Opinion | September 12 will go down in S. Sudan’s history

September 12, in South Sudan historical events, is a day that will go down in history as a day current slow motion semi-implemented peace was signed in Addis Ababa Ethiopia.

South Sudan President Salva Kiir Mayardit, opposition leader D. Riek Machar during the signing ceremony of the peace agreement

President Salva Kiir Mayardit and opposition leader Dr. Riek Machar during a press conference in the capital, Juba | Photo: PPU

By Lul Gatkuoth Gatluak

September 12, 2020 (Thessherald)–The purpose of this article is to highlight the importance of September 12 in South Sudan historical record dates, particularly the signing of the Revitalized Peace Agreement in Addis Ababa Ethiopia two years ago today and intransigence of the parties to implement the peace. The Revitalized semi-implemented Peace Agreement is a peace many doubting Thomas (s) still unsure whether it will be pronounced as the lasting peace, given its slow implementation motion base on lack of political will between the rivaling parties. Initially, the Revitalized Peace Agreement on the Resolution of the conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) came after multiple resistances from Salva Kiir government.

The government refused to participate in negotiation with the SPLM/A-IO of Riek Machar for the reason that, the government was implementing 2015 peace with breakaway SPLM/A-IO of Taban Deng Gai following the Dog fight on July 8, 2016 and its aftermath that forced Riek Machar out of Juba. The opposition split with Taban Deng taking over the First Vice President position, while Machar’s faction returned to battle with the government in the bush. Hence, R-ARCSS is an agreement that seeks to revive the ARCSS of August 2015, which had temporarily ended the first civil war of South Sudan that broke out on December 15, 2013.

Since the resurgence of civil war in South Sudan on July 7-8 2016, there have been efforts to ensure a return to peace in the country through various initiatives at international and regional levels. Those initiatives did not bear any fruit until when able young Ethiopian Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed decided to reopen South Sudan Peace talks. Dr. Abiy started by sending the delegation to both government and rebel leaders, alerting them to reconsider coming back to negotiating table. Below is the explanation of R-ARCSS culmination and implications pertaining its implementation.

On December 8, 2017, he wrote an invitation letter to Salva Kiir and Riek Machar requesting them to meet face to face. The meeting was proposed to be convened on June 21, 2018 in Ethiopia. After the end of Ethiopia first Salva Kiir and Riek Machar meeting following July 8, 2016 dog fight, IGAD authority decided to choose Sudan to be the next location for South Sudan peace negotiation.

Omar Hassan Ahmed El-Bashir, former President of the Republic of Sudan was entrusted by the 32nd Extra-Ordinary Summit of IGAD on South Sudan, convened in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on June 21, 2018, to facilitate a second round of face-to-face discussion between Salva Kiir and Riek Machar to resolve the outstanding issues on governance and security arrangements. Moreover, El-Bashir is further entrusted to discuss measures to be taken to rehabilitate the economy of the Republic of South Sudan through bilateral cooperation with the Republic of Sudan. Without wasting time, President El-Bashir facilitated the direct meeting between Salva Kiir and Riek Machar on June 25-6 2018 the first of which was graciously attended by Yoweri Museveni, the President of the Republic of Uganda. At the same meeting, Bashir had also convened a separate session of talks with other political parties of the Republic of South Sudan which discussed the same issues Salva and Riek were discussing.

During June 25, the talk was basing on ceasefire to be declared within 72 hours. The parties were told to be called again soon and continue with peace talks in Khartoum to discuss the arrangements for implementing the ceasefire, the issue of power sharing and the framework agreement. They also address issues of humanitarian access to refugees, the release of prisoners, and the formation of transitional government of national unity after everything has been finalized.

On July 25, 2018, the parties agreed on power sharing that will reinstates Dr. Riek Machar as the First Vice President during 36 months transitional period before nationwide national elections will be conducted. The new peace deal has created five Vice Presidents, 35 ministers, and 550 members of the parliament. The Vice Presidents shall be distributed as first Vice President for IO, second Vice President be nominated by the government, third Vice president must be SSOA, the fourth Vice President be nominated by the government and the fifth Vice President will be nominated by the FDs and that has to be a woman. Moreover, council of ministers shall comprise of 35 ministers: government will have 20 ministers, SPLM/A-IO will take 09 ministers, SSOA: 03 ministers, FDs take 02 ministers and OPP will take 01 minister.

There shall also be 550 transitional national legislative Assembly. The government will have 332, SPLM/A-IO will have 128, SSOA 5o members, OPP: 30 members and FDs 10 members. There shall be ten (10) deputy ministers which will be divided as follow: government will have five deputy ministers, IO will take three SSOA will take one, and other political parties will take one. No fewer than three deputy ministers shall be women.

