ANALYSIS: What Kiir-Machar Face To Face Meeting Achieved!

By Deng Elijah,

South Sudan clerics praying at J1 one in presence of Kiir, Machar who are meeting to solve states issue (Photo: File/Supplied/Nyamilepedia)

Sept 18, 2019(Nyamilepedia) — The recent mouthwatering face-to-face meeting between Dr. Riek Machar Teny and Salva Kiir Mayardit has left more questions than answers, contrary to the “important progress” that was publicly announced by the two principles on Wednesday. Among the many puzzles that remain lingering in the minds of South Sudanese, peace guarantors, sympathizers and friends of the people of South Sudan include, but are not limited to, whether or not the ground would be leveled this time to ensure the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity will be established in November this year or not, and if so, whether or not this RTGNU will implement this peace agreement in letter and spirit. In brief, this article will analyze some of the keys points that were deliberated by the two principles and their accompanying delegations during the recent September 9th, 2019 face-to-face meeting in Juba, South Sudan.

Noteable Compromises In Black and White:

On one hand, while the coming of Dr. Machar to Juba without independent pre-arrangements and security assurance from the SPLA-IO could be seen as a huge compromise on the side of Dr. Riek Machar and the SPLM/A-IO, the government, on the other hand, gave away a few peanuts in the form of a controversially ambiguous red carpet, and the notable VIP protection and accommodation. While Machar shown bravery, the government proved their cat-mice fairytale that Juba is very safe and feasible for Dr. Machar’s return.

Insofar as Juba may feel like a jungle of death to key rival politicians like Dr. Machar, the government is strengthening its argument that the jungle is as safe as heaven; a mere hypothesis president Kiir and his inner-circle have been struggling to put across to challenge the “two-armies” theory and amalgamation of forces in favor of “integration” of rebel forces for the last five years. So far Dr. Machar seems to be playing along quite well. Therefore, from the government’s perspective, Machar’s recent visit to Juba cemented their call for integration of the SPLA-IO forces into the SSPDF and possibilities of Machar returning to Juba in less than two months without further preconditions. To expedite this process, Machar has announced that he has moved the SPLM/A[IO] headquarters to Juba, a decision that might not be very popular among the SPLA-IO, and Salva Kiir promptly formed what he termed as the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission that would most likely oversee more disarmament than integration of those forces that will not be integrated into the SSPDF. In less words, Machar and Kiir might have struck another “gentlemen agreement” behind closed doors but whether such truce would compliment or violate the R-ARCISS will depend on the details that are yet to emerge.

It is also imperative to acknowledge that president Kiir and Dr. Machar managed their spokespersons to meet public expectations in terms of reporting the events in what would be considered to be the best interest for peace and political stability. While those of Taban Deng Gai, who are fighting their mini wars of self-interests from within were temporarily concealed from the public eye to avoid unnecessary agitations, the Presidential Press Unit, notably the Press Secretary of President Kiir, Mr. Ateny Wek Ateny, the Government Spokesman, who doubles as the Minister of Information, Mr. Michael Makuei Lueth and the SPLM/A(IO) Deputy Chairperson, Hon. Henry Odwar, made their statements as official and broad as they could. These gentlemen, especially Ateny Wek and Michael Makuei, who have been disparaging since 2013, manned their “loose tongues”, as Dr. Lam Akol would say, by limiting their personal opinions and derogatory remarks, both on social media and in media mainstream. This appeared to have been a deliberate attempt to maintain sanity throughout the event; however, as it is usually said “when the deal is too good, think twice”. The SPLM/A(IO) may need to further investigate the intent of their peace partners!

Moving The SPLM/A(IO) Headquarters to Juba

South Sudan's ex-vice president and former rebel leader Riek Machar exits a plane as he arrives to Juba to meet President Salva Kiir, at the Juba international airport, South Sudan, September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Samir Bol

South Sudan’s ex-vice president and former rebel leader Riek Machar exits a plane as he arrives to Juba to meet President Salva Kiir, at the Juba international airport, South Sudan, September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Samir Bol

As already emphasized, the decision to move the SPLM/A(IO) headquarters to the capital, Juba, demonstrates the SPLM/A(IO) commitment to peace, on one hand, but controversial, on the other hand. While it boosts the confidence of the civil population and assures that the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity will be formed comes November 12th, 2019, this decision also puts the cart before the horse when examined deeply. The mandatory pre-arrangements, which are stipulated in the revitalized peace agreement, such as the security arrangement, number and boundaries of states are not yet completed and as such it begs the question whether or not Dr. Machar would still relocate to Juba even if the pre-transitional period is not implemented. So who exactly is fooling who?

As stipulated in the peace agreement, moving the SPLM/A(IO) headquarters to a government controlled area is a collective responsibility in the sense that the government should have uplifted the curfews, released all the prisoners of war(POW), demilitarized the capitals, vacated an area that would be used as the SPLM/A(IO) headquarters, ensured the security arrangement is completed and the newly trained security forces are deployed as per the terms of R-ARCiSS and similarly this would also apply if it were Salva Kiir moving his headquarters to the SPLM/A[IO] controlled areas; otherwise anything else would only amount to temporary accommodation. The headquarters of such a huge political and military organization cannot be run in hotels. Thus, this questions the optimality of the decision itself and its long-term ramifications!

