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

By Tongun Lo Loyuong

December 4, 2013 (SSNA) — Much has unfolded since our last forays in this debate as articulated in “Towards Overcoming Peace-building Absurdity in South Sudan (II) (easily retrieved from my blog: Here I scrutinize recent developments in efforts aimed at promoting sustainable peace in South Sudan from the vantage of local South Sudanese peace-building needs, question marks and confusion regarding mandates, as well as current positive response by the international community to meet these needs. It seems a consensus is fast developing by most stakeholders that a re-evaluation of peace-building thought and praxis in South Sudan is now opportune, which is embracing.

For more clarity, let us operationalize what has been meant by peace-building throughout this peace-building absurdity debate as the four pillars of humanitarian intervention. These include, (1) humanitarian assistance; (2) development and reconstruction; (3) peace-building proper (or the triune cluster of peace-making, peace-keeping and peace-building which can also be described as post-accord democratization, state institutional-building, capacity-building and relationship-building); and (4) policy advocacy. Together, these four pillars have been broadly discussed as “peace-building” in this debate (again check my blog for the various sections).

While progress in efforts with the first two pillars have been slow but steady if their indicators are anything to go by, peace-building and by extension policy advocacy, namely pillars (3) and (4) have, however, lagged behind as already previously shown. Seen this way, any keen South Sudan’s watcher would have predicted that with time eye-brows will be raised and questions about the assumptions and inefficacy of existing peace-building operations, including those pursued by the United Nation agencies and most notably by United Nation Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and other humanitarian partners, will become pressing.

The press release by the Bishops of Bor and Twic Dioceses in the aftermath of October’s Twic East civilian massacre is a reflection of one such occasion of a spate of increasing local disillusionment with the operations of these humanitarian partners in South Sudan, particularly the UNMISS. According to the Bishops, they are quote: “saddened by the inability of the United Nation Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to fully discharge its mandate under Chapter Seven of the United Nations Charter on civilian protection and that UNMISS’ interventions come always after the fact and with little effect” unquote.

These sentiments have been echoed by a number of other local actors, including state actors.

Ironically according to the modus operandi of South Sudan’s regional and international humanitarian and development partners, the government of South Sudan (GoSS) was assigned and proudly sits in the “driver’s seat” to execute peace-building initiatives. The partners per this arrangement were to assume a supporting role and take their place in the passengers’ seats, and enjoy the ride. But admittedly the road has been bumpy and almost impassible. As a result, of recent both partners have laughably now started trading accusations and pointing fingers at each other for failures and questions on who does what, where and when. GoSS—the drivers have turned around and started accusing the passengers as responsible for why the peace-building locomotive has failed to make sufficient progress and vice versa! In other words, the partners seem to be suffering from confusion on their respective responsibilities, duties and division of labor to steer the peace-building train in South Sudan forward.

This was true for instance of some members of South Sudan’s National Legislative Assembly (SSNLA). Some of these lawmakers not only blamed UNMISS for failing to provide protection to the civilian population caught in the middle of the vicious inter-communal violence and cattle rustling in Jonglei State, but went on to accuse UNMISS of taking sides in the conflict. They charged “UNMISS of failing to protect civilians in Twic East County last month and instead siding with the Murle,” according to Gurtong’s report dated November 13th, 2013.

Sharing similar dissatisfaction is the current South Sudan’s Minister of Interior who has been left in oblivion as to what exactly is the role of UNMISS in Jonglei State. General, Aleu Ayieny Aleu is quoted by Gurtong on November 30th, 2013 as wondering out loud that, “I don’t know what UNMISS is doing in Jonglei?!” The same report even claimed that there are now widespread pleas for the resignation of Madam, Hilde Johnson from her position as the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki Moon in South Sudan. However, I refuse to condone ending livelihoods, and would prefer that Ms. Johnson’s efforts be appreciated and she be promoted to a higher position in New York. But I reserve an evaluation of Ms. Johnson’s leadership assignment and performance in the epilogue of this debate in the coming days, conditions permitting.

Switching gears, out in South Sudanese streets are even more chilling popular resentment with UNMISS and the humanitarian community more generally for their perceived failure—sentiments that unfortunately are increasingly turning hostile and violent. This was the case, for instance in the recent incident where a female expat humanitarian worker was reportedly brutalized and detained for some one hour as briefed to and by the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki Moon in his latest report on South Sudan to the Security Council. According to the report, this incident was only one case out of a whooping 67 other incidents of the violation of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) by GoSS to ensure the mission’s presence and safety in South Sudan.

Conspiracy theories equally abound. Most have concluded that the failure of peace-building efforts in South Sudan is deliberate and meant to sustain the livelihood of the members of the humanitarian community currently plying their trade in the land. One commentator with the penname “Here We Go Again—Another OLS,” recently commented on an article related to the inter-communal violent conflict in Jonglei thus: “Thanks for this great rebuttal of that banal article…. These expats ‘journalists’ who write this nonsense are usually a.) embedded in the social scene of the UN/NGO agencies who have interest in fanning civil strife so they can continue to be relevant while collecting hazard pay for their mortgages in the West.”

