Has South Sudan Sovereignty Been Compromised?
Obviously they have been looking at a single incident on 28/06/1914 that led to the first world war. It was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Sarajevo by a Serbian nationalist ( Gavrilo Princip ). But things were quite different then and there was no nuclear powers or the concept of mutual destruction. Furthermore the world was less democratic and more dictatorial allowing some rogue leaders to plunge countries into avoidable wars. Turkey is an important NATO member guarding its southern front. Technically , it’s not a nuclear power but has been given nuclear bombs by NATO only to be used with NATO approval. In theory, the situation could spiral out of control leading to a nuclear confrontation and the inevitable total destruction of planet Earth. As one would expect, the NATO Secretary General came out in support of the Turkish position. The ball is now in Russia’s court, if it chooses to escalate the situation by military retaliation, then the world would draw closer to a third world war than it ever has been. The central point though remains that, Turkey has exercised its right as a sovereign state in accordance with the international law.
Back home, Dr Luka Biong was dismissed from his lecturing post at Juba university and reportedly expelled from the country. This was the result of direct instructions from president Kiir himself. The cause was a public lecture organised by Biong’s Centre for peace and development studies at Juba University. The subject of debate was the constitutionality and legality of the presidential decree 36/2015 expanding the current 10 states to 28 states. The views expressed by several participants were against the unilateral creation of more administrative units by the president.
The debaters demonstrated the unconstitutionality of president Kiir’s decree and that it has no legal basis. It was also reported that Ambrose Riing Thiik, the head of the Jieng Council of Elders ( JCE ) stormed out of the venue after being cornered by Dr Lam Akol in the debate. Apparently, he went straight to the president and requested dismissal of Dr Luka Biong from Juba university. President Kiir later said I quote, ” Whoever is undermining our sovereignty and the demand of our people will have to answer. Those who have been made who they are today by this country and then turn around to turn their backs against the very country can be dealt with, if proven they are playing a negative role.”
It appears Dr Luka Biong has been accused of compromising the state’s sovereignty by organising that debate hence prompting reprisal from the president. To understand the whole matter it’s worthwhile knowing how the term ” sovereign state ” originated. Westphalian sovereignty is the principle of international Law which states, each nation has sovereignty over its territory and domestic affairs to the exclusion of all external powers, on the principle of non-interference in another country’s domestic affairs, and that each state ( no matter how large or small ) is equal in international law.
The doctrine is named after the peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648 which ended the 30 years war in Europe. One fundamental aspect of sovereignty is that it’s not enough for a particular state to declare it, it has to be recognised by its neighbours and the international community. Sovereignty can be lost when the state loses certain criteria and regained when they are re-instated. Contemporary political thinking has challenged the doctrine and rendered it a non-absolute right of the state. This can be exemplified by the fact that no sovereignty exists in failed states and international intervention is justified on humanitarian grounds and by the threats posed by failed states to neighbouring countries and the world as a whole. The global impact of refugees fleeing conflict areas is undeniable. For example the Syrian refugee crisis has affected countries up to several thousand miles away from the Syrian borders.
The debate organised by Biong, if anything, has provided the authorities with the result of a mini opinion poll in regard to the presidential decree 36/2015. It was also a sort of a snapshot into the minds of an elite group in the republic of South Sudan and served as a means among others to gauge public opinion. Those people are among the groups that form the vibrant part of our society and their opinions can not be regarded as alien to the general trend in the country. While in other parts of the world, leaders pay much attention to public opinions as it’s in their best interests to be in people’s good books, in our part of the world, those who express opposing opinions get harassed, tortured, imprisoned or even liquidated.
Biong’s effort was a honest attempt by a concerned citizen to give the rulers the opportunity of knowing what is in people’s minds. Unfortunately instead of being commended for his effort to bring people together and fend off divisive actions, he ended up one step away from being charged with treason. People could argue that what Biong did was indeed an effort to safeguard our sovereignty as the consequences of the decree would ultimately lead to disintegration of South Sudan. The question is; has the president done his duty in the way of preserving our sovereignty and national pride? In chronological order the following events would show to the readers how our sovereignty has been consistently undermined since the inception of the government of South Sudan.
- The presence of the Ugandan People’s Defence Force ( UPDF ) on South Sudanese soil: The UPDF has been stationed within our borders before declaration of independence. We were made to believe that a deal has been struck between the South Sudanese government and the Ugandan counterpart that paved the way for the UPDF to enter South Sudan in the quest to defeat the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA ). Whatever they have agreed upon, makes our sovereignty questionable. The mere presence of the UPDF in South Sudan is an insult to our sovereignty. The two countries could have coordinated their efforts to combat the LRA without the UPDF crossing the borders into South Sudan. The Ugandans have been talking of a sort of a buffer zone within South Sudan to keep the LRA out of Uganda. It’s an unusual situation; probably unheard of where a country moves forces across the borders into a neighbouring country to block attacks on its citizens from its own rebels. People must realise that the LRA is Uganda’s internal problem and allowing the UPDF to operate on South Sudanese soil, means that our government has agreed on turning our country into a battlefield for settling Uganda’s internal conflict. No sovereign state would do such a thing. The implications are many, for instance, it’s belittling as it shows the world that we are unable to defend our territory against intruders. Also it implies that the safety of Ugandan citizens is more important than ours by making our land a buffer zone to seal off attacks on Uganda. The regime hasn’t spared a thought to the fact that war brings unwelcome consequences wherever it’s fought. Collateral damages, effects on local economy and the impression on the international community that the country is a war zone, are just few to mention. The irony is that, Uganda is now considered by the international community a war-free country while South Sudan continues to bear the consequences of the Uganda’s civil war. It led to a boost in Uganda’s economy by encouraging foreign investments, promoting trade and attracting tourism. It’s the Ugandan interests that are being served here.