There shall also be an Independent Boundaries Commission (IBC) which will comprise with 15 members and shall be appointed as follow: government will take five, and all opposition groups will take five. They will divide their share as two from the SPLM/A-IO, one from SSOA, one from FDs, and one from OPP. Then the other five will be divided by South Africa, Nigeria, Tanzania, Algeria and Chad. The IBC shall be chaired by one of its non-South Sudanese members who shall recognized standing and integrity of the importance of boundaries issues.

On States and local governments, government will have 55%, SPLM/-IO 27%, SSOA 10% and OPP 08%. At the beginning of the Transitional Period, State and local governments shall be dissolved and reconstituted as per the responsibility sharing formula stated in above ratio. In that regard, Governors, Speakers State Legislatures, State Councils of ministers, State legislatures, County Commissioners, and County Councils shall be reconstituted. At the beginning of the pre-transitional period, the parties shall issue a solemn commitment to their people and the international community to affirm that, they will not return to war. The parties shall pledge to use the resources of the country wisely and transparently for the best interest of South Sudanese people. The above explanation pretty much is what had been made in Khartoum Sudan on July 25, 2018.

On Wednesday September 12, 2018 the final Revitalized Peace Agreement was signed at the 33rd Extraordinary Summit of Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Addis Ababa Ethiopia. After the delegations has returned to their respective locations, Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, had organized a celebration event to take place on Saturday September 22, 2018 in Khartoum to thank Salva Kiir Mayardit, all opposition parties and the mediation team for their grand efforts which culminated in the signing of the Final Revitalized Peace Agreement for the Resolution of the conflict in South Sudan. The move was a way to strengthen the commitment of the parties to the agreement to honor the peace. In his welcoming remarks, Sudanese Minister in the Office of the President, Fadul Abdalla Fadul, said that “The purpose of the ceremony is to give appreciation to South Sudanese political parties for coming into an understanding to end the conflict in the country.” In addition, the ceremony is also aimed at creating a suitable atmosphere for the opposition leaders to interact and celebrate the achievement with President Salva Kiir. President Salva kiir and the main opposition leader Dr. Riek Machar were honored and awarded peace medals and certificates by President Omar Hassan El Bashir for their efforts to end the conflict in the Republic of South Sudan and their cooperation with the Sudanese mediation team.

After the conclusion of South Sudan peace celebration organized by Sudan government. Salva Kiir emulated the idea of peace celebration from Khartoum right away and extended an invitation to Dr. Riek Machar and the Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al-Bashir to attend a peace celebration, which Juba government scheduled to take place on October 31, 2018. The invitation aimed at building trust and confidence ahead of the formation of the new upcoming transitional government. During their exchange, Dr. Riek didn’t indicate whether he will attend or not. Instead, he appealed to Salva Kiir to lift the State of emergency and release the political detainees. According to him, if Salva Kiir has taken an initiative to the above-mentioned demands, the action would allow people to move freely across South Sudan, which might include his acceptance of attending the celebration. On his part, Salva responded by denying and down play any present of political detainees as well as POWs in government detention facilities. That answer caused eyebrows rolling given that, some sure prisoners are known to have been held in the government control territories including Juba. After two leaders’ meeting was made available on social media for public consumption, the issue went viral among social media participants.

The reaction to it was vary from person to person. Some people perceived it as a normal gesture that could start trust building between the leaders.

The rest including this writer perceive it as a ploy and condemn it as the waste of materials, given that, Salva Kiir has not shown any sign or gesture that could indicate trust building between him and Dr. Riek, especially when Riek asked him to release political detainees/ POWs, lift State of emergency, and lift ban on the activities of all opposition political parties. The invitation was pronounced as another risk taking. Though opponents were furious in their objection of seeing Dr. Riek participating in peace celebration in Juba, the rest who acquaintance with Riek past moves, knew that, he will not abstain or succumb from attending peace celebration. Since joining the movement in 1984, Dr. Riek has been known as a political risk taker, in that regard, many people knew he will participate in celebration.

Hence, on Wednesday October 31, 2018, South Sudanese celebrated the signing of the power sharing deal in Juba in present of regional dignitaries. During celebration, Kiir ordered the release of James Gatdet Dak, former spokesperson of Riek Machar who have been kidnapped from Kenya and later sentenced to death in Juba. Kiir also said he will release William John Endley, a South African national who has been Machar’s adviser. In his remark, President Salva Kiir stated, “the five years old conflict has come to an end and he is ready to move forward in forgiving his opponents. He also apologies to South Sudanese people for the suffering they endured as the result of the conflict. He further acknowledged the weight of responsibility is heavily fallen on his shoulders, which is rightly so given the nature of the conflict.