In my view what these sentiments, including the press release expressing the Bishops’ concerns with the poor performance of UNMISS collectively entail is that as destitute and poor as the overwhelming majority of South Sudanese remain, our human potential and ability to think for ourselves and understand at least the basics of the mission’s mandate, must not be underestimated. The implication of the Bishops press release is that if UNMISS is unable to protect civilians, it is prudent to call a spade a spade and downgrade their mandate from the purported Chapter VII to Chapter VI of the United Nation’s Charter that necessitates the mission’s presence in South Sudan.

It is self evident that the mission’s current performance level falls short of Chapter VII. The mandate of Chapter VII primarily represents peace enforcement and is triggered in situations where the concerned state is unable or unwilling to enforce state authority within its borders rendering it incapable to enforce peace and discharge its prime duty and responsibility to protect the civilian population. Conversely, Chapter VI is more fitting to legitimize the current performance level of UNMISS in South Sudan which is increasingly being met with popular dissatisfaction.

For in Chapter VI the mission is only expected to play the role of traditional peacekeeping proper, which includes observing and documenting incidences of violations while remaining impartial in the conflict. Such a peacekeeping role under Chapter VI is also consistent with the acknowledgment by the mission’s own leadership that the mission suffers from lack of capacity and resources.

As Madam, Johnson is quoted as admitting in the recently concluded “3rd Governor’s Forum” in Juba, “the recent attacks in Twic East have been particularly painful. It pains to be in a position where resource constraints, limited aerial surveillance capability and mobility gaps prevent the mission both to detect and respond to such attacks. It may be a mystery to you all, but we can only manage to sustain 500 peacekeepers in the whole of Jonglei state during the rainy season. The attackers in Twic East alone were many more.” Ms. Johnson further noted in her presentation that she has appealed with the Security Council to commit more resources to enable the mission to adequately execute its mandate. “Otherwise, our credibility is at stake,” she acknowledged.

Whether or not the Security Council will beef up the mission’s resources and capacity remains to be seen. What is, however, abundantly clear is that few are mystified by the mission’s inability to discharge its mandate while it remains ill-equipped and under-resourced. The mystery for many arises in why the mission continues to be operating under Chapter VII! We all know in the words of the second Secretary General of the United Nations, the late visionary, Dag Hammarskjold who laid down his life in line of humanitarian duty, that peacekeeping missions often tend to be starved and “impoverished” of resources. In that sense at the very least UNMISS personnel should operate under Chapter VI or what Hammarskjold coined as “Chapter VI ½,” where they will continue to observe and document incidences of human rights violations, but will not be required to intervene to protect civilians in inter-communal violent incidences. Under Chapter VI ½ peacekeepers will also have the right to defend themselves when under hostile fire in some of the conflict hotspots, including in the triangle of the cattle-rustling states of Jonglei, Unity and Lakes States. To avoid controversy and confusion on who does what, where and when, this should be the case at least until sufficient resources and hardware is availed to the mission to ensure it adequately controls the situation and intervenes to enforce peace and protect civilians in conflict hotspots in South Sudan under Chapter VII until sustainable peace prevails and is consolidated in the land.

In absence of civilian protection, there are now appeals by local community members and community-based organizations (CBOs) for re-armament of communities in order to assume the primary responsibility to protect themselves, their villages, livelihoods and the vulnerable members of their societies against recurrent armed attacks and cattle raids in Jonglei State, for instance. This is a clear resignation that South Sudan as a State lacks both the will and the ability to discharge its basic responsibility to protect its citizens. It also indicates that UNMISS has failed to adequately match the task of its mandate. Under such dilemma it seems reasonable to re-arm the vulnerable communities to protect themselves. But this may also exacerbate the cycle of inter-communal violence as some members of these communities may seize the opportunity to perpetrate crime and cattle rustling to the detriment of peace.

And yet, for the UNMISS to continue to insist that their mandate is Chapter VII while not adequately matching this on the ground is misleading and equally frustrating to affected communities. As is currently evident this is also tantamount to subjecting the mission to local hostility and Scapegoating for presumed failure to intervene in time to halt civilian massacres as the Bor Bishops have observed in their press release. In summary and for the mission’s own sake, there are only two options: increase boots on the ground and make the mandate under proper Chapter VII; relocate the majority of the 7000 strong men and women in the blue helmets already present in South Sudan to the restive states; or alternatively downgrade your mandate.

