Maintain Tyranny or Die: Salva Kiir’s Devious Peace Strategy

President Salva Kiir. Photo: AFP/File

By Duop Chak Wuol

November 3, 2023 (SSNA) — Soon after the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGoNU) was formed in February 2020, the South Sudanese thought they were destined for lasting peace. What they did not know was that the extremely oppressive political system they wanted to see reformed was already being strengthened by President Salva Kiir. Kiir fears that if the September 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) is fully implemented, he could lose his dictatorial presidential powers—and lose his grip on power more broadly. In his mind, the only plausible path to stay in power is to impede the execution of the peace agreement by denying necessary funding to organizations created under the peace deal. This would allow him to coerce opposition leaders to bow to his whims, consolidate his rule, and perhaps transform the country into Kiir’s Republic of Tyranny.

When the R-ARCSS was signed, it established board, commission, and committee organizations. The Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan also created other institutions such as the Joint Defense Board (JDB), Joint Military Ceasefire Commission (JMCC), and Joint Transitional Security Committee (JTSC), among others. Under the accord, these agencies were mandated to conduct different tasks based on stipulations in the pact. Their duties include oversight and coordination of forces in containment sites and barracks, training of unified forces, security arrangements, assessment of South Sudan’s defense requirements, and permanent constitution-making processes—to mention a few.

Kiir’s strategy to retain power is multifaceted. Since the agreement was signed, Kiir’s main goal has been to obstruct the peace process by systematically denying funding to reform the agreement’s peace mechanism institutions. Kiir’s number one priority is to severely limit any financial assistance to the opposition parties he deems as a threat to his regime. This is why he relentlessly refuses to provide incentives to the opposition members who are part of these organizations and consistently discourages food supply to those who are in Unified Forces Military Training Centers. The reason behind these tactics is to make people frustrated in the process so that his regime can bribe political and military leaders of the opposition parties or make them defect to his ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Government (SPLM-IG) party. Kiir seems to be extremely self-satisfied by the apparent success of his deceitful strategy because no one is challenging him on this. Even the main peace guarantor organization, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), is strangely silent on this.

In the agreement, the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity is authorized to provide funds to organizations mandated by the agreement to conduct reform and peace activities; however, President Kiir is not interested in any reform in the country. He loves his existing tyrannical rule and is determined to protect it by obstructing the execution of peace. In his view, any political transformation that relinquishes some of his powers is not real peace. Kiir’s perspective of real peace is a peace that maintains the current dictatorial system—a system that allows him to remove and appoint people at any time without explanation. He loves this system merely because he treats those who seek government positions like bath towels – he discards them once he has no use for them. This is why systematically refusing to provide the needed financial support to personnel working for these entities is one of his anti-peace strategies.

There are a few peace provisions that Kiir is interested in fulfilling. These provisions are necessary but less important. For example, Kiir is only interested in disarming civilians, conducting elections, and lifting the arms embargo and sanctions imposed on South Sudan by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). This is why some of his top government officials have been talking about the importance of disarming civilians, the difficulties of deploying or graduating the Unified Forces, and controlling the electoral process. Kiir himself talked about these three issues. He claimed on numerous occasions that his government could not graduate and deploy members of the Unified Forces because the arms embargo barred him from purchasing arms for these forces. As you can see, Kiir is selective when it comes to peace execution while the opposition parties like the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO) and the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA) all continue to abide by the peace agreement. Kiir is doing this because firstly, he believes that the opposition parties are weak; and secondly, he knows that his perverse strategy has the potential to make them weak by bribing their officials. This is one of the reasons why he only focuses on the SPLM-IO and some elements of the SSOA. In his mind, the SPLM-IO is the real threat to his tyrannical leadership, which he wants to keep regardless of what the peace deal says.

It is worth noting that Kiir believes if he continues to deny funding to various institutions (for example, the Joint Defense Board and the Joint Military Ceasefire Commission) he would be able to control the opposition parties. Kiir is already conducting these anti-peace tactics. For instance, opposition members are not allowed to receive accommodations, no incentives, delayed deployment of the opposition forces, and lack of food in training centers where the Unified Forces are stationed. The strategy is simple: to encourage defections and bribe those who become frustrated with the slow peace process. Readers should be aware of the fact, that if the cunning and deceptive tactics of Kiir and his regime succeed, Kiir can declare at a time of his choosing that the accord is fully implemented and that all opposition parties should join his leadership.

There are other reasons why Salva Kiir does not want peace to be implemented. One of these reasons is that Kiir has two key allies in his leadership. The first ally is a group of South Sudan’s top thieves. People like Benjamin Bol Mel, Bak Mayen, Kur Ajing Ater, and Makiir Gai Thiep are brave thieves empowered and emboldened by Kiir himself. All these people originate from the Bahr el Ghazal region, the same region President Kiir hails from. This group knows the country’s budget more than top government officials in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning. The second group is the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE). This tribal group strongly believes that Kiir must only do what the Dinka ethnicity wants. Collectively, these two groups strongly believe in the current unjust political system. Like Kiir, they see any reform as a threat to what they believe is their right to manage South Sudan’s resources like their property.

President Kiir is desperately in search of ways to legitimize his authoritarian leadership. He is afraid of a strong political adversary. This is why he keeps impeding the peace process and putting all his energy into a presidential election scheduled to take place in December 2024. There is nothing wrong with elections. However, general elections should only be done after reforms stipulated in the revitalized deal are fully executed. But it seems that Kiir’s desperation for legitimacy and his thirst to strengthen, his iron-grip rule overruled his position for lasting peace in the country. This is one of the reasons why he does not want political reforms. He plans to deliberately deny funding to these organizations so that they will not be able to fulfill their duties; a tactic which would lead to either a partial peace implementation or its inevitable collapse. Kiir has one goal in mind – maintaining the very dictatorial leadership that caused the first civil war in December 2013. This is the reality the people of South Sudan face. Anyone who thinks that Kiir will abide by peace stipulations today, tomorrow, or in the future does not know enough about his intentions. President Kiir is only interested in implementing less important parts of the agreement. He is prepared to preserve the current tyrannical system or die trying.

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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