JCE says another deadly conflict is looming large on the horizon

Full Text: The Jieng Council of Elders (JCE)
19 February 2021

South Sudan’s armed forces line up during a briefing | Photo: Gettyimages /

Breaking the Silence—The Way Forward

Press Release —We the members of the JCE wish to release this document as a follow-up to our press statement released on 26 January 2021. The previous press statement generated a lot of debate and questions from the public with people wondering what prompted us to issue the statement. There are many other conspiracy theories that the statement has spawned, and we intend not to give credence to those wild speculations.

We owe it to the public, however, to explain what compelled us to come out publicly. This statement, therefore, is in response to the question of what provoked us to speak out, and in it we offer a concise analysis of the crises facing the country, the main reason we had to speak out. We also propose what we believe needs to be done to reverse the trend that is definitely heading to another senseless war in South Sudan.

The R-ARCSS

“The country seems to be heading for another war and as elders and senior citizens, we do not want to witness another bloodshed in the country.”

Our people have had enough of the suffering and if we can contribute to alleviating this suffering by speaking the truth, we shall have performed our patriotic duty. In our Press Statement in January, we stated that the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) is far worse than the 2015 ARCSS.

Here is why:


First, the Agreement is overly focused on power sharing among the parties and less about peace among the people of South Sudan. This Agreement simply lacks credibility when it comes to building peace at the local level as it has no single clause addressing real grassroots issues such as communal violence, cattle raiding and mundane gun criminality.

In fact, the Agreement has fractured the country more, starting from the national, states, counties and payams levels to the level of communities. The responsibility sharing at the states, counties, and payams is not properly understood at the local level and it has triggered local conflicts. People wonder why they are forced to accept sharing power in their counties and payams with parties which have no presence in their areas. The political conflict has simply been expanded by way of an agreement to areas that never experienced unrest before.

This has unnecessarily politicized and militarized normal social relations in our rural areas. Current violent conflict episodes in Warrap, Lakes, Unity, Central Equatoria, Jonglei and Upper Nile states explain this phenomenon. This phenomenon was compounded by the abrupt dissolution of 32 states and county governments early last year, leaving no authority in charge of the entire countryside. This goes of course into the broader question of the quality of leadership and decision-making mechanisms in the country.

Second, the Agreement has instituted an experimental government in the country with six copresidents running mini cabinets, a system never seen anywhere before. This structure of government is not workable and quite impractical, and it has led to paralysis of the institutions and decision-making processes everywhere in the country. In fact, no one feels responsible for running the affairs of the country. Executive powers have been diffused and the President is technically handicapped with so many veto points in the cabinet and the presidency. It should not surprise anyone that it has taken a year just to form this government, which in the end is assured to fail.

Third, the Agreement lacks international support. Key members of the international community such as the Troika (United States, United Kingdom and the Kingdom ofNorway) and the European Union have refused to be witnesses or guarantors to the Agreement, an indication of their reservations. Even IGAD countries did not become guarantors to the Agreement, only Sudan and Uganda are guarantors. The process was simply handed over to Bashir, our erstwhile enemy, to arm-twist the parties into accepting an Agreement that is fraught with impractical clauses.

Fourth, the Agreement failed to address the central problem of South Sudan, which is the political stalemate and leadership failure. As will be shown in the next section, leadership failure and political stalemate are the root causes of the conflict in South Sudan as indicated by the Obasanjo Report and the National Dialogue. Failing to address this fundamental issue is the single most important drawback of the R-ARCSS.

Lastly, any agreement, no matter how imperfect it might be, can be made to work, provided there is political will and effective political leadership. Unfortunately, for the R-ARCSS, political will is exactly what it is lacking. The slow pace, coupled with selective implementation of the provisions of the Agreement, demonstrate the unwillingness of political leaders to move forward. What we see in fact are more efforts to undermine the Agreement and less practical initiatives to move it forward. This therefore renders any hopes for its success hollow and unrealistic. It is in this vein that we want to make it clear that we are not against the peace Agreement; we as a matter of principle, would like to see a workable peace agreement and the R-ARCSS is awfully unworkable.


