October 10, 2020 (Thessherald)–The United States President, Donald J. Trump, has claimed that his strong immune system had killed the virus shortly after testing positive for the coronavirus earlier last week.
“I am feeling much better. The doctors said they’ve never seen a body kill the coronavirus like mine. They said my body was made to kill virus’s,” said Trump on social media. They tested my DNA and they said it wasn’t DNA, it was USA.
Trump alleged that if his opponent Joe Biden had tested positive for coronavirus, he would have died seven times by now.
“They said if Joe Biden had the virus he would have died several times by now. They said there is no way anyone with a body like mine could lose an election.”
However, despite earlier announcement that the U.S. President is feeling much better, The Trump administration is under criticism from the public for consistently dodging questions on when Trump’s recent negative COVID-19 test was.
Asked when Trump was tested negative last, “I don’t want to go backwards,” replied White House physician Sean Conley in a brief statement to the media.
May 14, 2020 (Thessherald)–The novel coronavirus is not changing the world. While the virus itself fails to discriminate between the poor and the powerful, its effects are mediated by unequitable social structures and economic hierarchies. These are not crumbling but are rather being reinforced through quarantines and lockdowns. Such responses are immobilizing the structures that the most vulnerable use to prevent crisis, resulting in Covid-19 overwhelmingly afflicting those who are already suffering. In countries suffering from conflict and hunger, such responses are likely to entrench class divisions between political elites and the suffering majority. The Covid-19 response in South Sudan is a clear example.
On Tuesday 28 April, South Sudan’s Covid-19 taskforce, led by Vice-President Riek Machar, announced that the country had 34 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus. With this announcement came further measures designed to halt the spread of Covid-19, including the immediate closure of all tea and shisha stalls, a 7pm-6am curfew, and the closure of all bars. These measures follow on from earlier government decrees that banned large gatherings, suspended international flights, limited all international and inter-state travel, and shut down all non-essential service providers, amongst other measures.
On 7 May, with the number of cases in South Sudan increasing rapidly (as of 12 May, there are 174 confirmed cases), the Presidency announced an immediate relaxation of the lockdown, with the beginning of curfew moved to 10pm, the re-opening of shops and restaurants, provided that social distancing is followed, and the promise that internal travel within South Sudan shall resume soon.
Covid-19 is highly likely to cause significant mortality in South Sudan. If the spread of the virus follows patterns that have occurred elsewhere in Africa, cases in South Sudan could be in the hundreds of thousands in June. The country has a young population, and thus, like elsewhere in East Africa, can hope to avoid the shocking death rates amongst the old that Italy and other Western European countries have witnessed. Yet, much is not yet known about how Covid-19 will interact with other comorbidities that are prevalent in South Sudan such as malaria, hepatitis, yellow fever, measles and malnutrition. Across Africa, high levels of TB, untreated HIV, diabetes and hypertension may all put people at increased risk of severe Covid-19. To combat these risks, the South Sudanese government introduced draconian measures that are unlikely to be successful.
The lockdown measures imposed on 28 April and partially lifted on 7 May effectively import into South Sudan the approach to the virus that has been taken by much of Europe, and ignore alternative strategies that might be feasible in this context.
There are two possible justifications for ‘lock-down’. In China, the government effectively erected a cordon sanitaire around Hubei and implemented firm restrictions on movement within this cordon, successfully containing the virus. In Europe, lockdown has attempted to ‘flatten the curve’ – slow the spread of the virus so that medical services do not become overwhelmed, due to an excessive demand, for instance, on intensive care units.
Neither of these conditions pertain to South Sudan. Confirmed Covid-19 cases in South Sudan are not restricted to a single area, so there is no dangerous population to isolate (cases have rather first appeared in Juba and in the border areas with Uganda, with unconfirmed cases now apparent in clusters across South Sudan).
Plus, there is inadequate state capacity to meaningfully implement lockdown on the scale that we have seen in China or South Korea – places where it has worked effectively. Even at the best of times, state capacity would fall far short of what is required for such measures, and currently, while the transitional government is still being appointed, there are no country commissioners and serious ambiguities over sub-national authority. Any implementation of lockdown is likely to be piecemeal, focused on the poor, and aggravate already-existing state–society tensions.