On his part, Dr. Riek, stated, “He came to Juba to confirm, he is for peace; the past has gone, we have opened a new chapter for peace and unity.” Then, Yoweri Museveni, the President of Uganda, told South Sudanese leaders to embrace non-violent means of solving political conflicts and differences through transparent elections and dialogue. It is therefore ideologically incorrect to us war to solve political arguments, elections are the discussions or the right way, but election must be fair.

If elections are not fair, they are the ones which create conditions for people thinking other ways of solving problems.” He congratulated President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar for allowing logic to prevail after they signed the final revitalized peace agreement in Addis Ababa on September 12, 2018. He urged them to avoid sectarianism, tribal politics and instead create systems and institutions with national character both in the army and civil service. Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, called on South Sudanese leaders to make concessions to put the country and its people first. He said, “let us all remember that no deal is always perfect, no arrangement is without flaws, and no negotiation is perfectly balanced.

The real test of a leader is to have the ability to make concessions and put this country and its people first. He continued by saying, attainment of peace in South Sudan is significant for stability of the East African region. He urged the leaders to join hands to stir the country to the right path of peace development. The, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who helped broker the peace deal, called on South Sudan’s leaders to commit to the peace agreement and move their country forward. Finally, Sahle-Work Zewde, newly appointed Ethiopian President, called for ceasefire and urged the leaders to fully implement the peace deal which was inked in Ethiopia by Kiir and Machar. The peace celebration give hope to general public that leaders may find ways to implement the peace.

The establishment of the Transitional Government of National Unity established by the Revitalized Peace Agreement of September 2018.

The Revitalized Agreement on the resolution of the conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) was scheduled to be formed on May 12, 2019. The formation of the unity government is an initial step towards the more challenging reform process that will require steadfast, collegiate and transparent leadership to deliver on the legitimate expectations for peace of South Sudan. The agreement envisions a transitional period of eight-month pre-transitional period, followed by 36-month transitional period which will expired once national elections are conducted across the country.

However, the formation of South Sudan government of national unity was postponed and extended for six months from 12 May to November 12, 2019. The extension was agreed by signatories to the deal during a meeting in Ethiopia, convened by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which is tasked with mediating peace in South Sudan. The six-month extension was attributed mainly to financial constraints and lack of trust and inadequate support from international partners. The current government has pledged to provide US$100m in funding for the agreement, further to US$10m which it had previously committed. However, given its financial constraints, the government will struggle to honor its pledge.

According to the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (an international monitoring body for the peace agreement), out of 59 tasks due to be implemented during the pre-transitional period, more than 50% were pending as of May 1st. The pending tasks, which includes pre-requisite security arrangements (particularly cantonment and unification of the army), are the most critical for the deal to hold.

In some respects, the extension is a positive move, as it means that the May 12th deadline can pass without it being claimed that the entire peace deal has failed, and it gives the parties more time to make progress on pending tasks. However, the extension is probably prolonging illusions about the success of the deal. Any effort by the South Sudanese signatories in implementing the remaining tasks will prove to be futile unless they receive financial support from international partners, which is unlikely to be forthcoming. The apparent lack of progress towards implementation of R ARCSS, particularly in the areas of demilitarization and disarmament, appears to have been taken by the international community as an indicator of the lack of commitment of the former vice-president, Riek Machar, and the president, Salva Kiir, to peace. Lack of funding will derail the peace process, heightening the risk of renewed fighting if the deal breaks down. On October 21, 2019, 15 United Nation ambassadors arrived in the capital Juba on Sunday to urge South Sudanese leaders to meet November 12, dateline. The Security Council delegation acknowledged that progress has been made with the ceasefire significantly improving the security situation.

However, they stated, key outstanding issues remain, which are having an impact on the progress of peace process. These include decisions on States and their boundaries, as well as the reunification of security forces. Beside the United Nations delegation’s acknowledgement, SPLM/A-IO leader Dr. Riek Machar expressed concern about the failure to unify security forces. He added that, his movement will not join the government until the outstanding issues are resolved. After the second dateline of November 12, has come to an end, the parties began to rival again with SPLM/A-IO still wanted another extension while the government want transitional government of national unity to be formed. Following the disagreement, the parties had shuttled to Uganda to consult with Museveni and other IGAD leaders. The talks in Entebbe Uganda, noted that critical tasks were still not completed, including issues of security arrangement, governance and the integration of fighting forces.

