South Sudan: A power Struggle and Implications for State and Nation Building

By Beny Gideon Mabor

“Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones. Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding: it seeks to annihilate rather than convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.” Martin Luther King Jr, 11 December 1964

Genesis of the crisis

February 10, 2014 (SSNA) — This policy brief is an attempt of soul searching to the above quote of a great American civil right activist 50 years ago when violence was so rampant on ethnic lines amongst other segregations, and reflect how American Government and people manage the crisis to be where they are today. This quote is basically an answer to South Sudan today which is undergoing deadly violence amongst them. The unfolding crisis in South Sudan since 15 December, 2013 up to now have inflicted a considerable damage on social, political, economic and diplomatic impact on the Government and people of the world youngest state. It is a great setback to the hard won independence of South Sudan with renewed promise for state and nation building.

However, the two projects of state and nation building are most expensive one that primarily requires a just political and security architecture is built on inclusive basis in order to achieve an inclusive nation-state, in a defined, flexible and people-centered constitution. The constitution must spelt out division of duties and responsibilities that are discharges in the best public interest and not otherwise. On the same note, the task of rebuilding post-conflict state like South Sudan is not just a political project per se but must also involve an honest intellectual engagement for transparent reflections on all matters of present and future generations.

To revisit history, South Sudan was characterized long time ago by colonial thinkers and even racist individuals in neighboring Sudan that it is not a capable political entity in the region to govern itself, but a rich land inhabited by diverse tribal groups who have different languages, cultures, religious beliefs and permanently surviving by competition over natural resources. Indeed, the prophecy fulfilled itself with continuous ethnic violence over cattle, water point and grassing land as well as fighting over pieces of land and other resources. With this continued unrest for ages, the political leadership fails to avert this phenomena and considered communal violence as uncontrollable traditional practice since time immemorial. No justice and accountability for these war crimes and crimes against humanity ever taken place before and after independence of South Sudan.

Unfortunately, two and half years down the road with high level of state fragility caused by many factors to include lack of economic development; rampant insecurity; lack of access to justice for all  and equitable service delivery;  a predictable political dispute occurred between President Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit and his former Deputy Dr. Riek Machar. This dispute is evidenced by visible differentials particularly before and after 23 July, 2013 wholesale reshuffle of the Government that also relieved long saving Vice President and weighty political figures including two elected Governors of Lakes and Unity State respectively.  

The grand reshuffle was meant to downsize the government to a lean and effective government for equitable delivery of services and implementation of state and nation building projects. It was in response to public outcry that too many spending agencies incurred huge capital expenditure and other cost on the expense of public services. In other words, the centralization of resources to meet cost of huge national government discredits progress and service delivery at lower levels of administration.

Apart from untold ethnic violence, the SPLM-led government now jumps into the same shoe of fighting itself. It’s noted that the political and military uprising began as a result of what is observed as Pandora box between the removed officials and President  Salva Kiir in a move apparently seen by the later group as if the President want to make a new beginning with new political faces. Consequently, the disgruntled groups openly criticize President Kiir and some of them such as Riek Machar, Rebecca Nyandeng and Pagan Amum aspire for SPLM leadership that will qualify a successful candidate for presidential flag bearer come 2015 general elections.

To put records clear, the genesis of crisis in South Sudan is linked to SPLM leadership crisis on top of the agenda. The ruling party has been experiencing internal power wrangling, something which political analysts described as rejection by President Kiir to allow internal democratization of SPLM party for necessary political reforms. The timeline of activities for the ruling party to organize itself according to the party’s Constitution and basic rules has elapsed so far for reason (s) best known to the party leadership. On the other hand, the approach used by the opposition group led by Riek Machar to challenge the incumbent leadership under Salva Kiir is coupled with misguided procedures. Calendar for both elections of new party officials in a convention as well as general elections in 2015 are still at distance. In other words, any attempt at the interim to challenge Salva Kiir is unconstitutional neither the use of force to take over power be tolerated domestically and by the international community.