South Sudan’s medical infrastructure is also not sufficiently equipped for a strategy of ‘flattening the curve’ to be meaningful; in a country with five vice-presidents, there are only four ventilators. The UN has expanded the bed capacity from a few dozen in hospitals in major cities, but even this small increase is unlikely to be matched with even basic equipment and health professionals. At the same time, South Sudan’s limited medical infrastructure has suddenly become of great interest to the country’s elite. In prior years, this elite sought help abroad. However, with the closing of the borders of regional neighbours like Uganda and Kenya, it is unclear whether the elite can still seek to be treated elsewhere, and thus, the state of South Sudan’s own infrastructure has become of pressing importance.
At the same time, according to many South Sudanese across the country, the lockdown is itself a function of the leadership’s fear of a virus that fails to distinguish between rich and poor, especially when medical infrastructure is available to neither. The lockdown primarily functions to try and protect the political elite, at the cost of South Sudanese society, which cannot easily bear the costs of lockdown. South Sudanese also accuse their leaders of setting up the Covid-19 Taskforce to divert aid for their own private benefit. This is already happening in Somalia and threatens to have serious, violent political consequences. South Sudanese accusations are driven by the political elites’ past indifference to previous problems faced by the country. All over the world, the implementation of lockdown orders has revealed stark inequalities between wealthy classes with sufficient resources to isolate and socially distance, and a class on which they depend: those who do not have the financial resources to isolate and whose labour is necessary for society to function. In South Sudan, this divide is particularly egregious. The only people in South Sudan even potentially able to endure a lockdown are the political class.
It is thus darkly ironic that some of the political elite are acting as if the rules do not apply to them. Last month, the pastor Abraham Chol was arrested for violating the order banning large gatherings, and sentenced to a month in prison. However, in footage widely shared on South Sudanese social media, the military and police officers present at his trial were themselves not obeying social distancing instructions. Further images have circulated of SPLA-IO defectors to the government gathering in defiance of the government’s own order, and not obeying social distancing requirements. Some military leaders have refused to let their children be tested or quarantined. Murle leader David Yau Yau flew to Juba on 26 April, defying the ban on inter-state movement. While the lockdown has been imported into South Sudan to protect the elite, it is unlikely to be successful. As we have seen, it is the elite themselves who are most likely to travel abroad, break social distancing requirements, and become the main vectors for viral transmission.
Rather than these measures blocking transmission of the virus, it is likely that the reaction to Covid-19 will be as deadly as the disease itself, especially as it increases vulnerability to hunger and other possible comorbidities. A friend in Western Bahr el Ghazal (South Sudan) recently told us that he was suffering from Covid-20. We queried: surely you mean Covid-19? No, he corrected us, Covid-20, that is what we are calling hunger these days. ‘It is a virus worse than Covid’. Lockdown measures are putting people out of work, and putting increased pressure on scarce resources. Covid-20 is not bringing about a new world, but is reproducing and intensifying existing situations of hunger and inequality.
Already, the closure of the land border with Uganda and other international restrictions has seen food prices spiral in April 2020, with the price of a kilogram of maize in Juba going from 159 SSP to 298 SSP. At the same time as food prices are increasing, stay-at-home orders are ripping through South Sudanese society’s capacity to provide for itself. Even if everyone – including the elite – followed the government’s mandated rules for lockdown, it would still not be a viable strategy for South Sudan. There is not a sufficiently developed service economy that would allow people to do work-at-home jobs. Indeed, the measures announced on 28 April, including the ban on selling tea, are likely to hit some of the poorest and most disadvantaged members of South Sudanese society, as they have in neighbouring Uganda. At the same time, there are not sufficient government resources to engage in the sort of income replacement measures we have seen work in Canada or Denmark, for example.
The partial lifting of the lockdown on 7 May is welcome, and will alleviate some of the worst consequences of these measures, by allowing tea sellers to work and businesses to resume. It should also allow humanitarians, such as Médecins Sans Frontières, to bring urgently needed health workers to the places most in need. However, the incoherence of South Sudanese policy comes with its own risks, as allowing inter-state travel to resume might bring a wave of people leaving urban areas such as Juba, where food and rent are expensive, and returning to rural areas, risking the further spread of Covid-19.
