We have seen this Movie Before! Perspectives on the South Sudanese Peace Process
South Sudan’s painful history tells us that this summer’s installment is a movie that we have seen before and one that ends badly. The June peace agreement between President Salva Kiir and his rival and former vice president, Riek Machar, is not sufficiently different from the previous one to have an alternate ending. That these two villains of the story failed to even shake hands at the signing ceremony is an ominous preview.
War is the history of South Sudan. War is what led to independence in 2011 after more than six decades of conflict with the government of what is now South Sudan’s northern neighbor, Sudan. The current conflict started just two years after the independence of South Sudan, while the population was only beginning to build the new nation after so many years of violence and deprivation. The new fighting displaced more than 2 million people beyond South Sudan’s borders and about half of the remaining population has needed food aid just to survive. Horrific abuses and violence against ordinary civilians is what most characterized this conflict which has pitted communities against one another along ethnic lines, thereby only deepening the wounds and grievances which now threaten to destroy the social fabric of the world’s youngest country.
The recent agreement has silenced the guns for now, but few differences exist between the most recent peace agreement and past agreements that quickly failed. It is described as a power-sharing accord but looks more like a distribution of spoils. President Kiir will remain in power and his supporters will obtain 20 of 35 ministerial posts, and 338 of the 550 seats in an enlarged parliament. Meanwhile Dr. Machar will again become the first Vice-President of the five Vice-Presidents, and his supporters will have nine ministerial posts, and 128 of the remaining parliamentary seats. The remaining posts and seats will be distributed to smaller groups that have also become embroiled in the conflict. The peace deal even fails to specify how collective decision-making is supposed to work.
This type of transitional government is too large (and costly) and does not address the critical structural issues such as the distribution of resources from the central government to the local governments, to meet the needs of people where they live. South Sudan has yet to determine the number of administrative units (states) that will constitute the country, or even what system of governance will work best.
The agreement, moreover, does not address the crimes against humanity and war crimes that were committed during the last five years by the government and the opposition fighters. The impunity that this peace agreement actually bestows on the warring parties is mind-boggling.
South Sudan as a Nation faces complete collapse if the warring parties don’t put their nation first before any political interest. The competing political interests of the groups who control South Sudan’s future unfortunately impedes South Sudan from realizing its full potential. South Sudan as nation has an amazing potential for success, with over 73 percent of its population under 25 years old. This constitutes one of the youngest population in the world, and this population is empowered with South Sudan’s enormous natural resources from oil, diamond, gold, and Zinc etc. The unique characteristics of South Sudan itself are also imperiled by the inability of political leaders to reach a lasting agreement. The nation has the White Nile cutting the country into East and West and the biggest swamp the Sudd in Africa and an amazing animal resources with one of the biggest wildlife migration in the world. It has one of the most fertile land states in the world for agriculture and food production, yet unfortunately 50 percent of the population is in need of food aid.
The reality on the ground is that South Sudanese politics is run by old men and military generals who operate exclusively by the power of the guns. Women and young people are not allowed the space to contribute in a society where they make up the overwhelming majority of the population. South Sudan needs an inclusive environment for all its people, it is a diverse country with over 65 ethnicities and over 200 language dialects. That is an environment where everyone should and needs to have the space to voice their options and their ideas because of its diversity. The oppression and the suppression of ideological diversity leads to the quagmire we are in now as a nation.
An environment that is not only open but also empowering to its women and youth could enable South Sudan to finally reach its full potential. An environment that is peaceful means the reconstruction of schools, hospitals, and the development of institutional infrastructure of the country can occur. Such institutional infrastructure could support a functioning government with with checks and balance in place on the National Legislature, Supreme Court and executive branch so they do not have a blank check to destroys the lives of ordinary South Sudanese without consequences.
The Civil War in South Sudan caused the death of 400,000 people in a expand of a five-year period, it has a higher death rate per a year than Syria which is also in term oil, that tells all you everything you need to know about the brutality of the war in South Sudan. It has completely destroy the social fabric, political atmosphere, and the lives of countless millions of innocent South Sudanese which we can never put a prices on, it is something that is truly gone. This why this peace agreement must succeed not just because of the dead but because of the misery millions are suffering under the current status quo in the country. This must change and it need to change to save the country from totally collapse, you have an economy that is nonexistent and a population that sadly does not see a future in their own country.
While the fighting has stopped, South Sudanese politicians must try to build a better deal. A new peace deal should create a Special Court to bring to justice those who have committed crimes against civilians and, simultaneously, a truth and reconciliation commission to begin the hard work of publicly addressing this recent horribly violent history in a manner that permits South Sudanese to live in peace together. This is critical because of the strong revenge culture that has evolved in South Sudan due to the absence of justice. Truth, forgiveness, and reconciliation is the only way to reverse the negative cultural attitudes that exist.
The youth and women of South Sudan are the most marginalized populations in the country, yet they are not included in the peace process even though they are the most affected by the war. Their lives torn apart, and they often have no sense of hope because opportunities are hard to find. This is because competition among the political elites neither allows for space for the youth and women to have a say in their own affairs nor does it allow for investment in the development of opportunities for youth and women.
In order for this for this peace process to succeed this time around, women and youth must be included so that it reflects the demographics of the population of the country. It's in the best interest of the political leaders to invest in women and youth so that this peace process is not seen as the divide up of the riches between the political elites but instead a process that will transforms the country from war into a peaceful society where ordinary citizens can go about their daily lives without disruptive violence. The future of the country hang in balance unless true changes are made in regard to the inclusion of youth and women in the political process. Women and youth can make or break this peace agreement if they do not see a way forward for their lives for the better.
The South Sudan conflict must be addressed at more than the surface level and this requires new mediators to work with South Sudanese on the systemic issues at the heart of the conflict in South Sudan – representation and the distribution of national resources. The IGAD (The Intergovernmental Authority on Development) is a regional organization of east African countries. IGAD member countries have immediate, deep and often conflicting interests in South Sudan including unrealistic expectations regarding economic gains. A better mediator would be the African Union with the support of the international community, especially those countries – like the United States – who helped South Sudan gain its independence in the first place.
The African Union should be able to see the longer-term imperative of a lasting peace in the broader interest of not only South Sudan and it’s east African neighbors but of the continent as a whole whose urgent agenda of economic development absolutely requires an end to all regional conflicts. Through the assistance of neighbors and the adequate inclusion of women and youth populations in a new political space established by a revised South Sudanese peace agreement, the nation could realize its immense potential for success in the future.