Biel Boutros Contributor's Speech

Reflecting Beyond Projected Narratives to Achieve Peace in South Sudan

By Biel Boutros Biel

Panelist At South Sudan Engagement Day and Public Dialogue

Under the theme:

‘Transcending the Shadow of Violence: Alternatives for Fostering Inclusive State-building and Sustainable Peace in South Sudan’

With  Professor Mahmood Mamdani as keynote speaker;

The symposium was organised by

The Makerere University Convocation(MUC) in collaboration with Konrad-Adenaur-Stiftung(KAS) and University Forum on Governance(UNiFOG).

26 August 2016,

Senate Conference Hall,

Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda.

Sept 2, 2016(Nyamilepedia) —– “To think of South Sudan as a failed state is to overlook the simple fact that the very political foundation for the existence of a state—administrative, technical, and legal infrastructure or a political compact as its foundation and direction—has yet to be forged, either within the elite or between the communities that comprise South Sudan. There was no bureaucracy, no judiciary, nothing to fail; the leadership of this non-existent state was propped up and lionised by important sections of the international community, led by the troika, and now the country is in chaos. Rather than a failed state, South Sudan was a failed transition’.(Prof. Mamdani).

  • Introduction

From the outset, I would like to thank the leadership of Makerere University Convocation, Konrad-Adenaur-Stiftung and University Forum on Governance for inviting me to be one of the panelists on the Public Dialogue(the dialogue) on South Sudan. This dialogue is significantly timely. By organising such an event, the organisers have shown strong regional solidarity with the South Sudanese people. Interestingly, it is organised in Uganda and largely by one of Uganda’s institutions of high learning. Thank you so much for your concern on our people. I further thank the organisers for choosing Professor Mahmood Mamdani as the keynote Speaker for this dialogue. Prof. Mamdani has been very articulate and keen political commentator on the South Sudan’s socio-political issues. Notably, since 15 December 2013 when the ongoing civil war in South Sudan sparked off, Prof. Mamdani has been consistently delivering to the region and the world analyses regarding the causes of violence and the way forward to building an inclusive state and durable peace in South Sudan. His versions have been consistent with South Sudan’s contextual circumstances of violence. Thank you so much Prof. Mamdani for your efforts in an attempt to build and realise a stable and inclusive South Sudanese state.

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  • Observation on Professor Mahmood Mamdani’s version:

As I revisit what others have said: I disagree for now with Prof. Mamdani on his extreme proposal to hand over South Sudan to be governed through hybrid leadership under African Panel of experts. In my view, this is not the right time for this proposal. Let’s try other options which I would recommend later. If these options failed, we can at the very extreme scenario, resort to Prof. Mamdani’s proposal of handing the country to the third party. By this time, we shall have known at all angles, that South Sudanese have utterly failed to think and do anything that can help their country even when assisted by regional and international community through other options.

Alternatively, I am, to a larger extent in concurrence with Prof. Mamdani’s argument that South Sudan is a failed transition though under international law, South Sudan meets theoretical requirements of statehood, yet the state has no monopoly of violence and does not either offer security which is the first fundamental duty of a responsible state. What currently exist though, are very personallised makeshifts which do not even fit to be called public institutions as they have all submitted to the whims and dictates of one man; President Salva Kiir. These structures are avenues through which rule of law and human rights are willfully abused.

I also agree with Prof. Mamdani that the United Nations Mission in South Sudan(UNMISS) has failed to protect civilians. I would instead suggest that what makes UNMISS failed to protect civilians must be critically looked into by United Nations Security Council. Is UNMISS politically infiltrated or underequipped to protect itself and civilians? These questions should lead the analysis of why UNMISS does not adequately protect itself and those under its care. Prof. Mamdani rightly puts it that the UN has learnt nothing from the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda. Similarly, it seems to me that unless the international community wakes up from its so many usual wrong assumptions on locally contextualised realities, genocide is likely to surprise the world in South Sudan.