In addition, the disturbances created by the lockdown measures are likely to intensify the threat of other illnesses, such as malaria, cholera, malnutrition, and measles, as resources become scarcer, international NGOs find it more difficult to move around and replace staff, and already-minimal health services become even harder to access. The situation remains particularly difficult in the Protection of Civilian sites (PoCs). Conditions in the PoCs, in terms of population density and the impossibility of social distancing measures, are akin to the conditions in prisons, and it is in prisons that we have seen particular challenges during Covid-19.
The very structure of South Sudanese society makes lockdown and social distancing very difficult to implement. In South Sudan’s urban areas, much of the population lives in sufficient density that social distancing is not possible; there is also not sufficient clean water, in many places, for handwashing to be a viable strategy, and there are acute shortages of masks. People also rely on the daily collection of water and purchase of food, forcing regular interactions. There is no social basis for quarantine to occur.
In many rural areas, in contrast, where low population densities function as their own sort of social distance, forms of work and living require close contact between members of society. The deep social and economic connections between towns and rural areas also make it impossible to isolate and protect rural areas. Elites often move between rural areas and the towns, and these are precisely the people which police and soldiers cannot restrain. The best hope rural areas have for protection from Covid-19 is the early intensification of the rainy season that interrupts rural travel by road and by air.
As elsewhere in the world, Covid-19 is not bringing about a ‘new normal’ but rather intensifying already existing trends in society. Covid-19 presents opportunities to authoritarian governments throughout Africa to extend their control of society. The same is true in South Sudan. The lockdown measures have further concentrated power in the hands of the security state in South Sudan, which has become increasingly powerful in recent years. Lockdown will also intensify the separation between a Juba-based political elite class with access to resources and the rest of the country, increasingly immiserated and struggling for basic resources. The measures announced on 28 April will do nothing to stop the spread of Covid-19, but may increase the spread of the sentiment that the political elite in Juba is acting only in its own interests.
About the author: Naomi Pendle is a Research Fellow based at the Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa ( London School of Economics and Political Science).
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May 12, 2020 (Thessherald)–When EPRDF took power in 1991, the regime adopts new constitution in 1994 which introduce ethnic federalism. By then, the country becomes structured along ethnic lines where Gambella assumes regional state status. The region becomes identified as a home to five indigenous ethnic groups of Nuer, Anywa, Majang, Opo and Komo. These ethnic groups were granted self-administration under the 1994 federal constitution while other Ethiopians living in the region are allowed to settle and undertake business activities. From 1991, the political administration of the region is entirely handed to these five indigenous ethnic groups. At national level, Gambella is represented in the national parliament’s two houses of the House of People Representatives and House of Federation.
In the House of People Representatives, three representatives from Nuer, Anywa and Majang are elected every five years in consideration of their population size from the rest of Opo and Komo. At the House of Federation, four ethnic groups of Nuer, Anywa, Majang and Opo are represented by their respective top regional representatives while Komo is represented by Moa Komo in Benishangul Gumuz as their population is greater than those in Gambella. In executive, Gambella is represented by two state ministers, one ambassador, and one agency director. However, though the regime grants self-administration power to the indigenous groups and remarkable representation at national level, it introduces certain controlling mechanisms for regional administration.
In line with these controlling mechanisms, the regime establishes national institutional control mechanisms. For so call backward or neglected regions in Ethiopia, including Gambella, Benushangul Gumuz, Afar and Somalia. Initially, these regions become subjected to control of regional affairs department under the Prime Minister office and later under the newly established Ministry of Federal Affairs (MoFA). The federal government through this control system appoint federal advisors and send to these regions in order to supervise and monitor the admiration. It is through the reports of these advisors where the federal government intervene politically and developmentally rather than direct report from regional president. Later, the federal government separated supervisory role by giving political supervision to EPRDF’s office and administrative and development supervision to MoFA under the state minister for regional affairs.
In the political field, as the EPRDF is structured into core coalition parties and allied parties, the ruling party in Gambella along with others backward regions are levelled as allied parties. This structure as mentioned in other article, contradicts the revolutionary democracy ideological believe which TPLF-EPRDF adopts in favor of the marginalize groups in Ethiopia which the structurally isolated regions should be the target.
Through this structure, EPRDF creates allied party department at central office, headed by person appointed from core parties’ members than being from allied parties’ members. Though the assumption of the allied parties for the creation of this department was to coordinate allied system, the intention come to be a structure created to monitor and control the political system in these regions.
