The Looming Collapse of Peace in South Sudan

South Sudan’s President, Salva Kiir Mayardit. Photo: Reuters

By Duop Chak Wuol

September 20, 2023 (SSNA) — South Sudan’s President, Salva Kiir, is currently in the United States waiting to address the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Kiir is expected to deliver his speech on or around the 21st of September 2023. What he plans to tell the world leaders is anyone’s guess. But one thing is clear: Kiir is determined to deliver a speech designed to portray himself as a leader who champions peace in his country—and who in his mind, is ready to contest in the upcoming 2024 general elections. The speech will be largely deceptive, avoiding the reality of the looming disintegration of the September 2018 revitalized peace deal and obstacles that Kiir himself deliberately orchestrated to impede the implementation of the agreement.

If we can judge by President Salva Kiir’s past distortions of the truth, then we must be alert to his deceptive strategy to, on the one hand, publicly profess the intention to ensure the full execution of the September 2018 revitalized peace deal (which would favor his political ambitions), while, on the other hand, covertly working for its defeat. This ambition is all about maintaining dictatorial rule even if it means a return to a full-scale war. If world leaders want to know the reasons behind the sluggish implementation of the peace agreement, then they must carefully listen to Kiir’s speech at the 78th session of the UNGA and compare it with the reality on the ground. In this way, they should be able to differentiate deceit from truth. The truth is that the agreement is not being implemented precisely because of the obstacles Kiir has intentionally put into place, obstacles that are designed to destroy the people’s desperate hope for peace.

There are many anti-peace strategies Kiir has launched against the peace process. These destructive tactics are intended to hamper any means that can lead to a successful execution of peace. For example, the President focuses on weakening or destroying opposition parties like the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO) led by the First Vice President Dr. Riek Machar.  This deceptive and calculating strategy is a prime example of President Kiir’s fear of political reforms in the country and his concurrent loss of power.

This is one of the reasons why President Kiir consistently violates the agreement. He has already violated the pact by removing constitutional post holders who are members of the opposition, SPLM-IO. For example, his unilateral removal of former Defense Minister Angelina Teny in March this year was an irrefutable violation of the peace agreement which requires parties to consult with each other in cases of the appointment or dismissal of a constitutional post holder. Moreover, Kiir seeks to obstruct any peace provisions that he sees as a threat to his iron-fisted regime.

In Kiir’s mind, peace must only be implemented based on what he wants, not what the agreement says. For example, the President systematically refused to provide funding for the SPLM-IO members who hold various positions in peace implementation mechanisms like monitoring and verification processes. Kiir also systematically restricted funding to the office of the First Vice President and SPLM-IO leader, Dr. Machar. Kiir and his allies believe that denying necessary funding to the FV office provides them with an opportunity to control the SPLM-IO at least financially, even though the revitalized agreement mandates the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGoNU) to fund the opposition parties based on position metrics.

Instead of using the oil revenues for peace-related activities, the President uses the public coffers as a stable revenue source for his 2024 election campaign. Kiir also uses the nation’s budget to buy weapons for his forces including pro-government militias, leaving important organizations like the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (RJMEC) and Joint Military Ceasefire Commission (JMCC) with limited options. This is what Kiir wants because he believes if the peace is fully implemented, he will lose most of his current tyrannical powers granted to him by the existing dictatorial constitution. The President’s consistent denial of funding the JMCC makes it impossible for JMCC to carry out its mandates in cantonment sites. In other words, JMCC cannot properly screen trainees at cantonment areas for the much-needed unified forces.

Kiir’s deceptive maneuvering doesn’t end here. He repeatedly demands the integration of opposition soldiers without assignments at the middle and lower ranks and files. He also demands that all opposition soldiers at the training centers be deployed or given assignments without first confirming their ranks before their integration into the government forces. He is doing this to prevent the opposition soldiers from getting the same rights the government forces have under the constitution. This is also a part of Kiir’s sneaky policy of deception. Lack of political space is one of the tactics Kiir uses. Under the current situation, Kiir restricts opposition parties, especially the SPLM-IO from conducting its activities in areas under government control.

