Towards Overcoming Peace-building Absurdity in South Sudan (I)

By Tongun Lo Loyuong

October 22, 2013 (SSNA) — Frankly, I can’t wait for the day when I won’t be compelled to discuss anything absurd about South Sudan issues anymore. It drives me mental. Especially when it is self-perpetuating for instance that, the peace-building path that is being treaded in the land is a bull (which by and large has failed to appreciate South Sudanese socio-cultural dynamics), but the powers that be keep insisting for it to be milked! Unfortunately under such a misguided bull-milking insistence, discovering milk in South Sudan will continue to remain farcically fanciful.

It is therefore, morally dutiful, if it kills me to continue shedding more light on this madness as my token to salvage a more culturally sensitive lasting peace with justice and promote a more effective post-accord peace-building, state-building and nation-building in South Sudan that is locally grown and owned, and hence sustainable. Since much space and time was devoted to diagnosing peace-building absurdity in South Sudan as explored in “the Absurdity of Peace-building in South Sudan (I, II and III)” articles (posted on my blog:, it only does justice to spend equally as much time and space articulating the prognosis to these ills. The present series of articles on towards overcoming peace-building absurdity in South Sudan is aimed at achieving just that by addressing the question: whose peace are we striving to achieve in South Sudan?

My hunch on account of the preceding explication of peace-building absurdity in South Sudan articles is that some hearts and minds may have already been swayed. And conclusions have probably been reached that peace-building as has been practiced in the land is primarily concerned with global peace and security (national interests and national securities of foreign geo-political giant states active in the region). It is much less concerned with South Sudanese security as a people. What is probably therefore, anticipated here is more fleshing out of this claim.

Speaking of fleshing out, this reminds me of a side story about one of my former professors, who used to remark every time he graded my research papers for his class that: “where is the meat?” Eventually I came to realize that this man will always ask for more meat as a pretext to give me (A-s) no matter what. I thought to myself one day I was going to go jokingly tell him that I was a vegetarian, but I hesitated since I could already anticipate him hitting back that “but I am not a vegetarian!” Thought it was funny! Sometimes South Sudanese issues must be taken with a pinch of humor, indeed. Else it is depressing.

Humor aside, and back to the fleshing out of the response to the question of whose peace? The premise of the dominant technical, liberal, democratic peace or conflict management theory as previously noted, define peace-building activities and processes in South Sudan. It is primarily based on the ill-advised assumption that “with one less conflict too many, comes more regional and international peace and stability.” Within this theoretical framework, the quest for peace as dominantly practiced this way in conflict settings around the world is arguably an outward rather than an inward looking process. It is assumed in the case of the Sudanese conflicts, for example that peace and security in Sudan, and by extension in the region and the globe at large, lies in brokering the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) at all costs. And even better, a geographic separation of the South from the North into a sovereign and independent state will serve well the purpose of keeping such a peace. More peace-keeping again as previously stated, can then be consolidated by a rush to implement and tick off a series of boxes that enlist, inter alia, the conduct of democratic elections, establishment of rule of law institutions, protection of human rights, reformation of the security sector and the promotion of a free market economy.

Elsewhere in an article entitled “Overcoming Tribalism in South Sudan (I),” (see my blog:, I have explained my reservation with why the premise of separation as a conflict resolution practice much like the premise of conflict management of Sudanese conflicts, is ill-informed. However, it must be qualified that in itself such an outward oriented peace-building process is not entirely flawed. It is ultimately the goal of any reasonable peace intervention that it arrives at a more peaceful and secure world. Arriving at such a world is rightly generally accepted can be greatly enhanced by multiplying democratic states the world over. This as general consensus dictates must be centered on the promotion of democratic ideals and universal values that uphold the human dignity, as primarily enshrined in the universal principles of human rights of the United Nations Charter and other human rights instruments contained in international treatises and conventions, and regional organs, such as the Banjul Charter.

