South Sudan: Is Power Sharing Impossible or Inevitable?

By Beny Gideon Mabor


September 6, 2014 (SSNA) — This policy brief is an attempt to unearth the complexities surrounding circumstances in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development IGAD-led peace process for South Sudan. It will answer few questions to include but not limited to underlying idea of a political power sharing in divided societies. Is power sharing something impossible or inevitable in an armed conflict situation? What is the nature of relationship in a power sharing deal? And finally where is South Sudan in these circumstances in search of political settlement following mid December 2013 violence in Juba which later spread to the states and now growing into a threatening full scale civil war. In few days, the international community step in and initiate political settlement between the government and oppositional leadership under former vice President Dr. Riek Machar.

In chronicle event, the IGAD held its 23rd extraordinary session of Heads of state and government in Nairobi, Kenya dated 27 December, 2013 where the IGAD mediation team was appointed in the persons of three renowned military and diplomatic officials namely Ambassador Seyoum Mesfin of Ethiopia as Chairperson of Special Envoys for South Sudan and membership of General Lazarus K. Sumbeyo of Kenya and General Mohamed Ahmed El Dabi of Sudan respectively. Shortly after taking up mediation role, both the IGAD Special Envoys and even the political leadership of IGAD member states and international community said it loud and clear that the crisis in South Sudan are political in nature and therefore need political solution.  In other words, a power sharing deal to end crisis is an obvious reasoning behind this statement. The same call for power sharing deal was echoed by all envoys, international community and friends of South Sudan.

In his opening remarks at the second phase of the peace talk for South Sudan dated 11 February 2014, the  Ethiopian Prime Minister and chairperson of IGAD General Assembly H.E Halie Mariam Dessalegn, said “ the most fundamental issue at the heart of the conflict is of political nature that could only be resolved through civilized dialogue based on the principle of give and take and all-inclusivity. It is my hope and expectation that the peace process will be designed in such a way that a broad range of South Sudanese stakeholders from government, political parties and civil society actors are brought on board and in manner that gives due respect to the transitional constitutional arrangement already in place in South Sudan. This statement is a clear manifestation that inclusivity both at peace talk and representation in the transitional government is a must.

In fact, this statement marks the beginning for initiation of a multi-stakeholders negotiation for South Sudan peace process.  The procedure for identification of the said stakeholders kick off right in March, 2013 where the civil society organizations and faith based leaders were first engaged with rule of selection criteria. In the 9 May 2014 agreement to resolve crisis in South Sudan which was signed by president Salva Kiir and SPLM/A in Oppositional leadership Dr. Riek Machar, it become clear that the stakeholders should include political parties as separate block added together with the politicians who became known as SPLM Leaders-former detainees that make total of six stakeholders taking part in the negotiation.

Conflict And Power Sharing Rationale

Traditionally, power sharing is a term used to describe a system of governance in which all major segments of society are provided a temporary share of political power to end an intractable conflict with agreed transitional period. Generally as a matter of principle, a power sharing deal is governed by four basic principles namely grand coalition governments in which nearly all political parties have appointments at all levels of government; protection of minority rights; decentralization of power to sub-national level and decision making process by consensus. These features are designed to alleviate the grievances of potential spoilers, ensure the representation of a broad range of social interests and guarantee that no group will suffer discriminatory policies detrimental to its interests or existence in the course of political pluralism.

Second, a power sharing deal must have agreed transitional period. During such period, necessary institutional reforms are to be done to set a permanent governance system and chart way for new political dispensation. In South Sudan political transition, chief amongst issues to consider at the transitional governance are implementing the would-be peace agreement and ensure no return to war; executing radical institutional reforms including legislative development; reintegration and resettlement of displaced persons; constitutional making process in a democratic and people-driven manner and organize general elections in  an internationally facilitated and monitored  electoral process.           