The locals are oblivious to the bureaucratic calculations happening at the Ivory Tower of the Security Council in New York, and the mystery surrounding the inability of the mission to sustain more than 500 keepers in Jonglei State, for instance. The locals only see that the mission’s mandate is to primarily provide peace and security and protect civilians under Chapter VII of the United Nation’s Charter, particularly in the absence of state authority in the conflict hotspots. How this objective is achieved, is for the mission to figure out. All excuses will be regarded as failure from the mission’s part and will be greeted with popular resentment, particularly in the affected areas. 

That said there has also been some noticeable progress in the two pillars of humanitarian intervention in South Sudan, namely in peace-building and policy advocacy efforts. It was particularly enchanting to read the statement by UNMISS attempting to mitigate the effect of charges alleging the mission is taking sides in the inter-communal violent conflict in Jonglei State. Even more reassuring is one of the rarest and honest acknowledgments by Mr. Toby Lanzer, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations on the limitations with the mission’s operations. Indeed Mr. Lanzer even appeared to share South Sudanese frustrations, which was pleasing to read.

“Sometimes I am frustrated to see a place much smaller than Jonglei has more peacekeepers. A place like Kosovo when they had crises 10 years ago had 50,000 peacekeepers. In Jonglei, we just have 500 peacekeepers deployed,” Mr. Lanzer is reported as regretting out loud. These kinds of honesty and transparency on the mission’s operations bode well with South Sudanese commoners as opposed to zigzagging or the default apologetic mode that has been quick to highlighting achievements and which often characterizes the mission’s media publicity.

Yes it is important that progress highlights are emphasized to boost the morale of those humanitarian actors putting their lives at risk to save the lives of the vulnerable members of the South Sudanese human family. It is also necessary for public relations and policy advocacy reasons to publicize the achievements of peace-building efforts in order to galvanize continued support of well-wishers and the donor community to continue funding some of the live-saving humanitarian and development programs that are being implemented across the four corners of the land.

But efforts must equally be committed to win the hearts and minds of local beneficiaries of these much needed humanitarian and development programs. One way of doing this is by publically accepting failures and vulnerabilities of these programs, but also embracing constructive criticisms and local suggestions on the way forward. Mary Kaldor describes this as the need for “downward accountability” to the recipients of generous benevolence of the humanitarian community in the same manner that an “upward accountability” toward the donor community is equally required of our humanitarian and development partners.

Nonetheless, overall one is optimistic that our development partners seem to have turned the corner. This can also be seen in another significant area where peace-building and advocacy progress is being made, which is the “New Deal Compact.” The compact was initiated by the international community to improve peace and security in conflict settings as the premise for delivering effective reconstruction, development and humanitarian assistance. And again to this end and while embarking on policy advocacy to promote the new deal, Mr. Lanzer gratifyingly tweets that the aim of the new peace-building approach in South Sudan is “to ensure aid is coherent and helps achieve nationally owned goals.”

In an Op-ed published in the Guardian on November 5th, 2013, and apparently written by Mr. Lanzer, he further outlines the benchmarks of the new strategy that, “at its heart is the notion that developing countries should be in driving seat on development strategy, with the focus on five state-building goals: legitimate and inclusive politics; security; justice; economic foundations (jobs); and revenues and services (managing revenue and delivering accountable and fair services). The thinking behind the new deal is that unless aid focuses on peace and security in fragile states, money will go to waste.” Save for my concerns about who exactly is to assume the driver’s seat in this renewed initiative in South Sudan, these are laudable and promising signs, nonetheless.

And lastly, this renewed peace-building effort aligns well with the recent public statement issued by the Conference of South Sudan Catholic Bishops in a communiqué entitled “Pastoral Message of Hope and Encouragement.” In the document, the Church which as many agree commands comparative advantage to other state and non-state actors in terms of moral superiority, authority and integrity in South Sudan, has come out and boldly reasserted the need for peace-building efforts to move toward sustainability.

“We once again thank the international community, the NGOs and the UN for all the aid which has helped our people so much during the difficult days of war. However now is the time to recognise that South Sudan is no longer a nation at war. While there are still emergencies which need a humanitarian response, the main thrust of aid should shift towards long-term development and sustainability, including education. The funding should reflect that shift,” affirm the Catholic Bishops.

In sum while humanitarian actors and their counterpart in GoSS are confronted with enormous challenges on peace-building and delivering peace dividends to South Sudanese, it is encouraging that our development partners seem to finally take local peace-building input and priorities serious. In addition it is also encouraging that public display of achievements is from time to time equally matched with frustrations and acknowledgment of limitations in the part of our development partners. After all these institutions are made up of human beings, and human beings are fallible. Now our hope is that the partners can put pen to paper and seal the new deal as anticipated in the few coming days, of course, other conditions permitting, particularly political developments on the ruling party level.

Tongun Lo Loyuong is reachable at [email protected]; and can be followed on twitter @TongunLoLoyuong. Numerous other food for thought and intellectual exercise on South Sudan’s issues can be found at:

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