The department appoints four advisors to regional party representing four core parties’ members of EPRDF to supervise the political functions in the region and deliver regular reports to central office. It is then through this political supervisory mechanism where political leadership structural measures are undertaken in these regions, mostly in line with the interests of EPRDF’s leadership. Moreover, these political structural measures often conform with leadership loyalty and proximity of Gambella individuals to influential federal leaders, leading the Anywa ethnic members to lead for 21 years while Nuer ethnic member lead for 6 years. Likewise, MoFA appoints development and administrative support director with other staffs to the region. Through this support team, MoFA supervises development support provided for upgrading development status of backward regions as well as administrative functions and structures.
In addition, MoFA introduces experience sharing mechanism with four developed regions where Gambella becomes a development partner of Southern Nations region. However, all these supervisory mechanisms introduced by the EPRDF’s regime, negate genuine self-administration as the allied parties or backward regions ends being administer through national political remote control. On the development sector under EPRDF’s regime, Gambella witnessed remarkable infrastructural development. These include standard asphalt road connecting Gambella with Addis Ababa and three asphalt roads (Gambella-Burebiey, Gambella-Pagak and Gambella-Akobo) connecting Gambella or Ethiopia with South Sudan. Inside the region, roads connecting weredas to Gambella town, with the exception of Dimma, Jor, Godere, and Mengeshi are being constructed while that of Abobo is under construction.
Others infrastructural development worth to mention include renovated Gambella international airport, Gambella University, referral hospital, international stadium, international conference center, and government and individual building towers. All these development projects are remarkable since during the Derg regime, there was no asphalt road connecting Gambella region with Addis Ababa and only two roads connecting Gambella town with Itang and Pinyudo. In addition, there was only airfield intended for military purpose without constructed terminal building, no referral hospital, no international stadium, no international conference center and no building towers. On economy, the sector is dominated by Ethiopian’s highlanders’ communities as they wholly own all types of business activities in the region.
In the trading sector from small, medium and large, including food, clothes, hotels, super markets, small shops, and trading items distributors, all are in the hands of highlanders. In others economic sectors like, carpentry work, metal work, construction materials hard ware, and constructors and construction laborers are wholly own and run by highlanders. Moreover, the investment sector of all types is wholly own by the highlanders with a pocket of foreign investors in agricultural investment. By witnessing such circumstance in economic sector, one might wonder why the sector in the region is dominated by highlanders, without the indigenous ethnic groups participating or being involve. This emanates from a combination of factors including neglect of Gambella by several regimes, backwardness, lack of business knowhow, societal and cultural obstacles in performing business.
Other factors are restrictive government regulations hindering low income involvement in business, denial in accessing trading items from distributors, and lack of government initiative in discouraging restrictive measures to encourage indigenous involvement in business. In this general assessment of the Gambella status during EPRDF’s regime, granting self-administration to indigenous ethnic groups and development activities the regime undertakes are of remarkable status. The awaiting concern of Abiy’s leadership include avoiding unnecessary national remote controlling mechanisms, increasing national executive representative, constructing roads connecting Gambella town with Dimma, Godere, Mengesh and Jor, and adjusting restrictive regulations in economic and business sectors.
Abiy’s “Medemer” reform vision realities
In late 2017, EPRDF witnessed leadership crisis on the way of responding to public concerns. This crisis relates among others to disagreement over leadership regulation and management of Addis Ababa city master plan, investment regulation, handling of evicted public and farmers, and public offices representation allocation. In all public sectors, since a particular ethnic group dominates, it generates public discontents and uprisings across the country, leading EPRDF in undertaking leadership evaluation. As the uprising in the country becomes unprecedented, with increasing scale in demand for leadership reform, it forces Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to resign paving the way for EPRDF’s leadership transition. In the transition process, by April 2018, Dr. Abiy’s Hamed, the chairman of Oromo People Democratic Organization-OPDO, a coalition member in EPRDF, becomes elected as the new chairman of the EPRDF.
