Will South Sudan’s Peace Talks Hold?

Published on 29th August 2018

President Salva Kiir Mayardit’s statements which he made at Juba airport on arrival from Khartoum confirm existing skepticism. The President was visibly furious and vented his anger and frustration on Dinka Bor and people of the Greater Equatoria for waging war against his government.

The gist of President Kiir’s statement can be reduced as follows: Dinka Bor people are fighting his government in collaboration with people from the Greater Equatoria. This insinuation of Dinka Bor is clearly in reference to the President’s perception that the wife of late Dr John Garang who is from Dinka Bor ethnic group has mobilized people from Dinka Bor to fight against the government. It is not a secret that relations between Kiir and Dr Garang were not cordial.

This ambivalence between Kiir and Dr Garang was carried over after the death of Garang and has adversely tarnished relations between Kiir and the wife of Dr Garang, Nyangdeng. In this confrontation Lady Garang is not alone. She is supported by her own Dinka Bor people. This dangerous situation can only be defused if President Kiir forges a deal with Lady Garang in conjunction with other Dinka Bor political leaders.

The President accused and severely condemned the people of the Greater Equatoria for opposing his government and killing Dinka people. This is a very serious accusation and must be taken seriously by people from the Greater Equatoria and their political and traditional leaders. People from the Greater Equatoria are not opposed to the government of President Kiir. There are many persons from Equatoria in the government of President Kiir.

The killing which the President would appear to play loud resulted from farmers from Equatoria trying to defend their land against people who are forcibly grabbing lands in the rural areas from their lawful owners or people who let loose their cattle to roam freely thereby destroying people’s farms. Complaints, petitions and letters of appeal were addressed to all levels of government and to the President on those problems.

The President has so far not taken remedial actions. The national government and the state governments have turned deaf ears to people’s complaints and appeals owing to national government coercion. Clearly the President must blame his own government for inaction resulting in deaths. The President should issue directives to resolve these lands problems rather than making indefensible claims.

The opposition to the government of President Kiir is not being staged by people of Equatoria alone as the President would appear to tell the international community. The President is facing total upheavals engulfing all the people of South Sudan (SS): Dinka, Nuer, Shielluk, Luo, Zande,  Bari, Beir, Parri, Lotuka,  Langi,  Annuak, Choli, Murle, Fertit and their Cousins, Ndongo, Bongo, Balanda, Sere, Jur, Muro, Ma’di, Afukaya, and many others.

These groups of people are affiliated under different armed opposition groups attempting to topple Prsident Kiir from power because the President has failed to govern the new nation – state. But the President still believes that his government can win the war. It is for the armed opposition groups to show to the President that he is vulnerable and can be removed by force if he does not relinquish power voluntarily. If they pose real threat to President Kiir, the President will be forced to make some meaningful and practical concessions for the resolution of the armed conflict.

President Kiir made negative statements regarding the Khartoum Peace Agreement. He said he was forced to sign the agreement. He did not elaborate who forced him to sign the agreement. It is extraordinary that a head of State could be forced to append his signature to a document that did not meet minimum requirement of being bound by its contents.

He also said that he could not rule the country with 5 Vice Presidents, 35 Cabinet ministers and 550 members of the legislature. In effect the President repudiated the Khartoum Peace agreement. Of course, Juba has to communicate its withdrawal in writing to the Mediator for the repudiation to be effective. But it is likely that Juba will simply refuse to implement the terms of the agreement thereby effectively killing it.

The claim of President Kiir that he was forced to sign the Khartoum peace deal remains to be verified. Until that is done the claim remains merely a claim. It might have been resorted to as a way out to decline to implement the terms of the agreement. In any event the benefit of doubt resides with the President until he is proven otherwise.

The President stated that it was going to be difficult for him to govern the country with five Vice Presidents, 35 Cabinet ministers and about 550 members of the lower house of the legislature. One tends to agree with the President in this respect. The President has to see one vice president on a particular day in the week in addition to seven ministers each day of the week. Will this not affect the efficiency of the presidency? Apart from seeing these top men and women the President has to receive in audience on a daily basis the Chief of Staff of the Army, the Inspector General of Police and the Intelligence Service Boss.

As regards the 550 members of the lower house of the legislature there is no justification for the chosen number except the reason of appeasement of those claiming the right to participate in governance when in fact the claimants can find representation in the states assembly. But what has been said should not be used as pretext to abrogate the peace agreement. At the implementation stage the President could have scaled down the numbers referred to in consultation with the other parties to the agreement giving economic reasons to justify his decision.

The attacks on people from the Greater Equatoria are not justifiable because opposition to the government of President Kiir involves most if not all the people of SS. The President should listen to the cries of the people of the Greater Equatoria and address their genuine grievances. If this is done effectively the opposition to the government in Juba will disappear with the Sunset. The people of the Greater Equatoria are not against the Dinka people. They are defending their lands against intruders.

At the national level the President has to fight six major vices if he desires to regain the confidence of the people and avert total war against his government. The six major vices are absolutism, nepotism, inequality, injustice, corruption and administrative malpractices.

In this regard the President has little room for scheming. He has to deal ruthlessly against those accused of involving in any one of the six vices or else he risks being accused as condoning those evils or directly and actively participating in the commission of those evil deeds.

By Simon Kulusika

The author is an Associate Professor at the Zambian Open University and can be reached via: [email protected]

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