Way Forward—The government must take necessary actions now to prepare for the elections to take place. The current Transitional Period cannot and must not be extended as the country needs a democratic transition to consolidate peace. Among the most important steps that need to be taken now, include conducting census, revising the electoral law, reconstituting the Elections Commission, and registering political parties. The work on the permanent constitutions must also commence now because it is going to govern the next elections. It is imperative, therefore, that resources are made available for these processes. More importantly, the return of the displaced persons and refugees and the unification of the forces are prerequisites for both the census and credible elections.

The National Dialogue

President Salva Kiir Mayardit initiated the South Sudan National Dialogue process in December enlighten segment of the country’s population. The JCE fully supported the initiative as this was consistent with our objectives. Dialogue among the people of when the opportunity was availed, the people came together, and they have spoken in no uncertain terms. All the three stages (grassroots consultations, regional conferences, and national conference) of the National Dialogue provided the opportunity for the people of South Sudan to air out their grievances and to reach consensus on the way forward.


The people of South Sudan have analyzed critically how the country got into its current crises and this analysis is contained in the Covering Note of the Co-Chairs. The people of South Sudan have discussed all issues exhaustively starting with governance and political issues, constitutional matters, security matters, and matters related to the economy and social cohesion. It is a readymade program for the government to implement. We are appalled, however, by the indifference of the political leaders toward the National Dialogue Resolutions.


President Kiir, in his closing statement of the National Dialogue, showed little enthusiasm for the implementation of the National Dialogue Resolutions. Dr. Riek Machar, on the other hand, refused to acknowledge the significance of this national process. Other opposition leaders did express their support to the National Dialogue Resolutions. Failing to recognize or implement those Resolutions would amount to killing of a national spirit and the people of South Sudan will not stand by and watch their interests dismissed. As with the R-ARCSS, the leaders are simply intent on shelving the will of the people of South Sudan expressed through the Resolutions of the National Dialogue. We stand with the people of South Sudan in their demand for full implementation of the National Dialogue Resolutions.


Way Forward—We fully support the Resolutions of the National Dialogue National Conference and the outcomes of all the three phases. The South Sudan National Dialogue provides far superior solutions to the problems facing South Sudan. As such, its resolutions and recommendations contained in the Covering Note should be implemented. The RTGoNU must hold a national meeting on the National Dialogue Resolutions and the follow-up mechanism must be instituted. The will of the people of South Sudan must not be buried; it must be invigorated through the implementation of the National Dialogue Resolutions.


Leadership Failure and Political Deadlock

The war in South Sudan was a result of political deadlock between President Kiir and his then Deputy, Dr. Riek Machar, and the fact that the duo failed to lead the country as envisioned. This conclusion came out very clearly in the Final Report of the African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (AUCISS), also known as the Obasanjo Report. Paragraph 90 of the Report states that:

“the crisis in South Sudan, has roots in, and is indeed a crisis of weak governance, weak leadership and weak institutions, conflation of personal, ethnic and national interests”

The National Dialogue Leadership reached the same conclusion independently by concluding that leadership failure and political deadlock lie at the root of the conflict, and unless resolved, the country cannot move forward. The Covering Note of the National Dialogue Co-Chairs states that:

The people noted with concern that the collective leadership of the country did not only fail to provide a vision for the country and lay a strong foundation for stable political,

security, and socioeconomic systems, but conspicuously got distracted by power struggle and related spoils from the goal of building a new political dispensation for all the people of the country. Although the people from the grassroots to the regional conferences highlighted this failure, it is common knowledge to which our national leaders themselves attest.