Prof. Mamdani has put blame on Troika countries and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development(IGAD), that they supported secession of South Sudan from the Sudan and that the IGAD and Troika placed power and endorsed blanket dictatorship in the hands of SPLM leaders. I would argue differently that, to place blame on Troika and IGAD for the secession of South Sudan is not realistic. As far as I know, with or without foreign help, South Sudanese were simply going to vote for a separate state which they actually did on 9 January 2011. There is no way Troika and IGAD can be blamed for South Sudanese own decision. For the SPLM dictatorship, this is true to a larger extent for it is the very dictatorship that has sent South Sudan into current turmoil. But is that dictatorship the making of Troika and IGAD? I submit it is not. What brought it all, could be partly the nature of SPLM/A formation where its leadership was initialed on rhetorics of hate, ideological differences and cunning styles of leadership of Dr. John Garang. The SPLM/A since its inception in 1983, has been founded on patronage leadership and no clear institutional vision rather than the failed ‘secular United Sudan argument’ which died together with Dr. John Garang in 2015.

Again Prof. Mamdani acknowledged the level of crimes such as rapes and more which the warring parties have committed. However, he distasted criminal accountability, regarding it as an element to perpetuate the violence. He argued that criminal trials will push the military generals and political leaders accused of such crimes to a defence-angle and that will thwart efforts for peace and reconciliation in South Sudan. I partly agree with him that criminal trials will likely escalate violence which will cause more violence and sufferings to South Sudanese. Much as criminal trials escalate violence but the level of impunity in South Sudan has reached a significant climax. I thus tend to disagree with Prof. Mamdani that there should be no criminal responsibility though I agree that there is need for political solution to the violence as its roots were political. I then suggest that both political solution and criminal accountability must be concurrently pursued. This pursuit of criminal trials has not been my song but this conclusion now comes as result of the level of impunity which I have so far observed. South Sudanese especially the political and military drivers of the violence have disgracefully failed to respect human dignity especially the worth of women and girls. They must thus be held criminally accountable. This will cause stability at the long run in South Sudan notwithstanding short-term dangers brought about by criminal trials especially when dealing with militarised perpetrators.

  • Commenting on some of my fellow panelists’ argument:

My fellow panelist Honourable Thomas Tayebwa argued against Prof. Mamdani’s observation that there is no national army in South Sudan. He believes that there is! However, for Hon. Tayebwa to regard the current Sudan People’s Liberation Army(SPLA) in Juba as a standing army, is in my view terrible flattery. His argument points to the fact that he is not well schooled in the current composition of the SPLA. It does not need much analysis to know that the current SPLA is a constituent of national militia meant to perpetuate violence that benefits political elites and military generals at the expense of ordinary South Sudanese. It is a militia collected and manned under different tribal warlords or generals. Bluntly put, there is no national army in South Sudan as of today. Neither the armed SPLA-In Opposition(SPLA-IO) nor the SPLA-in Government(SPLA-IG) can be described army of any standing. One of the simple elements of an army with a national character is respect of human dignity. Have the SPLA in either form been respecting dignity of South Sudanese? No! Instead, it is the tool that causes violence.

I do not also buy the argument of one of the panelists Professor Julius Kiiza that; what is required much by ordinary South Sudanese now, is to build their local capacity to challenge their political leaders. Much as this, is a noble proposal but how practical to build capacity of dying persons? The violence is raging countrywide. Have we run out of priorities? It instead, seems to me that the best is to now gang up efforts to stop that violence and let peace prevail. Peace is what South Sudanese people need now.  Once the guns are silent and the much needed pro-people institutions are in place, we can then talk of building local capacity.