Following party’s leadership change, the new chairman becomes sworn-in as the Prime Minister of the country. The new leader then begins advocating for “Medemer-Inclusive ideology” to direct his reform vision. This ideological thinking according to the leader prioritize Ethiopian and nationalism, encourages unity and inclusivity, discourage exclusion, and encourage peaceful and friendly neighborhood. In line with this ideological screen, the leader undertakes reform measures aiming at discouraging exclusionary practices, domination, injustice and peaceful and friendly relations internally and externally. In fulfilling the aim, the leadership revokes terrorist regulation act categorizing Oromo Liberation Front-OLF, Ginbot-7, Ogaden National Liberation Front-ONLF and Ethiopian Patriotic United Front-EPUF as terrorists’ organizations.
Following the revoking of regulation, the leadership invites all exiled and arms opposition groups to return into the country to exercise their political objective peacefully. This invitation lead to the return of OLF, Ginbot-7-now EZEMA, EPUF and ONLF leaders and members into the country. Internally, the new leadership tours all regions or states in the country to preach reform vision and maintenance of peace. In contrast to EPRDF’s revolutionary democracy and developmental state ideological believe, the leadership undertakes privatization of some public companies, already under government control. In addition, the leadership order the release of all political prisoners, including long time Oromo National Congress opposition party leader, professor Merera Gudina and set free all banned private media operation in the country.
Moreover, the leadership undertakes administrative and political measures in term of restructuring political and special service appointments which affects national ministers, security sectors, agencies, commissions, and ambassadors. In this political and administrative measures, the leadership consider inclusivity, fair share for majority and minority representations, and adjustment of institutions domination. Moreover, the leadership encourages leadership change and reform in all regions in which out of nine regions in the country, seven regions together with two city administration undertake leadership change. In regional leadership change, Tigray and Beneshangul Gumuz regions didn’t undertake leadership change. By implementing friendly and peaceful neighbors, the leadership declare peace with Eritrea, resulting to each other’s’ delegates and leaders visits, opening borders, embassies, and air and land transports to passengers.
Internationally and regionally, the new leadership tours across Africa, Middle East, China, Japan, India, South Korea, Europe, Russia, Canada and USA as gesture for friendly and peaceful relationship. Through all the reform measures undertaken by the new leadership at country’s national and regional or states levels, the TPLF-EPRDF’s revolutionary democracy leadership style begins to diminish. The pro-TPLF leadership and dominance disappear by being silenced through inclusion of pro-Abiy’s or pro-Oromo leadership. Likewise, Oromo sympathy begins accelerating in the country as most ethnic groups turn loyalty to Abiy’s leadership. In the new leadership, as TPLF-Tigray people feel being isolated from influence including influential political positions in the government used to be, they chose self-defense strategy through rejecting, boycotting and obstructing leadership functions in their Tigray region.
Moreover, the TPLF rejects unification of EPRDF through inclusion of allied parties which leads to formation of single Prosperity Party-PP, thereby excluding itself from the new party. As a counter measure, the TPLF initiates the idea of rescuing “ethnic federalism and constitution” it views being endanger by Abiy’s leadership reform and calls for joint front with opposition parties to cripple leadership. In addition, the TPLF and Tigray public interprets Abiy’s reform measures and Prosperity Party unification as inclination to dictatorship system and dismantling of ethnic federalism and constitution. Moreover, they claim the reform measures aim at instituting Oromo dominance, elimination of ethnic minorities rights, and return to unitary system. On the other hand, in political opposition parties’ views, Abiy’s advocating of Ethiopian, nationalism, inclusivity and anti-domination receives varied interpretations.
The EPUF and Ginbot-7-EZEMA interprets the vision as aiming for returns to unitary presidential system, avoidance of ethnic federalism, and institution of liberal democratic system, which is one of their core political program. In OLF view, the leadership change is perceived as Oromo heroism and links reform to the erosion of Tigray and Amhara dominance, guarantee Oromo dominance and implementing Oromo demands, being majority rule and lion share in country’s resources. Likewise, the Oromo public, Oromo National Congress-ONC and radical members of Oromo Democratic Party-ODP share OLF perception and interpretation, which creates disagreement within leadership and members. The group interpreting change in Oromo favor accuse Dr. Abiy of abandoning reform’s objective and neglect implementing Oromo demands by prioritizing nationalism and inclusivity through Amhara influence
From Dr. Abiy view, such interpretation of reform is narrow and resemble previous leadership prioritization of Tigray heroism as Oromo’s demands can best be addressed in prioritizing Ethiopian, nationalism and inclusivity. Moreover, Abiy argue that the genuine intention of reform vision as clarified in “Medemer Book” and “Prosperity Party programs”, is to institute a system prioritizing Ethiopian, nationalism, inclusivity, and institution of genuine ethnic federalism and self-administration. In Abiy’s view, it is under such system where the majority and minority ethnic groups demands can be appropriately accommodated. Despite this clarify intention of reform vision, struggle continue between actual version and interpreted versions, leaving Ethiopians divided along these poles.