Forming a New Boundary Committee:

Despite that the two principles have agreed to form another committee contrary to the peace agreement, there are no guarantees that the new committee will bring forth a better solution than that of the IBC. Like the IBC, establishing a new committee will most likely take another six months to one year or even more, and at the end of the day the new committee will repeat exactly the same process that the IBC did but this time at a much slower phase than the Independent Boundaries Commission. This committee will not be “independent”. The government delegation, which will have an upper hand, will drag its feet to frustrate the process and ensure that this issue is not resolved.

Failure to resolve the number of states means that a vital infrastructure on which the peace agreement was to be implemented on will be lacking. In a nutshell, forming a “Revitalized” Transitional Government of National Unity before deciding on the number of states the country should be run on is like trying to build a castle in the air before establishing its foundation. This condition contradicts the notion that the nearly dead TGNU has been “revitalized” or “resuscitated”. The number and boundaries of states predicament is the new Ebola that did not exist in 2015, and given that this issue is harder to resolve compared to the two-armies and other important issues, we would be cheating ourselves to claim that the R-TGNU is healthier than the TGNU.

If anything, I would propose that the parties should implement the R-TGNU based on the ten states and leave this issue to be decided upon by the citizens through a referendum when peace and stability are fully restored. By all definitions, it does not make any sense that a country that begs other countries to feed her own citizens; a country that cannot afford to fund her peace implementation and other basic necessities would afford to have 21 or 32 states governments.

Economically speaking, if South Sudan could not develop ten states — when all her oil wells were producing oil at their maximum capacities and oil prices were still high in the world market; when South Sudan population was not displaced and not depending on humanitarian assistance like today; and when the international communities were pouring millions of dollars into South Sudan to fund developmental projects, — how would the RTGNU establish 32 parliaments, pay over 550 national members of parliament(mps) and perhaps over 1000 states mps and still develop the 32 states when some of the oil wells are destroyed or shut down by the civil war; when South Sudan has five 5 Vice Presidents with huge motorcades and VIP protection, and when South Sudan has billions of loans to repay to China and other Asian countries? This states issue is a scam the president will never get enough of!

Dissemination of the peace agreement:

To these days the warring parties still obstruct humanitarian access to pockets of their controlled areas and if, almost harmless, humanitarian organizations cannot be trusted to penetrate into some areas, it will take much longer for the warring parties to trust one another to disseminate peace in areas that are controlled by the other parties. As it was witnessed recently, president Kiir could only tour his home region of Bhar el Ghazal and made no attempt to tour the Upper Nile and Equatoria, most likely because he is afraid of his own life. Dr. Riek, on the other hand, has not visited any part of South Sudan since he was uprooted in 2016. Therefore, until the two leaders addressed the fundamentals and agree on when to start a tour together, any meaningful peace dissemination will remain a good idea but just on the paper!

Fundamental Freedoms:

The principles also raised and discussed the need to address fundamental freedoms such as the freedom of press and media as Hon. Henry Odwar emphasizes but as we are well aware the parliament, loyal to president Kiir, recently passed a media bill but to ensure that such a bill would never be effective the same government found a way to pass a security bill that suddenly turned South Sudan into a police state. As we speak, South Sudan security apparatus have more powers to search, arrest or even to kill without following any legal process such as criminal codes or the constitution. So far many journalists and political activists have been arrested; while some of them remain behind bars, a few of them have been released without being taken to court. This is the sad reality in South Sudan but these statuses cannot be changed by the two principles as they need to be passed as bills through the national legislative assembly.

On the other hand, the SPLM/A-IO supporters are worried that the R-ARCiSS has overstepped the need for reforms, which the SPLM/A(IO) has been fighting for, and the leadership’s silence on this agenda is being questioned; however, the majority of the supporters are aware that these are matters beyond the two principles and as long as they were not encrypted into the peace document, they cannot be resolved by the two leaders.

Releasing Fund:

Numerically speaking, South Sudan has enough oil revenue to fund the implementation of the peace agreement but this depends on whether the party that  controls the oil revenues has political will to fund the peace agreement. This is a decision that now depends entirely on Salva Kiir after Dr. Machar gave up the SPLM/A(IO) share of control in Unity State’s oil fields in June last year. Therefore, the press release in this regards was not politically correct in the sense that one party controls nearly all the resources and this leaves the SPLM/A(IO) with a zero bargaining power. If anything the decision on how to release and channel funding should have been made during the peace agreement in Addis, Ababa; however, it was left in the hand of the Salva Kiir government which is now prioritizing its own political mobilization that including purchasing presidential jet and luxurious vehicles for MPs. The money that is being invested in the presidential jet, MP vehicles and other nonesical private projects is more than enough to fund the peace implementation!