Prof. Kiiza also insisted on the use of local solutions to resolve ongoing violence in South Sudan. However, my observation of South Sudanese political discourses is different. The July 2016 violence in Juba has pointed to a failure of South Sudanese to use local solutions, to the point of failing to implement an already-made Peace Agreement. I would rather urge Prof. Kiiza to be alive to the practical realities on the ground. The current civil war in South Sudan which started since December 2013, if continuously left to only South Sudanese political elites and warlords, it will likely escalate to a regional war as its effects are already spilling to the region. Besides, the world should not wait for another ‘1994 Rwanda’.

  • Moving away from preferred narratives to realities:

Taking a note from what Prof. Mamdani and other speakers have said, I would also like to add  more views not only from the angle of an insider but also from personal experience as human rights defender whose background has been informed by South Sudanese contextual realities. As far as I understand, the sole objective of this dialogue is to seek alternatives to curb violence and move forward in pursuit of relevantly applicable informed options; those options which enable build an inclusive state and sustainable peace in South Sudan. May as it should, it seems to me that in order to suggest viable options for building a nonviolently inclusive state and durable peace in South Sudan, this dialogue should be tuned to reflect and analyse discourses beyond commonly projected narratives.

The commonly projected narratives which I have alluded to that might have been presumably believed by regional political elites and perhaps by a portion of international community, assumed as realistic picture of the continued violence have always been the following;

  1. That the violence in South Sudan is largely caused by tribalism mostly between Dinka and Nuer. If it is tribalism per se, why have there been Nuer and Dinka split on both sides of the South Sudanese warring factions?
  2. That the power struggles cause violence and splits among the cadres of the rebel movement-turned ruling political party; the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement(SPLM) and with the SPLM-led government. If this could be so, did it cause the Anya Nya I to fight to among themselves to the extent of a civil war?
  3. That influence from the Republic of the Sudan on some South Sudanese leaders contributed to the violence in South Sudan particularly within the political elites.

Arguably, the above assumptions are not entirely excluded as causative of the recurrent violence, to the least extent, they do, yet the underlying causes of violence and splits in South Sudan are far beyond these projected lullabies.

  • What have then been the main causes of violence in South Sudan?

The 1983 split within the membership of South Sudanese rebel leaders, was at the very least caused by power struggle as John Garang bitterly opposed Akuot Atem(Dinka) to lead the Movement. However, what very much at play were the ideological differences. Similarly, the 1991 split was also caused by ideological differences. A nuanced glance on the prevailing circumstances shows that, the 2013 violence that sparked the ongoing civil war has been caused by a combination of internal and external factors which are not limited to the following:

  • Internal factors:

  • Cult, clique and patronage leadership within the ruling SPLM leadership. Absence of caring leadership has caused leadership vacuum which has become a recipe for violence.
  • constitutionalised abuse of power by the top leadership of the ruling SPLM;
  • A failed democracy coupled with incompetence and incompetent leadership of the SPLM. The ruling SPLM has not allowed atmosphere for free speech and expression, fair and free democratic rules that are tenets of good governance. It is illogical to assume a non-democratic to democratise South Sudan and create atmosphere of nonviolence.
  • Absence of a clear guiding policy and vision for the country or for the government by the ruling party. The SPLM has lost direction and detaches itself from the people it claims to represent and for whom it purported to have liberated during the wars of independence.
  • Failure of the state to provide security for the citizens and instead, the state security apparatus under SPLM-led government  has become the cause of insecurity for citizens;
  • False and exclusive claim of nationalism and patrioticism by some sectors of society as liberators while branding others as collaborators and coward;
  • Perpetual corruption within the ruling SPLM is yet another cause of violence as the few ruling elites get richer and richer by the day and the majority South Sudanese grow poorer and poorer in abject poverty;
  • Fear of being outcompeted by competent succeeding leaders within the SPLM;
  • Incompetently weak and  personalised state institutions which have become abusive and subsequently avenues that violate human rights, rule of law and human dignity;
  • Hate speech propagated on South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation.
  • Brainwashed citizenry and entrenched poverty that is inflicted on the poor by the political elites to keep the citizens vulnerable in order to be submissive to the elites’ political manoeuvres.
  • Impunity in violations of human rights: Among the past and current SPLM leaders, neither can claim being blood-stained-free nor anyone can claim more nationalistic than others. They have been killing South Sudanese civilians mostly children and women. Noone has ever been held accountable. The impunity has gone on unabated. This is one of the causes that perpetuates the violence in South Sudan.