These diverse interpretations and expectations then create uncertainty and confusion where those expecting radical changes continue pursuing instability in the country for reform to fit their demands. Likewise, the anti-reform groups continue instigating and sponsoring instability to undermine leadership success in maintaining peace and stability, and undertaking promising reforms and prosperous development activities. However, though these obstacles prolong leadership reform measures to take hold, Prime Minister Abiy, both internally and externally manages to register resonated and inspiring measures to Ethiopia and the world. These measures include permitting the return of all exile political opposition groups into the country, release of all political prisoners, and promoting women’s leadership role in the government.
Other measure is advocating peace between various groups in the country, especially between Oromo and Somali, Oromo and Southern Nations, Oromo and Beneshangul Gumuz, Oromo and Amhara, Amhara and Tigray, and Sidama and Welaita. Moreover, the declaration of peace with Eritrea and call for friendly and peaceful neighbors is worth welcome. All these reform measures enable Dr. Abiy to be awarded with world noble peace prize winner of the year 2019. However, this peace prize is negated by continuous instability in several parts of the country, instigated by those taking reform to owns’ advantage by inclusion of varied interpretations. Likewise, the future destination of the Abiy’s leadership reform remains full of ambiguities. The first ambiguity relates to interpretation of unification under Prosperity Party as initial step in driving the country toward dictatorship, majority dominance and diminishing of minority rights.
Other interpretation links to Abiy’s advocating of Ethiopian and nationalism as an attempt to undermine ethnic federalism and self-administration. Moreover, there are simmering rumors on attempt for constitutional change which may require changes of parliamentary to probably presidential system, modification of self-determination provision, modification of national language, and change in regional structures. These issues have already been echoed by various opposition political parties, public and some hints within the reform measures of Abiy’s leadership. Such ambiguities lead Ethiopian to remain on “wait and see”, and even expecting the coming election to clarify the uncertainty.
Gambella in Abiy’s reform mirror
When EPRDF, a coalition of ethnics’ liberation movements, along with allied parties, with the vision to free and guarantee ethnic groups’ rights overthrow Derg regime, this collective national victory becomes interpreted as Tigray ethnic heroism. This perception ultimately leads Tigray ethnic members to claim country’s leadership for 26 years, resulting to all rights intended for all Ethiopian to end being directed in guaranteeing Tigray’s interest. In consequence, other ethnic groups feeling isolated from the benefits of this collective victory and equal enjoyment of rights, collectively wage struggle for reform which ultimately result to coming into power of Dr. Abiy in 2018. Likewise, in Gambella, similar national scenario is witnessed where Anywa ethnic group interprets this collective victory as their heroism.
Such interpretation leads Anywa to claim regional leadership for 21 years where all the rights intended for all Gambellian end being directed to guarantee their benefit. Throughout their leadership period, they pursue political intimidation and killings as mechanisms to reinforce the exclusion of other ethnic groups as well as highlanders in the region. As a result, the other ethnic groups in the region, with Nuer being in the frontline claim for the reverse of the status quo. However, such attempt often faces violent resistance of Anywa, leading Gambella becomes a conflict prone region. When Hailemariam Desaleng becomes Prime Minister in 2012, the status quo is reversed where Nuer assumes leadership from 2012-2018 for 7 years. In Abiy’s leadership era, similar scenario in EPRDF’s leadership nationally is witnessed where several interpretations and expectations are being leveled on “Medemer” reform vision.
Likewise, in Gambella the national scenario is reflected within the ruling party where Anywa interprets the reform as owns heroism while Nuer, Majang, Opo and Komo endorse Abiy’s vision version. On regional opposition parties, some group admire Ethiopian and Nationalism while other entertain TPLF-EPRDF status quo of ethnic federalism and revolutionary democracy. In October 2018 when Gambella region witnessed leadership transition, the Anywa ethnic member who assume regional presidency translates transition and reform vision as their victory on Nuer. The new leadership under the cover up of implementing Abiy’s reform undertake measures which prioritize and guarantee Anywa’s demands and benefits. These measures include granting lion share of regional government’s political appointments to Anywa in disregard of population criteria by allocating them nine cabinets and majority Nuer with seven cabinets.