- The Sudan Air Force ( SAF ) aggression: The bombing raids carried out by SAF’s Antonov’s in Northern Bahr El Gazal state and other states, have been largely downplayed by the regime in Juba. There has never been or will ever be retaliations for these raids under this government. This stands in stark contrast to what the Turks did to the Russians. Less than 20 seconds violation of their airspace led to the shooting down of the Russian warplane. Our response to SAF aggression was and still remains a joke. The Chief of General Staff, Paul Malong, even had the audacity of saying that the Sudan is trying to drag us into war. It means the regime will continue to avoid responding to any future bombings by SAF for fear of triggering a war with Sudan! It’s a disgraceful attitude that is unbecoming of proud people. This has embolden the SAF and on few occasions it carried bombing raids deeper into South Sudan as far as Bentiu in Unity state. The SAF incursions into South Sudan have turned into picnic trips or training exercises for its pilots. It’s clear that our northern neighbour does not recognise our sovereignty and our government on the other hand did little to make it take notice of it.
- UPDF intervention in the recent conflict: We were told that the basis for intervention was an agreement between the two governments. Well, what sort of an agreement is it?! Around the world, countries do enter into defence pacts, most notable is the NATO alliance mentioned above. The purpose is mutual defence against foreign aggression. This may entail stationing of forces or particular weapons within each other borders. Examples are the American Trident nuclear missiles in Scotland, American bases in Germany and NATO nuclear bombs in Turkey. However, the world has never heard of a defence pact against an internal insurgency or a rebellion. There is also issues about the constitutionality and legality of the UPDF invitation by the government as the National Legislative Assembly was not consulted. Again inviting a foreign force to intervene in an internal conflict is a breach of sovereignty and a recipe for division of the country. After all the opposition is not a foreign force, they are South Sudanese opposing a failed regime. Uganda is not immune from the same ills plaguing South Sudan. It is not impossible for a similar conflict to happen in Uganda. Would it be prudent for South Sudan or any of the Uganda’s neighbours to intervene on the side of the government against the opposition?
- Justice and Equality Movement( JEM ) mercenaries: There is an abundance of evidence that JEM forces were used by the government to shore up its war effort against the opposition. Again this kind of policy undermines our sovereignty as no sovereign state would allow a rebel group to work freely within its borders. The usual practice is to support foreign rebels in order to attack the country’s own rebels outside the borders.
- The UN Drones: The UN security council has approved the deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles ( Drones ) in South Sudan against government opposition. It’s a confirmation that the international community now sees South Sudan as a country that lacks sovereignty. A sovereign country would not allow let alone be forced to harbour foreign Drones on its soil or airspace.
So what sovereignty is president Kiir talking about ?! The track record of his administration has greatly contributed to the erosion of our sovereignty and what is left is partial at best. There is a window of opportunity coming up with the formation of the transitional government of national unity ( TGoNU ) and it should be used to fully restore our sovereignty.
Firstly, the UPDF should go home for good. Now that the LRA has disintegrated and ceased to be a threat, UPDF presence in South Sudan has become more unjustifiable than ever. Even if there are still some small pockets of LRA in the depths of the jungle, their level of activities will not be beyond common banditry and local security forces should be able to tackle it.
Secondly, SAF bombing raids should not be allowed to continue with impunity. The helicopter gunships that were shamefully used against civilians in Wonduruba , Mundri and Maridi areas, could now rightly be used to retaliate against SAF aggression.
Thirdly, JEM and other rebel movements should be booted out of South Sudan. The regime has forged an unholy alliance with the most unlikely partner. Some of you know that the deceased leader and founder of JEM, Dr Khalil Ibrahim, was the [ Amir (prince) ] of the so-called ” Dabbabeen ” in South Sudan before his rebellion against Bashir’s regime. He and some of his colleagues who are currently the leaders of JEM, were responsible of killing many South Sudanese
Fourthly, freedom of speech should be observed and respected by the government. We ought to realise that sovereignty also relates to how the government treats its people. A rogue state attracts the interference of the international community into its domestic affairs. This is because misrule and mishandling of its internal affairs leads to spilling over of its problems into neighbouring countries and countries beyond its borders.
An opinion expressed publicly by a citizen or by a group of citizens does not constitute a” threat ” to sovereignty for the following reasons. If the said opinion is shared only by a small portion of our population, then it will remain a minority opinion which poses no threat to the government and the country as a whole. On the other hand if that opinion is supported by the majority of the population, then it means it stands for the common good and will be a threat to the government if it does not reverse course but never a threat to the country. Governments do fall, and new ones get formed – People don’t!
The author, Dr Lako Jada Kwajok, is a concern South Sudanese. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org