But while these universal rights are inalienable, trouble or the devil is in the details of how to ensure they are uniquely nurtured and context specific democratic nations are built around the world. This is related to the age-old question concerning the importance of cultural relativity of human rights and democracy debate, which will again be fleshed out in “towards overcoming peace-building absurdity in South Sudan (II).” The importance of cultural sensitivity of human rights and democracy debate is particularly pertinent to those complex, religiously and ethnically diverse societies of the likes of South Sudan. It is common knowledge that South Sudanese cultures have for far too long fallen victims to distortion and ethnic fragmentation by protracted armed conflicts. In this vein, South Sudan cannot be construed as what is generally accepted as representative of a “nation,” say after the Western nations. Because this is the case, South Sudan cannot similarly be expected to thrive in Western-type democracy.

While South Sudan is “badly in need of democratic political environment in order to hold together its society of multiplicity,” as the former South Sudan’s vice-president is recently quoted as imploring, what this democracy should look like is what should keep us busy in the run-in to our first ever national democratic elections in just over a year time. For one, few will disagree that the April, 2010 national elections failed to exemplify a free and fair democratic exercise and therefore, must be avoided. For another, a negligible some will dispute the conclusion arrived at on the role played by that election process in contributing to the further militarization of our society and the proliferation of political violence across identity lines and other political interest syndicates in South Sudan. Democracy practiced in that manner in South Sudan is a curse rather than a blessing. Because of the contested claims about the credibility of the 2010 national elections, and by implication the legitimacy of the sitting government in Juba, South Sudan has since slowly but surely been dragged into a looming all-out political violent carnage that awaits but a spark.

On this account, the fact that our international partners continue to insist on working with a government that has come to power under questionable democratic circumstances and that has horribly performed in delivering human-dignity preserving services is disenchanting. What is more, this aptly also speaks to the idea that our international partners seems to send out the impression that they do not give a dime about how the country is being (mis)governed and the state of peace and stability in it. For them what really matters it can be concluded, is that the country does not slide into outright anarchy, which in other words is a product of the conflict management mentality of maintaining rather than building peace. Here the real deal is therefore, that as long as South Sudan remains relatively intact, then its risk of undermining our partners’ interests in the region more generally is negligible, and therefore these international actors will continue to slack.

The view that it is regional and international peace and security rather than human security that pre-occupies the minds of our international interlocutors is held by the prominent political scientist, Bruce W. Jentleson, as for example expressed in his treatment of “American Foreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st Century.” In it he observed that during the Cold War American foreign policy intervention strategy was guided by “ABC (Anything But Communism)” maxim. And after the Cold War, the strategy was upgraded to “ABT (Anything But Terrorism)” maxim, which basically means democracy my foot unless global war on terror is involved. Egypt may be seen as a case in point, if political Islam is equated with terrorism, which some Islamophobes do.

I have recently came across credible sources that alleged that the utterly reprehensible Nairobi Westgate terror attack that claimed over 60 innocent lives last month was probably orchestrated in South Sudan by way of the terrorists entering Kenya from it. If confirmed, perhaps this will serve those with high stakes in the region some food for thought on the potential destabilizing effect to regional and international peace and security South Sudan will provide, should current un-democratic and conflict-exacerbating governance status quo remains in Juba. For a fitting contextual exposé on new war ideology and tactics, and what goes on in the mind of agents of such attacks, read my article written exactly one month prior to the Westgate unfortunate tragedy, and entitled, “the Tragedy of Humanitarian Intervention in South Sudan,” (again easily found on my blog: ).

Moving on, Jentleson’s view also serves to explain for instance the recent all too familiar public condemnation by the United States Ambassador to South Sudan of the latest cycle of inter-communal brouhaha in Jonglei State. Though it is commendable to publically condemn any practice of indiscriminate butchering of civilian population, it is not enough to continue to cling to what increasingly seems like a professional condemnation—a technical and routine procedure that even seems to recycle a standard public condemnation text designed for such tragic incidences!