The parties agreed to extend the formation of the new government again for 100 days from November to February 12. The function had also given them fifty days for review if there is any progress between the parties. The period between the 100 days was critical, pressure had increased from regional and international community, wanting South Sudan leaders to meet the dateline. SPLM/A-IO that favored the extension state, they are demanding extension for proper security arrangement and the determination of States and their boundaries. President Kiir said, “He has accepted the extension to avoid the risk of returning to war.” After the parties left Uganda, there was no change of attitudes. Machar had multiple times shuttled between Khartoum and Juba to iron outstanding issues, yet, no concrete solution.

On February 8, 2020, IGAD summoned South Sudan government and opposition leaders to converge in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa during the 34th extraordinary summit of the IGAD Heads of State and Government under chairmanship of H.E. Dr. Abdalla Hamdok, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Sudan regarding the peace process in South Sudan. The meeting was attended, among others, by Heads of State of Uganda, South Sudan, Somalia, and Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Djibouti, Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kenya, and H.E. Hirut Zememe, State Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. IGAD member State leaders were also joint by AU leaders as the communique was not keen about further extension of the formation of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGoNU. From the day of the IGAD summit, only twelve days left before the end of 100 days which was scheduled to be formed on February 22, 2020. The discussion based on number of States and their boundaries, which was a sticky issue in the South Sudanese peace process. The meeting agreed to revert to former ten States. However, despite the relentless mediation efforts of the regional Special Envoys from IGAD and South Africa on the issue of the number of States and their boundaries, the mediation effort has hit a deadlock. The fact that all delegations favored diversion to ten States. President Salva request to be given three days to return back to South Sudan for consultations on the matter with his constituency. After consultation, he will report back the matter to the IGAD chair on February 15, 2020.

Hence, on Friday February 14, President Salva Kiir invited senior government officials to attend an urgent consultative meeting on the contentious issue of States and their boundaries, including his two deputies, national ministers, parliamentarians, presidential advisors, State governors, civil society representatives, foreign diplomats, and all parties to the peace agreement who refused to attend, saying, “the consultation is for the government alone, it doesn’t include them.”

During the opening, Kiir explained what had taken place in Addis Ababa especially his stand in issues of disagreement. In the IGAD summit, Kiir rejected reduction of 32 States. At the same token, President Kiir’s supporters unanimously rejected any possible reduction of 32 States during consultation with local leaders in Juba. Kiir told people, “What brought us here today is the issue of states, I brought this to you so that you decide, my brother Riek Machar and other non-South Sudanese who are living with the blood of South Sudanese people have different suggestions on the table, the government is saying 32 states plus Abyei,” Kiir told local leaders during consultation meeting in Juba.

The SPLM-IO favors reverting to between ten states and 23 states. However, “IGAD and the international community said they need a lean government. We have reached a deadlock, that’s why we came back for consultation. We were given six days until tomorrow (Saturday) we will take back what you will decide,” said Kiir. He also criticized foreign influence in the ongoing stalemate over the unresolved number of states issue with the opposition, adding some of these foreign players have shown bias during the talks. “I have fought the so-called special envoys. They will tell us here something and go there to their heads of states with different information. There are people who stay with us and who have made South Sudan their own project for food, one day if we reach an agreement they will be jobless and this is what they don’t want,” said Kiir.

Meanwhile, Dr. Riek Machar has welcomed the East Africa bloc council of ministers’ recommendations of 10 or 23 states and not 32 as maintained by Kiir.”We welcomed the recommendations of the Independent Boundaries Commission (IBC) of 10 states, the recommendations of the IGAD council of ministers of 10 or 23 plus one state (Abyei) and of the summit of the three heads of state and government of 10 states,” Machar said in a statement issued in Juba. The IGAD heads of states during the regional body’s 34th Extra-ordinary summit accepted Juba’s request to undertake further consultation on the number of States. The issue remains the main contentious issue alongside security arrangements, which are delaying the formation of the much-awaited transitional unity government (TGoNU) slated for Saturday. IGAD in its official communique released after the meeting said it recognized that the issue of the number of states and their boundaries is an internal South Sudanese matter and hence, solution should come from the South Sudanese people.

President Salva Kiir Mayardit during peace talks in Ethiopia | Photo: via Facebook

On Saturday February 15, 2020, President Kiir narrowed the consultation to the presidency, ministers and the country top army generals. After a thorough deliberation on the subject matter and in the interest of peace and stability in the country, the presidency resolved to return the country to ten (10) States and their previous respective counties. President also announced the establishment of three administrative areas, namely, Abyei, a region whose border demarcation with Sudan remains controversial, the oil rich area of Ruweng and Gold hub Pibor. In his remark following the concession, Kiir said, “the compromise we have made today is a painful decision but a necessary one if that is what going to bring peace.” “I expect the opposition to be prepared to do the same;” referring to the disagreement about the integration of the different fighting forces.