Another factor to the political turmoil is the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan, 2011 that was passed by National Legislative Assembly with mechanical majority members of SPLM in the August House.  Article (101) of the Transnational Constitution concentrated a lot of powers in the position of the President that analysts described South Sudan politics as a zero-sum game. The constitution allows the President to singlehandedly ran the state affairs with very limited consultation including removal of elected officials which is definitely seen as a direct threat to principles of democratic governance and constitutionalism.

On December 6, 2013, the faction of leaders of SPLM at Political Bureau and National Liberation Council levels led by Riek Machar hold their first press conference where they highlighted issues facing SPLM and the country. In a press statement, the group says “the crisis reached boiling point in March 2013 when General Salva Kiir cancelled the meeting of the National Liberation Council; issued a Presidential Decree withdrawing the delegated powers from his Vice President and First Deputy Chairman.

Other decrees followed including the dismissal on false grounds of the Governors of Lakes and Unity States; the dismissal and appointment of a new Cabinet and the suspension of the SPLM Secretary General”. They went on and say “The deep-seated divisions within the SPLM Leadership, exacerbated by dictatorial tendencies of the SPLM Chairman, and the dysfunctional SPLM structures from national to local levels are likely to create instability in the party and in the country”. End of quote. Therefore, this statement is prima facia evidence attributable to the opposition group with share of responsibility of the current crisis in South Sudan.

The third factor is composition of the national army, the SPLA which is constructed with handful of militias’ factions, some of which are not integrated into SPLA mainstream as of now. However, the continuous general amnesty and integration of militias was healthy idea to buy peace and stability. Unfortunately, others took advantage of this loosely military integration and joined the army as pure civilians for monetary gains and protection of their tribal militia leaders.

This made SPLA Forces remain with spirit of ethnic solidarity. There is no one cohesive share ethos or central command and order the army must adhere to it.  This is shown with the current political disagreement between two leaders of Dinka and Nuer ethnic backgrounds where the army quickly divided themselves along these ethnic lines and fought senseless war that claimed more than 10,000 lives according to the international crisis group reports.

On similar account, the fighting is not a surprise to many South Sudanese including political leadership. The fighting occurred as a result of a bad precedent set forth during the period of SPLM liberation struggle when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed between the Government of Sudan and the SPLM in 2005. The CPA totally fails to address past human rights violations and war crimes against humanity with political calculation to buy peace and stability on the expenses of human dignity.

The CPA did not provide any strategy of ensuring civilian oversight function of the highly militarized security architecture in South Sudan. Consequently, the CPA implementation by necessity was left in the hands of principal partners in then Sudan which consolidated the political influence of the SPLA and SPLM in the South and legitimized its hold of the political power with very minor or total lack of horizontal and vertical check and balance.

To the dismay of others, President Kiir issued general amnesties to some accused individuals in the military and political forces to go unaccounted for these grave human rights atrocities. In reward, these militant groups were included in the Government.

I totally agree with the opinion of my learned professor John Ashworth when he argued that CPA of 2005 was just a cease-fire agreement and a framework or roadmap for eventual peace.   It is noticeable that CPA was to create interim stability to allow self-determination referendum for South Sudan with likelihood of secession as an independent State to end the recurrent conflict. There was no governance blueprint agreed as a bridge through which a new political, economic and social dispensation be nurtured as many people were expecting it. Most importantly, it moves the conflict from a military and rebel conflict to the political sphere, but it fails to address the issue of the separation of the military and the political spectrum.

In summary, the absence of justice and accountability made several militia leaders to continue committing human rights violations particularly taking away innocent lives in the name of democracy and good governance. They know every well that there will be no justice and accountability at end of the day, but rather  the Government will pay back by appeasement, pardon, general amnesty and finally integration into military and political structure of the government as commanders and constitutional post holders.  In this situation, one must be confident that there is no sense of national belonging and nationhood in South Sudan. Otherwise, there would be no reasons the national army charge with responsibility of physical protection abandon their constitutional obligation and turn to killed innocent lives, loot and destroyed properties.