Even more, it is agonizing, particularly to victims and their relatives to be served with yet again pledges of a commitment to “continue our work with the government of the Republic of South Sudan to address the pressing security and humanitarian needs in Jonglei State.” What government are they talking about working with? As stated above and elsewhere, it must again be reiterated that the government of South Sudan under Kiirdith, has relinquished whatever was left (if any) of its democratic credentials and has lost popular legitimacy by virtue of failing to discharge its basic responsibility to protect its citizens, if only that. The president does not even issue public condemnations in the wake of such innocent killings of South Sudanese let alone visiting the sites and consoling surviving victims and relatives of the deceased. The only work with the government of South Sudan our partners should be seriously contemplating is to exert more diplomatic pressure on Juba that goes beyond isolation, to include preparations and assistance with our constitutional making process and the conduct of the next general elections, as we begin counting down for post-Kiir democratic Republic of South Sudan.

Despite recent gestures of “reconciliation” in the release of political prisoners, including advocate Peter A. Sule, who should not have been arbitrarily imprisoned for almost two years without due process in the first place, only a naïve or a fool will allow themselves to be taken for another ride yet again by president Kiir and company. How can there be reconciliation when the president seems poised for a war by recently graduating a battalion of personal body-guards from his Northern Bahr al-Ghazal State tribesmen dubbed “republican guards?” South Sudan is already replete with army and police personnel, with more than half of our national budget committed for their upkeep. Could not the president have instructed the finest of these gallant men and women in uniform to be selected and be formed and professionalized into an elite brigade or two of Republican guards, particularly when the poor continue to live under austerity measures?

There is a way in which South Sudanese are unnecessarily being made to hold their breaths with the unpredictable and unforgiving nature of our political terrain, particularly since the independence came, which is a grave cause for concern for those who are sensible. Violent carnage is inevitable and genuine peace-building is yet to see the light of the day as long as Kiirdith continue to be advised that Juba can be transformed into a foster child—a dictatorial hybrid offspring (Ibn al-haram) of Kampala and Khartoum! This is South Sudan and South Sudanese we are talking about here, people whose identity is historically reputed for a culture of resistance. May be reconciliation too will come after him. Walai lakin? If the Americans think they have a DUI (driving under influence) problem, South Sudan has an even bigger DUI (decrees under intoxication) problem.

At its core one of the fundamental factors fuelling our violent conflicts has always been what may be described as “proximate causes.” From my experience, probable causes of Sudanese conflicts have received little attention in contexts where the causes of Sudanese conflicts were being academically presented. This includes a serious failure to consider political leadership deficiency and lack of visionary statesman, as well as corruption and bad neighborhood, which together further aids and abets in the creation of the post-CPA volatile political space in all the four corners of Sudan and South Sudan.

Michael E. Brown’s forceful study on causes of internal conflict entitled “The Causes of Internal Conflicts: An Overview,” comes to mind on the role of proximate causes in the multiplication of Sudanese and South Sudanese armed conflicts. Of particular relevance in Brown’s study is his discussion of what he described as “catalytic factors” or “proximate causes of internal conflicts.” Brown classified these catalytic factors into what he called “elite-triggered” causes of internal violence, which he points out can be “internally-driven” by bad or corrupt leaders, and “domestic problems,” which are “externally driven” by bad neighbors and bad neighborhood. Arguably, in South Sudan and indeed in Sudan, while popular grievances existed most notably in the peripheries, violent transformation of simmering conflicts is often accentuated by bad and corrupt leaders. Towards overcoming peace-building absurdity must begin by lending listening not just hearing ears to this reality.

For those appealing for more meat, hold your breaths. More meet on towards overcoming peace-building absurdity in South Sudan (II), particularly as it relates to the appreciation of South Sudanese socio-cultural dynamics mentioned several times already in recent pieces, and what it entails will be served next time around. As for the vegetarians, well but I am not a vegetarian! Stay tuned.

Tongun Lo Loyuong is reachable at [email protected]; and can be followed on twitter @TongunLoLoyuong.

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