The following examples show how South Sudanese have been killed by their leaders without any of the leaders being held to account for his or her evils:

  1. In 1985-6(Gajaak Nuer were massacred by SPLM/A).
  2. In 1991(Dinka Bor were massacred by SPLM/A forces of Nasir faction under Riek Machar) and in retaliation, the SPLM/A commanders such as Kuol Manyang, George Athor and others killed many Nuer civilians including murdering them in the church in Ayod County. In both factions however, no single leader was ever held accountable. The impunity continues unabated.
  3. In 1999(Didinga were killed by SPLM/A in Chukudum) under the pretext of being supporters of a Khartoum supported militia General Lorot who was accused of being responsible for the killing of the SPLA General Deng Agwang. The SPLA soldiers under John Garang turned their guns on innocent Didinga civilians. No SPLA leader was held accountable on such crimes. The impunity continues.
  4. In 2006(Lou-Nuer were killed by SPLA under the pretext of disarmament). The SPLA General Peter Bol Koang was in command of SPLA against Lou-Nuer and to date, no accountability was ever done.
  5. In 2012-2013(Murle were killed by SPLA under the disguised policy of disarmament as they did to Lou-Nuer). Still there was no accountability for the perpetrators.
  6. In 2012(People of Wau were killed by the SPLA) in an organised manner as the civilians were accused of refusing to vacate Wau town to settle at newly created County. No one was held accountable against such crimes.
  7. In 2013(Nuer killed by SPLA in Juba and also SPLA-IO killed Dinka in other places). No one has been held accountability for such crimes.

It is my submission that absence of accountability has partly encouraged perpetual violence in South Sudan. Many have used tribal card to kill and loot. Unfortunately, under the shield of ethnic contours and weak institutions, perpetrators are not always held accountable.

  • External factors

  • Uganda’s military intervention on one side:

Before the independence, Uganda leadership partly supported South Sudanese in their liberation struggles against North Sudan. However, its military intervention in 2013 civil war supporting only one side, makes the matters worst as this encourages President Salva Kiir to intensify violence regardless of its dire and devastating effects. The presence of Uganda’s troops on South Sudanese soil, involved in war to support one side, deeply wounded local possibilities for true reconciliation. This is because Uganda, as a ‘big brother’, should have intervened amicably to find a solution among the fighting brothers. Instead, what Uganda seems to have encouraged in South Sudan was a ‘spirit of no reforms’ badly needed by South Sudan. Other forces like Darfurian rebels of Justice and Equality Movement and also SPLM/A-North of Sudan Revolution forces under General Malik Agar, should also stop supporting one side. This will also make Khartoum not to support any rebel group against the South Sudan.

  • Hypocrisies of the international community:

Apart from their usual language of bashing ‘both sides’ as are mistaken and are committing this or that, the members of international community have not been very consistent in the way they intend to resolve crises in South Sudan. Their language has been contradictory at best and very hypocritical at worst. They could not come out very clearly to hold accountable any side of the warring parties causing problems and if both sides are at wrong, they should have then taken tough and drastic measures against all parties.

  • Way forward for South Sudan:

There is no purely military solution to a conflict with political roots. This is true for South Sudanese civil war whose causes are purely political as they emanated from a failed leadership within the ruling SPLM party. This failed leadership largely contributed to weak institutions. The ethnic angle has always come for political elites to garner support by raising ethnic emotions. However, care has to be had. Ethnic diversity entrenched and fuelled by generations of hostility constitutes a major challenge that needs to be addressed to ensure peace and human security. The SPLM leaders have failed to deliver to the people and relapsed to oblivion in their lip-serviced promises to the people of South Sudan. An inclusive peace process is necessary if the warring parties are not to hold the card. The region and the world should look on intertwined issues that cause violence far beyond the personalities of President Salva Kiir and the First Vice-President Riek Machar.