Role of Civil Society in Peace Mediation Process And Beyond

First and foremost, let me shed light on civil society which can be defined as the watchdog on the activities of the government and can create political and democratic space between the individuals and the government for interaction for mutual issues. Civil society organizations are usually established inform of NGOs, social groups, associations and networks. Their work in mediation process and beyond  amongst other roles include but not limited to  exerting pressure on the parties to accept dialogue, increase popular understanding and support for the peace process, facilitate and increase the voice of women and other vulnerable groups, and ensure that peace accords are respected by the parties and finally ensuring restorative justice and accountability.

In a post-conflict peace-building situation, civil society has a lot of potential to promote peace-building initiatives in communities through actions such as local need assessments and reconciliation. It may also have greater importance as a corrective to political and military elites, and in its advocacy of better constitutional governance. Other vital functions of civil society groups and networks are also enshrined in monitoring tensions and providing early warning of the risks of an outbreak and recurrence of conflict. This proactive role has been played by South Sudan civil society organizations and even the government and general public have been informed of this inherent turmoil in the making, but the government turned a deaf hear

„According to the international new order, it is observed that civil society can play positive roles in conflict- prone and conflict-affected settings. Today, South Sudan is in crisis and the role of civil society organizations is to perform multiple and vital functions in building and sustaining peace. With In many cases, civil society groups may have access to, or influence over, important actors and groups where external organizations.

Strategic recommendations and way forward to crisis

After careful observation of the trend of violence going on in South Sudan and attempt to resolves crisis from different actors, one must convinced that the Intergovernmental authority on Development IGAD-led peace mediation process will definitely face challenges if the civil society and other relevant stakeholders are involved in the negotiation. In principle, all parties to negotiations are always with vested interests, but Civil Society remains a neutral force to make difference. Nevertheless, the following recommendations need to be taken into serious consideration in the mediation process:

  • Immediate implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities CoH in letter and spirit by both parties and fully allow and cooperate with IGAD monitoring and verification mechanism in providing them with security and free passage to conduct monitoring duty agreed upon by the parties.
  • Allow full participation of civil society organisations and faith-based institutions with separate seat and almost acts as part of IGAD mediation team. The civil society working group to the negotiation should do a lot of advocacy and mobilization of local and international actors during peace negotiation. The CSOs working group must prove itself as consultative forum for mediators and of course act as last resort for mediators in case of disagreement between the warring parties.
  • The IGAD mediation team should include in the agenda of negotiations the issue of constitutional reform process and recommend to all parties an immediate termination of the current flawed constitutional review process under the National Constitutional Review Commission NCRC and seek an amendment of the Transitional constitution to a well defined pro-people constitution making with a clear timeframe and allocation of resources.
  • Postpone general elections in 2015 and rescheduled to 2018 and establish government of national unity with representations of legitimate political forces tasked with responsibility of providing safe environment to conduct national dialogue for healing and reconciliation as resolution to conflict agenda by South Sudanese themselves without involvement of foreign elements.
  • Call on IGAD mediation team and the African Union to establish Special Tribunal for South Sudan to conduct investigation and trial of massive human rights atrocities allegedly committed by both government and opposition group between 15 December 2013 to the date on which a comprehensive peace is achieved or back dated according to the term of reference of the court as the case may be.
  • Finally, call on the Government to do an overhaul of security sector reform including restructuring of the army and other security organs to reflect the regional composition and to professionalize it as national defense force with respectful central command and order. Afterwards, the same institutional reforms are extended to civil services to ensure right persons in right places with commitment to deliver services with transparency, accountability and sufficient check and balance.

Beny Gideon Mabor is a Human Rights Activist and work for South Sudan Human Rights Society for Advocacy (SSHURSA). A national Human Rights civil society organization with vision geared towards building an enlightened human rights abiding South Sudan. Prior to joining SSHURSA, the author has worked for South Sudan Ministry of Justice, and a columnist. His research interests include governance, human rights and social accountability. This opinion does not represent SSHURSA position but of the author. He can be reached at [email protected].

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