April 16, 2016(Nyamilepedia) —- As much as peace in South Sudan is within reach, resumption of war and descent into chaos is much closer than you think. The return of the opposition leaders to Juba would have naturally filled every heart with optimism. However, this is not exactly the case in the current environment engulfing the country. What accurately depicts the situation is what I call as a state of cautious optimism. The Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan ( ARCISS ) is an opportunity for the regime to allow the country to climb out of the hole dug by its catastrophic policies. Squandering this precious chance for achieving a lasting peace would lead to one thing only which is a definite and rapid fall into the abyss.
A common theme among the regime’s supporters is the scapegoating of the President’s aides and colleagues in the cabinet for all the shortcomings of the government. Some would even say that the President was let down by people he trusted but failed to deliver. What they neglected to explain is – why did he keep all his cronies despite mounting failures? And why no one was dismissed for good or ended up in jail? Those who were relieved from ministerial posts were made Presidential Advisors, Ambassadors with or without portfolios or just allowed to go into hibernation in the SPLM party at taxpayers expense. Moreover, no one among them seems to have the courage of questioning the President’s personal responsibility regarding the dire situation in the country. It’s a misleading notion aimed at presenting the President favourably and rendering him the false image of being a fair-minded person. The fact of the matter is that President Kiir is no different from his cronies.
Last week, the media outlets circulated troubling remarks from the Chief of General Staff, General Paul Malong, I quote ” I will wait to see how he would be the president in our presence. He would be a president in my absence. ” He was referring to the expected arrival of Dr. Riek Machar in Juba to kick start the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity ( TGoNU ). The word ” absence ” in his remarks could mean one of two things – either he would resign his post or that Dr Riek Machar can only be President over his dead body. The former is less likely than the latter as there is no way that he would leave his post without being fired. His words displayed a massive ego and implied authority over the regime’s decision-making process. In a democratic government or indeed any government, such remarks would have cost him his job. A couple of weeks ago, Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation was sacked by President Kiir with a decree read over SSTV. The reasons for dismissal were not given. However, many observers have attributed it to a document signed by him and sent to the UN High Commission for Human Rights, in which he referred to Dr. Luka Biong, who hails from Abyei, as a Sudanese national.
It was a lie meant to mislead that UN organisation. The former Minister indeed made a mistake, but it’s quite trivial in comparison to what other members of the cabinet did but allowed to keep their positions. The said document affected one citizen and not the whole Abyei community – it did not point out that Abyei belongs to Sudan. Furthermore, the regime did join the Sudanese government in rejecting the unilateral referendum conducted by the Abyei civil society in 2013 that overwhelmingly supported joining South Sudan. That decision by our government though met with dismay from the general public was not perceived as an admission that Abyei is part of Sudan. What the former minister signed did not mean a change in policy or that our government has forsaken Abyei to the Jallaba government. Therefore, it’s reasonable to believe that there are ulterior motives and a double-standard policy behind the dismissal of the former minister. With that being said, I am not by any means defending the former minister – he is an integral part of the corrupt and failed regime that has destroyed the country.
Coming back to my main topic, those remarks by Malong, should have led to immediate dismissal from his post. It’s a problem because what he said is very antagonistic to the single most important policy benchmark required to be adhered to by the government which is full implementation of ARCISS. The problem with those utterances is two-fold. Firstly, there is nothing in the agreement that would prevent Dr. Riek Machar from becoming President of South Sudan should the position become vacant for whatever reason during the transition. Also he is entitled to be the Acting President While President Kiir is outside the country or in the event of being incarcerated by illness. Secondly, Malong’s job description does not give him the right to wade into matters related to government policy. His job is purely non-political, and we have an example of his predecessor, General James Hoth Mai, who had run the military by the book.
Needless to say, Malong has overstepped his authority on several occasions. His outrageous statement in August 2015 that the regime would rather follow the footsteps of the likes of Al Qaeda and Boko Haram than to sign the peace agreement hasn’t been forgotten. That statement alone should have resulted in a swift dismissal because of its enormous implications. I was amazed that in a world where a war is being vigorously waged against international terrorism that includes the above infamous terrorist organisations, Malong’s statement drew negligible or no reaction at all from the international community. Perhaps the formidable powers that are engaged in the global war on terror, regarded Malong’s utterances as empty threats from the Military Chief of a government that was saved from collapse by a foreign force. Lack of action does not mean what Malong has said was entirely ignored. It has already tarnished the regime’s image as a government harbouring elements with terrorist inclination. The consequences may come in the form of difficulties in securing loans from the international monetary institutions, problems with admission into international organisations and plenty of others.
However, the most bizarre situation though was Kiir’s refusal to sign the peace agreement in Addis Ababa on 17/08/2015. The reason he gave was that he needed to go back to Juba for consultation with his colleagues in the cabinet. It was a move unheard of in what is known as state protocols. The typical approach is for the head of the negotiating team to travel to Juba for consultation with the President in the event of a stalemate during the negotiation. The president only attends the negotiation venue at the final stage prior to signing the deal. The whole thing was unprecedented because he is the top man in the government and as people say ” the buck stops at his desk.” That leaves one to conclude that the president does not have total control over the decision-making process and that other strong players have to be brought on board before a final decision could be made.
The above scenarios have led to speculations about who runs the country. If Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin could be relieved of his duties as stated above, why not Malong who has apparently committed much graver mistakes? The fact that he gets away with any destructive statement and remark indicates one of two things. Either that President Kiir totally agrees with him, or he is the real centre of power in South Sudan backed by the Jieng Council of Elders ( JCE ). In either case the prospects for a lasting peace is quite grim. South Sudan would be better off with the likes of Paul Malong kept out of office. Unfortunately ARCISS does not prescribe removing those who are overtly anti-peace from their positions. Nonetheless, the formation of the TGoNU should offer the tools to tame Malong and his cohorts. It will be inexcusable and detrimental for the opposition to allow Kiir and Malong to do business as usual.
The author is a concern South Sudanese who can be reached at email@example.com
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