In his response, Riek Machar said, “he appreciates the government’s decision to revert back to ten States. However, Dr. Riek has expressed dissatisfaction with the creation of the three administrative areas, saying, “It cannot be referred as reverting to 10 States, as such cannot be accepted.” “We therefore, call upon President Kiir to reconsider this idea of creating administrative areas.” Furthermore, Machar warned the three areas risked causing further problems, calling the issue a Pandora box. Although Dr. Riek has rejected the creation of three administrative areas, the issue has not been made a contentious stumbling block, given the progress attributed to the political willingness President Kiir has shown. Instead, Dr. Riek agreed to return to Juba and join transitional government to take up the position of First Vice President. In that regard, the government of South Sudan and the SPLM/A-IO had decided to forge ahead with the formation of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity without security arrangement. Then, on February 19, 2020, Salva Kiir has dissolved the old cabinet to make way for opposition members.

On Saturday February 22, 2020, the Transitional Government of National Unity was formed, marking the start of a 36-month transitional period ahead of the holding of elections in accordance with the terms of the Revitalized Agreement on the Regulation of the conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS). According to the terms of the R-ARCSS, Salva Kiir will continue as the President, Riek Machar as the First Vice President, James Wani Igga; Taban Deng Gai; Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior and Hussein Abdelbagi as Vice Presidents. The event was marked by the calls for reconciliation and efforts for sustained peace in the country that has been devastated by war in only two years after gaining its independence from Sudan. In his remark during the ceremony, President Salva urged people in the country to forgive each other and end their differences, saying he would work with all his new deputies to lead the country on a path of peace. We must forgive one another and reconcile. I want to reiterate here that I have forgiven my brother Riek Machar. I also ask for his forgiveness and I also forgive all those who still are holding out on this peace agreement,” “I am calling on all the people of South Sudan to forgive one another. I particularly want to appeal to the Nuer and Dinka communities to forgive one another and reconcile. I also appeal to the people of Equatoria, especially those who have experienced much of the devastation, to forgive and reconcile.” Kiir said he does not wish to see any bloodshed in South Sudan ever again.

For his part, former opposition leader Machar said he was committed to implementing the peace agreement with Kiir. He said the two of them would work collectively to end the suffering of the people of South Sudan. “I want to reiterate my commitment and the commitment of the SPLM-IO [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition] to work closely with the peace partners, and particularly President Kiir, to implement the agreement in letter and spirit.” The swearing-in ceremony was attended by the head of Sudan’s Sovereign Council Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, along with diplomats and dignitaries from several regional countries. However, at the time Vice Presidents were sworn in, all warring parties did not yet finalize allocation of ministers and State governors.

Despite the rhetoric on Vice Presidents inauguration, distribution of ministers did not come easy. The parties rivaled hard as to which type of ministerial positions each party is going to get. That stalemate has come to an end in March. On Thursday March 12, 2020, ministers were divided as stipulated in R-ARCSS. But, the parties still rivaling on the issue of States’ allocation and when they finally agreed, the disagreement on who going to be a governor of States was also politicized. Currently, nine out of the ten Governors have been appointed except the governor of the Upper Nile State, nobody know whether the delay of his appointment will cause rift and rekindle hostility.

In summing, September 12, 2018 Peace Agreement, was an accord that restore hope. However, that hope still shaky given lack of political will between the parties to the agreement. Up to now, there is no solid optimism whether the peace will fully be implemented or dissidents will rekindle the rift as previously stipulated in above program. In fact, full implementation of the peace is the only hope that should end the suffering of the South Sudanese people who have been devastated by war for seven years now. Peace is an openness and understanding. It is the process of living together harmoniously in a way people accept one another’s idiosyncratic. One is talking about peace in political perspective where leaders are the driving force who use their power maturely. Peace comes from mature genuine skilled leaders who are able to move people to action. Mature leaders use leadership for good and help people move people in a direction that leads to positive change. It is one’s hoped our country leaders will implement September 12, 2018 Revitalized Peace Agreement fully in letter and spirit and avoid intransigence stand that could drag the nation back to hostility. People want to live in peace and good leaders are the ones that strive for their followers’ wellbeing.

The author is a political commentator and analyst. He can be reach by lulgatluak09@gmail.com or lgatluak01@hamline.edu

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