiving directives from the ministry of foreign affairs. In a nutshell, all the actors were controlled at one united presidency in South Sudan.  This is very unlikely to be the case under the new political dispensation ushered in by the Agreement on Resolution of Conflicts in South Sudan (ARCISS 2015).

The country’s foreign policy was premised on advancing the interests of independent South Sudan in a manner that asserts her sovereignty or territorial integrity whilst collectively engaging with the regional and international community on common cardinal themes such as security, trade and the development agenda. It is apparent under this political dispensation, there are several power centers with massive influence, all canvassing for attention to seize power in 2018.

Therefore, crafting a coherent foreign policy is inevitably going to be a nightmare. There are significant changes both in the internal and external milieus, which will have a massive bearing on the crafting of the South Sudan foreign policy. The complexity is a function of a plethora of local stakeholders with massive external support with divergent and incompatible internal and external interests, but lumped together in the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) by the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCISS 2015)-thanks to the ARCISS!!!

South Sudan foreign policy towards the Regional countries (IGAD).

In the course of the two year-civil war, both parties to the conflicts mustered substantial domestic support along ethnic lines. As it is always the case with foreign policies, domestic factors to a greater extent shape the formulation and conduct of Foreign Policy with South Sudan being no exception. For instance, immediately after the outbreak of war in Juba, the Ugandan Peoples’ Defense Forces (UPDF) intervened in support of the incumbent president Salva Kiir against the forces of the current First Vice President (FVP) Dr Riek Machar.

UPDF’s presence was a major hindrance to progress of peace talks in Addis until their withdrawal following massive international pressure. From then hitherto, the leadership, ranks and files of the Sudan Peoples’ liberation movement In Opposition (SPLM-IO) have held negative sentiments against the government of the Republic of Uganda. Whereas, the leadership, file and rank in the government camp pursue close ties with Uganda.

On the other hand, the Sudanese government, an all-time enemy of South Sudan, always on prowl, without hesitation equally gave massive support to the SPLM-IO. The support was in terms of temporary operation bases, arms, and logistics and to some extent financial resources and support in the realms of diplomacy during the Addis Ababa negotiations. By virtue of being bitter rivals on opposite ends-Uganda and Sudan have controlled the two South Sudanese warring principals in what increasingly shaped up as a proxy war.

Consequently, the SPLM-IO luminaries will always not support confrontational politics that would sever relations with the Sudan, nor will the government camp allows that to happen to her ties with Uganda. Given that Sudan has hosted the leadership of the armed opposition and provided refuge to its civil population for the duration of the two year civil war. The SPLM-IO and its civil population are given to disagree with any policy that antagonizes South Sudan’s ties with the Sudan.

It is also inevitable that unresolved issues emanating from the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA 2005) such as the conflicts in Abyei, Southern Blue Nile, Southern Kordafan and Western Sudan will undoubtedly remain major conflict drivers between the two countries. The Abyei referendum and popular consultations for the two areas did not take place as stipulated in the CPA. These hostilities have been further aggravated by the unaddressed conflicts in Darfur. Whilst on the South Sudan’s side, since some notorious warlords—Gen. Peter Gatdet and Gen. Johnson Oliny are still at large, proxy wars will remain vital tools for foreign policy decision makers in the two countries. The dictum-‘’the enemy of my enemy is my friend’’ is very much relevant.

Finally, the government under Kiir has endorsed and signed South Sudan’s accession to the East African Community (EAC). The SPLM-IO on the other hand has been calling for a plebiscite on South Sudan’s accession to the EAC. From various statements from the SPLM-IO cadres, it could be deduced that the SPLM-IO doesn’t subscribe to South Sudan’s accession to the EAC. Therefore, the SPLM-IO will always be on shutdown mission vis-a-vis policies for full integration of South Sudan in to the EAC. Given it sizable representation in the Transitional National Assembly (TNA), policies favoring South Sudan’s integration in to the EAC are likely to be delayed or rejected out rightly.

South Sudan and the International Community: Cooperation or confrontation?

The government of South Sudan had been severely chastised by the international community on issues of human rights violations, non-committal attitudes towards peace agreement, unilateral creation of 28 states, and purchase of lethal arms. The incessant barrage of criticisms from the international community made the government more hostile to the international community, particularly to United Nations mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and the TROIKA (US, UK, and Norway) among others. The hostility was evinced in forms of denying humanitarian access routes to NGOs, and restricting movements of peace keeping forces to conflicts ridden areas, forceful evictions and detention of humanitarian workers.

Although president Kiir apologized to and appreciated the international community in a recent speech, it must be recognized that there is still a great deal of bitter relations between his government and the international community. The repeated condemnation and non-recognition of the 28 states will continue to aggravate the already fragile relations. Therefore, crafting a cohesive South Sudan foreign policy on how to engage the international community under the TGoNU will not be an easy task.

Although the foreign affairs docket has gone to the Former Political Detainees (FDs), the president, by virtue of being the person in charge of diplomatic relations between South Sudan and foreign entities can thwart any positive engagements with the outside world. The diplomatic debacle is eminent since the bunch of partisan cadres have been deployed as diplomats who will act on different foreign policy positions espoused by their big men. The recent unilateral appointment of advisors by the president, particularly, in portfolios controlled by the opponents in the TGoNU is a harbinger of zero-sum politics.

Nonetheless, the international community will also need a comprehensive strategy to wade this murky political waters to attenuate suspicions of siding with one party in the Transitional Government of National Unity. Suspicions can widen the already fragile political chasms between parties in the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU).

Given the above political conundrums, the exit strategy lies only in cultivation of trust, broader coordination, consultations and cooperation between the parties to the agreement. This will only happen if the parties subordinate their partisan interests to that of the country. By doing so the TGoNU will have the support of the international community and return to bloody civil war will as well be muted. Secondly, vibrant civil society organizations, academics, eminent persons, and faith based organizations among others with the support of the international community will consolidate South Sudan transition to democracy through constant checks and balances on the parties.

By Kachuol Mabil Piok

The author is a political commentator on South Sudan political issues. He lectures at the University of Juba and blogs at #KachuolThought. He can be reached via [email protected] or [email protected].

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