On the other hand, it must be noted clear that power sharing mechanisms in any political transition is also implemented in the political, military, and economic spheres without distinction. This formula is fitted in the four principles of coalition government and any attempt to violate the same jeopardizes the forged political union and can easily track back the state into conflict. The question whether power sharing is impossible or inevitable in South Sudan armed conflict is deed rooted in the nature of the conflict and should be addressed accordingly. The history of South Sudan conflict is very difficult to tell its predictable outcome of the ongoing IGAD mediated peace talk. But the fact is that the war was caused by members of the same SPLM ruling party upon which their internal breakdowns of leadership circle thrown the whole nation into blood bath.

Still, nobody disputed the wonderful achievements done by SPLM for taking lead in the liberation of South Sudanese and brought them to where they are today, but the question is how long the SPLM now as a political party and the Sudan People Liberation Army SPLA as national army remain inseparable? Is South Sudan really going to realize democratic transformation in multiparty politics as provided under the law if the SPLM party is still liked to the SPLA and vice versa? Who is to be blamed for this lack of separating them for the last nine years? The majority believes that answers remained with the political leadership who could not perform institutional reforms during the interim and transitional periods respectively.

IGAD Protocol on Transitional Arrangements towards Resolution of Crisis in South Sudan

The recent protocol on agreed principles on transitional arrangements towards resolution of crisis in South Sudan is one of the documents that expressly set an agenda for political transition. The called for establishment of the transitional government of national unity is correctly with hope to take the country forward.  The controversial agreement was signed on 25 August, 2014 by the IGAD heads of state and government as the guiding framework to help parties negotiate items provided thereunder in latter and spirit.

However, it must be made loud and clear that the protocol has a lot of challenges and defects both in its procedural, substantive and legality aspects.  First, the protocol is a result of multi-stakeholder negotiation from 14-22 August 2014 by five stakeholders, despite government boycotting and therefore, its ownership and liability squarely remain with the parties and not otherwise. Unfortunately, the protocol was signed by those who are not parties to the armed conflict when the form and content is talking of the parties. This out rightly set confusion and may jeopardize the peace process if the IGAD policy and mediation team may not think twice before going ahead with one-sided deal. In any peace agreement, the mediation cannot create preconditions in the mutual arrangement over one party. The conditions for the acceptability of the Prime Minister to the President and baring him or her from contesting public office at the end of transitional period is not normal and it was  not done in good faith to resolve crisis in South Sudan.

Usually, a significant challenge that power sharing attempts to address is to convert high level of post-conflict mistrust into mutual cooperation. Political power sharing often takes the form of a consensus model. There is no winner and a loser in a political transition, but a win-win solution. This is exactly the reality in South Sudan which IGAD and the international community noted earlier on and have persistently called on parties to reach a political solution to end the crisis. How come this time round for the same IGAD to contradict its initial position in resolving crisis in South Sudan? The ongoing armed conflict in South Sudan cannot be ignored or resolved by adding fuel into fire that is likely to burn the half of the nation for the interest of individuals or groups who do not want to peacefully shared or transferred power. Of course, the legitimacy of the government is in place and does not mean overriding prospect for peace, if the SPLM/A in Opposition deny or do not consent to the peace deal impose by the region.

In conclusion, the IGAD mediation team and the international community should revisit the protocol on transitional arrangements towards resolution of crisis in South Sudan and try to forge mutual solution. The region must be reminded that both President Salva Kiir Mayardit and Dr. Riek Machar commanded concurrent larger constituencies. Any exclusion of one person in governance is definitely seen as a defeat by the other community and it is not in the interest of peace and security. Therefore, the lasting solution is definitely a power sharing between all political forces to collectively do necessary arrangements for transition. In the light of agreed protocol to resolve crisis of governance, the IGAD mediation should give more opportunity to the stakeholders to negotiate their own peace process that its outcome shall be implemented without fear or favor.

Beny Gideon Mabor is Executive Director, African Centre for Peace and Humanitarian Dialogue and a member of Civil Society Delegation to the South Sudan peace process in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. His research interests include governance, human rights and social accountability. He can be reached at [email protected]

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