Both the leadership failure and political deadlock remain unresolved in South Sudan. The origin of this political deadlock, according to the Obasanjo Report, is deeply rooted in the history of the liberation struggle. Paragraph 50 of the Report states:


The other dimension to these developments was the relationship between the President and his Vice President. The Commission established that long before the 2010 elections, the relationship between the two leaders was already strained, and that these differences were overlooked for the sake of unity within the party during the Interim Period (2005-2011). It is was suggested that the SPLM split in 1991, and the reordering of the SPLM leadership to accommodate Riek Machar on his return were partly to blame for the frosty relationship that carried on into government after independence. In 2010, the two leaders are said to have supported rival candidates in a number of key electoral positions, particularly the governorships of several states.


The Leadership of the South Sudan National Dialogue, in the Covering Note of the Co-Chairs, clearly articulated the political deadlock, stating:


It seems obvious by now that President Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar have irreconcilable political differences and personal animosity towards one another. They have therefore created a seemingly unbreakable political deadlock in the country, and they no longer have the political will or leadership capacity to move beyond personal grudges. Our country is stuck in the hands of these two leaders and both have proven beyond reasonable doubt that their joint leadership is no longer capable of getting the country out of its present predicament. Nothing is likely to improve or work in South Sudan unless this political deadlock is broken.


The wild claims that the JCE or the Jieng community in general, is behind the conflict, are obviously chauvinistic opinions. Evidence is already abundant, through the Obasanjo Report and the National Dialogue documents, in respect to how South Sudan got itself into this abyss.


Way Forward—President Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar symbolize both failure of leadership and political deadlock. Addressing this dual problem demands that both of them step aside and give the country an opportunity to explore other options politically per the National Dialogue recommendations. They have both stymied democracy, economic development, and human progress. Besides, we strongly believe that there is not much that is left for them to achieve more than the referendum and hoisting of our national flag on Independence Day!

Corruption

South Sudan is now among the most corruption countries in the world, according to Transparency International 2020 Report on in South Sudan is the driver of political competition and hence the war. This assertion is supported by the Sentry Report, the National Dialogue, and the Obasanjo Report.

The Sentry had this to say:

“By the time South Sudan became the world’s newest state in 2011, a cabal of military and civilian officials had already captured its main government institutions, enabled by a dizzying array of international actors seeking to profit from a rapidly developing kleptocracy.”

Factions that had formed during the long war for independence now turned their attention to competing over the control of this new state, which was blessed with billions of dollars of annual oil revenue and no checks and balances or transparency.


The perception of corruption is apparently high in South Sudan as the government operates in total darkness without accountability. Oil revenues and the revenues from the National Revenue Authority get spent whimsically without regards to the public financial management rules. The public budget, which is presented to the parliament is hardly the basis of expenditures. In fact, fictitious institutions that do not appear in public budgets get to spend the money while public institutions are cash starved.
The country is basically up for looting and this is in large part because of the political deadlock and leadership failure. Public resources are spent on buying political opponents, keeping them in hotels for lengthy period, buying them homes, simply paying them handsome amounts of cash to remain silent. Yet, the men and women of the armed forces in the trenches get passed when the time for payment comes.


All these have bankrupted the country and will continue to drain the meagre resources away from serving public interest. Although the R-ARCSS has elaborately outlined in Chapter IV reforms in the economic and public financial management sectors, we know nothing will come of these provisions. It is these concerns, that have prompted us to speak out.


Way Forward—We call on the government and the international community, to support an international audit of the oil production and sale of crude effective since independence. This audit should involve both the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Petroleum focusing on cost oil, revenue sharing and related transactions such as Transitional Financial Assistance to Sudan.

The Ministry of Finance and the National Revenue Authority should also be audited on revenue management. Ideally, a foreign consulting firm with recognized experience in oil auditing from countries, like Norway and Canada, should carry out the audit. The audit reports would then inform the country’s new financial management rules and procedures. Generally, there is a need for institutional reform to prevent corruption.

Perpetrators in public institutions that have already been identified as the dens of corruption must be brought to books.

Our Legislative institutions must perform their constitutional role in exposing and ordering prosecution of corrupt elements throughout the country whether in public or private institutions. The President’s voice must be heart in the campaign against corruption.

