After a hiatus of almost two years, the South Sudan peace process is on the move again. The process began afresh after new Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed Ali, took it upon himself to jump-start it.
For two years, this process has been in limbo as a frustrated Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), that has been shepherding the process, and international sponsors, cracked their brains for ways to unlock what has become an intractable problem.
The problem—and its solution—lies in two people, President Salva Kiir, and his former vice president, Riek Machar. The problem is that these two old, veteran war-horses, now being dubbed as the “lords of the killing fields,” have settled into a comfortable zone from which they have zero incentive to work their way out of.
Kiir is the head of state, confined to heavily fortified Juba—and controlling little else. But to him, that’s okay. He continues as head of state, with all perks, privileges and recognition that goes with the position.
Machar is recognised internationally as the head of the rebel movement and South Sudan opposition. He might have been confined to a house in Pretoria, South Africa for the last two years, but nothing in his life has stopped.
He is heavily secured, lives in luxury, his family is safe, he is well resourced financially, materially, and militarily. He continues to receive dignitaries from all over the world who come to “plead” with him, while media from all over the world seek him out daily. It’s nirvana.
For these two, who incidentally are agemates, the suffering of the 12 million odd South Sudanese whose lives have been brutally disrupted is a distant matter. It could as well be happening in another planet. Their lives continue as normal. They cannot even see that this situation, and their outrageous response to it, is a failure of leadership on their part.
The bottomline is that Kiir and Machar are no longer interested in peace. And that is why the peace talks that took place between the two last week, in Ethiopia, collapsed. Indeed, they have come up with conditions each knows are completely unacceptable to their protagonists.
And that is why if Igad and the international community, principally the US and the UK, don’t change tack, South Sudan is doomed to become a failed state, with the government holed up in fortress Juba, while the rest of the country is curved up into fiefdoms by other warlords who impose their will through militias.
By now, several things should be clear to all Juba peace partners. First, Kiir and Machar do not want peace, and are ready to let the country die as the necessary collateral damage that secures their current lifestyles and interests.
Two, the dying multitudes and humanitarian crisis in South Sudan are of zero consequence to Kiir and Machar. Three, this war can go on indefinitely. Clearly, both protagonists are prepared for the long haul.
Four, there will be no peace and stability in South Sudan without Machar as Kiir seems to have become deluded to believe. Machar cannot be wished away.
Despite two years of exile, the war goes on, and Kiir’s military victory remains as elusive now as five years ago when his forces attacked and drove those of Machar out of Juba.
Five, neither of these two protagonists have the capacity for a clear military victory that would enable them to pacify the country. Both have deluded themselves they can vanquish the other militarily.
Lastly, the current peace efforts based on an appeasement strategy and a deal between the two protagonists, are doomed.
New harsh measures must be imposed on Kiir and Machar, including indicting them for war crimes if necessary, to force them to accept a truce, ceasefire, and political settlement that will stabilise the country and allow it to return to normalcy. That peace deal must then be enforced militarily.
What is now obvious is that the strategy of handling these two protagonists with kid gloves has exhausted its capacity—if it had any. All partners who are shareholders in this process must now take drastic measures to restore peace in South Sudan.
Countries, especially neighbours such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, who are most invested in South Sudan and its leadership, must finally see, surely, that their co-operative interests in that country are best served by a stable growing neighbour, rather than the chaos they are now baby-sitting by mollycoddling the two protagonists.
Their continued speaking with different voices to the same problem has emboldened the two protagonists to continue in their intransigence.
Igad and the international community cannot continue to seat back and watch as millions of South Sudanese are brutalised and held hostage to selfish interests.
The time for the carrot is over. It is now time for the big stick. The United Nations Mission to South Sudan (UNMISS) needs to acquire a new mandate—to force peace, after which elections will be held under the auspices of the UN.
The arbiters owe it to the war-ravaged South Sudan citizens. Their current nail-biting and pussyfooting round the real problem is now completely untenable.—[email protected]