Kiir’s regime appears to view itself as having no limit when it comes to its survival. The regime is secretly laying out a plan to disarm the civil population, claiming ordinary South Sudanese have the same guns as the national soldiers. This is not the true intention of Salva Kiir’s regime. The reality is that Kiir is preparing himself for a return to war. His main goal is to carry out targeted disarmament in areas he believes are supportive of the SPLM-IO and other opposition parties. The President is a cunning man. He wants opposition parties to be weak militarily and politically.

Right now, Kiir is in serious need of establishing his leadership legitimacy. The 2024 elections present him with the perfect window of opportunity to claim legitimacy. It is worth noticing that the SPLM-IO has already rejected the elections, citing a lack of peace implementation. The opposition party also asserted that security arrangements are one of the main concerns. This is what Kiir wants. He wants to represent himself as an active force for peace when in actuality, he is actively and consistently impeding the implementation of the agreement. Kiir’s thirst for maintaining the current tyrannical system is what drives him to go for elections next year regardless of what the opposition leaders say. He badly needs to win an election even if it is a mock one so that he can use the results of such an election to further solidify his dictatorial leadership.

President Kiir and his allies have also drawn up a global plan to address South Sudan’s peace-related issues. They are working on hiring international lobbyists to help repair the regime’s image and secure good relations with other countries. The regime, through lobbyists, plans to tell other countries that peace is fully implemented and that elections are set for late 2024.

The President and his ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Government (SPLM-IG) party are not ready for peace. Kiir is not executing the agreement, he is just buying time to arm his soldiers and pro-government militia groups. Kiir knows what he is doing. He supports peace in words, not in reality. The man is preparing for what he believes will be the end of strong political opposition to his regime. He prefers weak or briefcase parties over strong ones like the SPLM-IO. But Kiir is wrong. He is knowingly or unknowingly setting up the nation for a monumental catastrophe. As is obvious, Kiir is doing everything in his power to make sure peace is not fully executed. But this is not what the revitalized peace treaty decrees.

The revitalized peace treaty mandates the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGoNU) to implement peace provisions so that lasting peace can be achieved. For example, the agreement calls for a permanent national constitution, security sector reforms, consolidation of peace and stability in the country, public finance management reforms, civil service reforms, and effective and transparent management of national resources, among others. Kiir refuses to abide by these directives, launching accusations against proponents of the treaty. For example, he once accused Machar of using national reconciliation to promote himself. This thinking reveals how and why Kiir is not implementing peace.

The current political dynamics in the country make it difficult for the opposition leaders to perform their duties. Their movements are systematically restricted. A good example of this political bullying can be seen in Kiir’s treatment of the FV and SPLM-IO leader Dr. Riek Machar. Kiir doesn’t want Machar to travel outside the country, let alone inside the country. He is doing this to intimidate his potential rivals and perhaps coerce them to support his twisted peace implementation tactics. The elections planned for 2024 are not meant for the stability of the country. Kiir wants the elections so that he can successfully dispose of the opposition parties and effectively strengthen his tyrannical rule.

It is clear based on Kiir’s actions that realizing a just peace in the country is nearly impossible because he believes he has command over the military capable of protecting his rule. This is why world leaders at the 78th session of the UNGA must methodically scrutinize Kiir’s speech. This is also the right time for the opposition parties, especially the SPLM-IO, to make it clear to President Kiir that peace must be fully implemented and that his reckless actions will only take the country back to a full-scale war with far-reaching consequences. Kiir’s so-called peace implementation tactics are designed to obstruct the peace process and at the same time cement his authoritarian rule. The collapse of a hoped-for peace is looming. The people of South Sudan are tired of war. They want political reforms and development, not another manmade destructive crisis. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the African Union (AU), the Troika countries (the United Kingdom, Norway, and the United States of America), and the United Nations (UN) must not watch in silence.

Duop Chak Wuol is an Analyst and Editor-in-Chief of the South Sudan News Agency. He can be reached at [email protected].

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