Persistent Insecurity in the Rural Areas

If there is one area where the government of South Sudan has spectacularly failed, it is in relation to security. We are all witnesses to the appalling security situation in our rural communities. Interethnic wars are commonplace and so are intra-ethnic conflicts. For far too long, our government has allowed citizens to fend for themselves in protecting and preserving their lives and property. Weapons have found their way in the hands civilians and they now kill and loot each other with impunity. The state is apparently unable to exert control and it therefore has no capacity to prevent these conflicts. For how long can the people of South Sudan go on like this?

These are issues that leaders everywhere in the world have sleepless nights over. In South Sudan however, leaders are inured to these situations and could care less about addressing them. What peace are we talking about then, if the majority of our people are at war in the rural areas, and we are unable to contain these wars? The state has the duty to address these matters, failure of which would warrant questions about the legitimacy of the government and its functions.


Way Forward—We cannot pretend that this not a problem; it is actually the most serious situation that any serious government would want to address at the start. South Sudan shall never be a stable country until all local conflicts are addressed and until civil disarmament takes place. The people of South Sudan, through the National Dialogue, consider disarmament as the number one priority for peace in the country. Failure to disarm and control the civil population, means there shall never be peace and stability in the country. The fallacy that once you reward warlords with positions and power you get peace is simply outdated and we need a paradigm shift.


To address some of these issues the government must organize and modernize the security organs and provide them with the requisite logistics to enable them to perform their mandates satisfactorily. Furthermore, the government must revive the supremacy of the state power and authority. The most important responsibility of any government is to ensure the security of its citizens and maintain law and order throughout its territory.


Institutions

All institutions of democratic governance in South Sudan are virtually dead. The ruling party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), is practically paralyze. It does not meet, and its policies do not guide government action. The Secretariat, which generates ideas and policies is neglected and its recommendations are not considered. The National Liberation Council (NLC) last met in December 2013 and it has not met again. The Political Bureau only meets to discuss policies decided already by the government and only when convened at the whims of the Chairman.


The parliament has been undermined and weakened by executive interference. It is not independent, and it does not debate matters democratically. It simply goes along with what is brought by the Executive. It doe not question the on-going coruri and it does not investigate or debate reports of the Auditor General. The country has for long been under an authoritarian system and it is now moving more towards stalemated and unworkable system.

All accountability mechanisms have been disabled, including the national army, which has now been relegated to the same level of militias per the terms of the R-ARCSS. For all practical purposes, South Sudan has lost all the democratic gains ushered in by the CPA and the Declaration of Independence. There are no avenues where political matters of significance are discussed openly. Many politicians now resort to talk politics at funerals, weddings, and other social gatherings such as the churches. South Sudan cannot and must not continue like this.


Way Forward—The single most serious threat against the Republic of South Sudan is lack of internal cohesion and insecurity across the country. In keeping with the Resolutions of the National Dialogue, civil disarmament is the most important priority the country should undertake. After the unification of the national army, the country needs a robust disarmament policy through an act of parliament. All must be disarmed, and possession of arms must be criminalized for civilians and non-active military personnel. The government must have a robust and decisive response to communal violence.
South Sudan urgently needs democratic transition. Return to democracy is the only way to establish and reinforce virtuous institutions of governance. The growing impunity is a function of paralyzed democratic institutions. Democracy by definition is a form of accountability and transparency.


Conclusion

In concluding this statement, we want to reiterate that South Sudan remains in serious crises and the R-ARCSS has proven inadequate in bringing peace to the country. These crises as indicated by the National Dialogue are a result of leadership failure and power struggle.

We strongly believe that the National Dialogue provides superior supplementary solution to the problems facing South Sudan, so we suggest that its resolutions must therefore be implemented fully and should become a readymade program of the government. We call for democratic transition in the country as an exit from leadership failure and political deadlock, hence, our demand for preparations for elections to be expedited.

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