Security Arrangement:

Although it has been a year since the eight-month Pre-Transitional Period began, the parties are still in Stage One i.e. assessing cantonment sites and trying to organize their forces into battalions. While some troops are arriving on their assigned cantonment sites, some have rejected their sites and others have no material supplies including water and food. This means that the training of forces may not begin even by November 12, 2019.

In addition, before the Transitional Period begins or before the Transitional Government is formed, which seems to be the easier task to do so far, the warring parties should demilitarize civilians sites, collect all medium range heavy weapons, canton all forces under the supervision of monitoring bodies, screen and classify all forces according to known military criteria(army, police, national security, wildlife, DRR etc), sketch maps detailing present locations, avail lists stating the numbers of forces that were not previously declared as per CoHA, among other criteria. These should have been completed at least by now if the Revitalize Transitional Government of National Unity was to be formed by or before November 12, 2019.

Forming The DDR Commission:

Following the face-to-face meeting of the two principles, President Kiir rushed to form the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission contrary to article 2.4.9. of the R-ARCiSS which states that “the Disarmament, Demobilization and Re-Integration Commission shall be reconstituted within 30 days following the signing of this agreement”. Forming this Commission should never have taken a year in the first place and it did not require a Face-to-Face meeting between the two principles but the timing of its formation betrays what could be a good intent from President Kiir. Given that a lot of articles are not followed or implemented so far, as it should have been the case, the point is no longer why the DDR Commission has been established but rather what it will accomplish.

In a normal scenario, a DDR Commission is established to Disarm and Demobilize former combatants and then Re-integrate them into civilian society. This process assumes that there is uninterrupted or already reconstructed civilian society but in South Sudan today the reality is that the civilian society is disrupted and displaced. Therefore, what is needed is not the DDR commission but rather the DDRRR which stands for Disarmament, Demobilization, Repatriation, Reintegration and Resettlement to not only reintegrate former combatants but would also to repatriate, reintegrate and resettle the refugees and the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). Unfortunately, this is what the UN or an independent third party would do but not the tribally motivated South Sudanese leaders.

According to Article 2.4.10 of the Mechanisms for the Security Arrangement of the R-ARCISS, the Disarmament, Demobilization and Re-Integration program is meant for “persons with special needs that are ineligible, or not willing to serve in the unified army” but is this what the parties actually intent to do and will eventually do? We will find out!

Did The Meeting Break the Ice?

In African political context, and in almost every African country, there are always at least two prominent politicians who command upto eighty (80%) of the power and have the guts to dictate the fates of the country. In the neighboring countries, for example, in contemporary Kenya, those two principals are Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta; in Uganda the two principles are President Yoweri K. Museveni and arguably Dr. Kizza Besigye notwithstanding the uprising politician, Bobi Wine; and in the new Sudan, the two emerging principles are the current Prime Minister  Abdalla Hamdok  and Lt. Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Daglo, the Deputy Chairman of the Transitional Military Council. In the school of economics, this principle is known as the Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 Rule or Pareto Efficiency, named after an Italian engineer, sociologist, economist, political scientist, and philosopher, Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto. This law of the vital few, dictates that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

In South Sudan, the two principles, Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, literally command the fate of the entire country not only because they come from the two largest tribes but also because of their past influence in the liberation struggles. Therefore, if the two principles can decide to work together in the best interest of the country, like Dr. Garang and Dr. Riek realized between 2000 and 2002 which subsequently led to the signing of the Comprehensive Peace agreement in 2005, peace and stability would be restored in South Sudan overnight and the voices of other opposition leaders may not matter very much. Needless to reiterates that it was because of a “gentlemen agreement” or good working relationship between the two principles that South Sudan attained her independence in 2011.

Although the face-to-face meeting did not breakdown a physical “ice” as Dr. Peter Adwok Nyaba would want us to believe, it has created optimism and laid a new foundation of hopes on which social fabrics and trust could be built iff [if and only if] the two principles keep their promises. As it is usually said, Rome was not built in one day, it will take more commitments, hard work, compromises and more face-to-face meetings, like this, to rebuild social fabric and to restore trust, love, peace and unity among the South Sudanese people; however, it remains to be seen if the party that broke the “2010 gentlemen agreement” or the party that violated the 2015 peace agreement will abide to whatever the two principles agreed or will agree on in the future.

In Sum, the recent Face-to-Face meeting was a good starting point, it tested the commitment of Dr. Riek Machar to work with President Salva Kiir, on one hand, and the egocentric and arrogance of the president, on the other hand. The meeting attempted to treat as many known symptoms as possible, which literally reveals that the two principles did not really have an agenda, but at the same time it further exposed the South Sudanese courage to smile even when their heavy hearts bleed and the intransigence of the leaders to share power.

The author, Deng Elijah, is the Executive Director of Nyamilepedia. He can be reached for any media related matters through nyamilepedia@gmail.com. He can be followed for more succinct articles, views and opinions through his Facebook page at Deng Elijah

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