R-ARCSS: Two years on, by Dr. Lam Akol Ajawin
September 13, 2020 (Thessherald)–Opinion | Two years ago this day the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) was signed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The war weary South Sudanese hinged a lot of hopes on the implementation of the agreement. It was hoped that peace would prevail and insecurity brought under control so that the citizens could go about with their normal business unperturbed.
The agreement addressed the malaise in the body politic of South Sudan and attempted to put forward a programme that, if implemented faithfully, would pave the way for reforms and a level field for political discourse. Indeed, it was a joint minimum programme to run the country for three years of another transition. Two years on what has the R-ARCSS achieved?
To begin with, the Parties to the Agreement deserve a pat on the back for having observed the permanent ceasefire all over the areas of their control. Apart from skirmishes here and there, overall the ceasefire held. The active and sustained fighting currently raging has nothing to do with the Parties to the Agreement directly.
The fighting is due either to the engagements between the forces of the holdout National Salvation Front and the government forces in Central Equatoria, or as a result of inter and intra communal fighting among armed citizens, mostly between themselves and sometimes with the government troops. Most of such fighting is taking place in Gogrial, Rumbek, Tonj , Jonglei State and a few days ago, between the Twic of Warrap State and Bul of Unity State. However, security is indivisible and therefore the Parties must work around the clock to ensure that the guns are silent all over the country.
But that seems to be about the only achievement the Parties to the Agreement can take comfort in. Had the implementation gone on according to schedule, we would have by now been into the permanent constitution-making process and left with only three (3) months to table the Constitutional Bill before the Reconstituted Transitional National Legislature for adoption. We would also have been left with only ten (10) months to dissolve the same parliament and begin the election campaign. Well, as things stand today, we don’t even have a reconstituted and expanded Transitional National Legislative Assembly and a reconstituted Council of States, both of which form the Transitional National Legislature. Nor do we have a Constitution that incorporates the Peace Agreement as demanded by R-ARCSS. In other words, the last six months or so of the Transitional Period were being run in accordance with the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan 2011 (TCRSS 2011) as amended prior to the conclusion of the Peace Agreement.
This is a fundamental deviation from the letter and spirit of the R-ARCSS. Little wonder the TNLA soldiers on despite IGAD’s repeated resolutions demanding its dissolution. The Constitution is the supreme law of the land and guides the functioning of all institutions of the state. Hence, it must be the first instrument of the Agreement to be put in place before anything else. Otherwise, what would be the reference in case of conflict of powers between the three levels of governance (national, State and local government) or the three arms of the government (Executive, Legislature and Judiciary)?
The next most important area of concern is the security sector. Any peace agreement after a civil war is as good as the security arrangements that constitute part of it. This is why there was insistence during the peace talks to get into the Transitional Period with one unified army and other uniformed forces. That was the only way to guarantee a genuinely sustainable peace. The choice of eight (8) months for the length of the Pre-Transitional Period was based on a technical calculation that this was the time needed for the Opposition forces and the Government troops to be integrated into new unified forces that will win the trust of all citizens in the country. It was clear from the beginning that it was the incumbent government to foot the bill for all the activities taking place during the Pre-Transitional Period which were mainly concerned with the processes involved to lead to the formation of unified forces that would be deployed before the commencement of the Transitional Period.
However, the incumbent government was not up to the expectations. Not enough funds were availed to the implementation mechanisms to carry out their tasks causing the extension of the Pre-Transitional Period twice ending up as 17 months and 10 days instead of 8 months as was originally planned. At the end of that long period, there was a rush and it was decided that the forces move to the training centres and activities that were to take place at cantonment sites (registration, screening, DDR, etc.) to be done there.
This decision allowed non-eligible individuals to join training including new recruits, and pregnant and lactating women. Thus, the original purpose of targeting seasoned soldiers was defeated. Add to that the lack of rations and medicine which forced many to desert the training centres. Therefore, even if things don’t deteriorate from where they are now, it is hardly conceivable that the final product from these training centres will be anything near to the lofty idea of Necessary Unified Forces (NUF).
On the political level, the implementation has been sluggish. There continues to be a trust deficit between the Parties to the Agreement. The SPLM-IG is bent on getting more dominance than what it got in the agreement, thus it adopted a policy of suborning some opposition groups and excluding those that express opinions different from theirs. More disturbing is extending that heavy handedness to the military. Why recruit from the military when eventually they all will be one army regardless to which Party they belong at the moment?
Today, almost seven (7) months into the Transitional Period, the Parties are still negotiating the formation of the States’ governments! It took four (4) months (from February to 17 June) to agree on the allocation of States’ governors to the Parties and one of them, the Other Political Parties (OPP), was robbed of its share of a State governor. The current negotiation on allocation of positions on the governments in the States has been going on and off for more than two (2) months. While these negotiations for positions are going on, the activities that should have been implemented during the first six months of the Transitional Period have been put on hold. These include reforms of institutions of government, economic activities, the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, the permanent Constitution making process and humanitarian work. As the author has pointed out in his letter to the Parties on 17 August, these delays will certainly cause pushing the subsequent activities beyond their timelines, especially the conduct of the general elections on time.
The actual implementation of the provisions of the agreements is wanting. For instance, the appointments of the leadership of the Bank of South Sudan and Undersecretaries of Petroleum and Health ministries were clearly in contravention of R-ARCSS. So were the appointments of the Board of Directors of the Nile Petroleum Corporation and the Director of the Telecommunication Corporation before the Parties could agree who nominates to which corporation as stipulated in the Peace Agreement. Furthermore, the failure to appoint the Governor of Upper Nile State is another clear example of how R-ARCSS means different things to different Parties. Parties must read from the same text and should adhere to R-ARCSS.
Recently, the civil society network published their findings on the perception of the citizens regarding the implementation of R-ARCSS. They were not impressed by the progress being made. This should serve as a wake-up call for all of us involved in the implementation of the agreement.
Two years on, very little has been achieved in the implementation process. It is a dismal record. However, the South Sudanese should continue to prod their leaders into action. We must insist that R-ARCSS be implemented in letter (the ‘spirit’ is being abused by some to mean overlooking the text!). If implemented faithfully, it provides a good basis for consolidating peace, reforming institutions of government and ushering in a democratic era where the South Sudanese will get the first opportunity since independence to elect their leaders.
Thanks for the insight. The reality is, all tenets of the agreement cannot be achieved no matter the timeframe is extended. I suggest that using the current piece of peace, the transition government and all stakeholders now concentrate on the establishment of a democratically elected government in the next one year ahead.
May a government established by the people’s mandate would feel more obliged to account to it’s people than the current one.
The author is Chairman of The National Democratic Movement, NDM.