In view of the aforementioned foregoing argument, the immediate alternatives to reduce violence in South Sudan in my view are:

  1. Urgent need for a regional intervention force, well equipped, oriented and capable to respond swiftly to civilian protection. This force should be immediately deployed in South Sudan starting with Juba to other state capital towns and conflict areas in South Sudan.
  2. Arms embargo on South Sudan is another drastic measure that should be effected. This will reduce violence as the military might of the warring parties shall be weakened.
  3. Full reinstatement of the Transitional Government of National Unity(TGoNU).
  4. The parties should be urged to implement the signed August 2015 Peace Agreement and the reforms enshrined in it, should be prioritised which include but not limited to the following:
  1. Demilitarisation of Juba to be run only by deployed regional force and limited joint command of the parties as provided for under art 6, Chapter I of the Peace Agreement. This will reduce violence as tensions and threats are reduced and master planners are monitored. The coercion by the international and regional bodies will leave the belligerent parties with no better options but to implement the Peace Agreement.
  2. Starting an inclusive process of constitution-making under reconstituted National Constitutional Review Commission should be prioritized as provided for under Chapter VI of the Peace Agreement.
  3. Institutional reforms starting with institutions such as police, army, national security, other security organs, Judiciary, public service, Anti-Corruption Commission, Parliament, Human Rights Commission and others should be commenced. The reforms should first begin with review of abusive and draconian laws governing these institutions. The laws must conform to the newly to be finalised amended Constitution as provided for under article 13(13.1.2.) of Chapter I of the Peace Agreement.
  4. Setting up of transitional justice mechanisms is a way forward to hold those perpetrators accountable. This is difficult as I Prof. Mamdani and I have alluded to before but my view, there is no better way to curb impunity that is rampant in South Sudan than criminal trials under the Hybrid Court for South Sudan as provided for under article 3 of Chapter V of the Peace Agreement.
  5. Review and reconstitution of an electoral commission that is inclusive to reflect national character should be put in place immediately.
  1. Speech that carries hate and incitement of public to violence should be criminalised and those found guilty should be punished in accordance with the law. The current SSBC management and institution should be reformed to reflect a TV worth national character. Character such as General Malaak Ayuen must be banned from airing hate speech on a national TV and also from turning South Sudanese collective historical liberation struggles of SPLM/A to one ethnic group’s own glories.
  • Conclusion:

South Sudanese have for far too long been notionalised on prejudicial constructs of nationalist liberators and collaboratist militia lords. The categorisation has been perpetuated by those who find pleasure in sowing seeds of discords among brothers. It must be a time for South Sudanese to find something that they should collectively move towards which will ensure collective survival to build an inclusive state. The leaders must stop airing out empty, ethnic and political rhetorics that destroy than build. Instead; they should open their eyes to the fundamental realities affecting South Sudanese people. Countries in the region including Uganda and the Sudan will do better to stand aloof militarily and not contribute forces to the collective regional intervention force under the United Nations. If the parties especially the regime in Juba cannot be bluntly told by the world to change for better, and without necessary reforms enshrined in the Peace Agreement, then the business will remain as usual. The question that faces us today is not whether there can be peace in South Sudan but rather there can be a viable country existing as South Sudan. That is the question the region and the world should quickly respond to in order to save the people of South Sudan from disintegrating into clannish wars. This will require all of us to rise above ethnic and regional contoured connotations. Instead, we must reflect and analyse South Sudan’s intertwining discourses beyond commonly projected trajectories that do not expose endemic to prescriptive cure.


You can reach the author at bielbb2015@gmail.com

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