Gambella ‘s leadership transition realities
4.1. Anywa in leadership sustenance strategy
Such measure is witnessed in distribution of agencies, police officers, education opportunity, development projects as well as oil, sugar and bread flour provided to region by the federal government. However, these leadership measures of rewarding Anywa, through ensuring their supremacy, pursuing injustice and unfair distribution of resource, and revenge acts on Nuer, generate public discontent from those endorsing actual reform vision versions. In addition, the situation forces those losing patience to abandon Prosperity Party-PP and joint opposition parties and TPLF-counter reform coalition opposition parties while others remain being submissive and silent to cope up with the system. Moreover, those voicing objection on leadership receive illogical category of anti-reform and finally end in isolation and intimidation. This circumstance welcomes the question of whether Gambella leadership is in genuine Abiy’s reform vision mirror or not. As Gambella find itself in reform versions struggle, which scatter public, it requires either early federal government intervention or wait for country’s general election to clarify genuine version, while dalliance embody negative precaution for PP party success.
During the country’s leadership transition period, Anywa utilizes accusations that TPLF controlled government’s armies’ massacre Anywa civilians in 2003 and evict farmers from land through investment pretext and handling it to retire Tigray armies. In addition, they accuse the government as Nuer ally which illogically handle regional presidency to Nuer in 2012. Through these accusations, Anywa manage to capture Oromo and Abiy’s leadership sympathy and attention as people sharing similar atrocities with Oromo under TPLF-EPRDF controlled leadership.
By guaranteeing the new leadership sympathy, they begin undertaking violence atrocities against Nuer and violence scouted demonstrations against leadership of president Gatluak Tut for being Nuer.
Following Anywa’s violence activities in the region, federal government under Abiy’s leadership politically intervene by calling regional ruling party central committees to Addis Ababa for evaluation and then advice president to resign in October 2018. When Omot Ojulu from Anywa assumes regional presidency in October 2018, the new leader undertakes administrative measures which only guarantee Anywa interests. These measures later delighted Anywa despite being not their first-choice leader. However, though Anywa differ in leadership ambitions with loyalty divided on president Omot, former vice presidents Olero Opiew and Senay Akwer, state minister Alemitu Omot, Dr. Ojulu and Obong Metho, all share leadership sustenance strategy. In maintaining regional leadership and safe it from being smashed by Nuer, they pursue on dismantling and spoiling Nuer image and status nationally.
Moreover, they dismantle Nuer loyalty on Oromo and Abiy’s leadership by attaching Nuer loyalty to TPLF and Tigray people, and strengthen political divisions among Nuer politicians through political post bribery to hold them submissive. Further, they pursue on strengthening friendship with Oromo public, influential Oromo business persons and Prosperity Party’s Oromo leaders. To reinforce strengthening loyalty on Oromo and Abiy’s leadership, they are undertaking financial contributions individually as well as organizing contributions from Anywa business personalities including Ojulu Adey, Ukum, and Dr. Magn.
In addition, they are organizing contributions from Anywa diasporas in USA, Canada, Europe and Australia. To sustain these strategies, they establish an independent body led by Ojulu Adey, entrusted to make sure, if change comes which unseat Omot Ojulu, the next president must be Anywa by all means.
Moreover, this body establishes a system which guarantee Nuer shouldn’t take advantage and return to leadership by any means possible. It is later leaked that, when Omot Ojulu fall seriously sick leading him to USA for better treatment, the established body suspend Omot’s resignation submission to regional and federal government before realizing the possibility of other Anywa to assume the post. To reinforce the leadership sustainability strategy, it is leaked that the establish body open bank account regulated by Ujulu Adey to bribe most influential personalities in Abiy’s leadership. By using this strategy, Anywa manages to tighten federal government friendship and silence its intervention to address unjust practices and atrocities committed by president Omot’s leadership and Anywa public on Nuer and highlanders. However, though such strategy permits and pardons atrocities in Gambella, it seems temporal in silencing blood, while early remedy from federal government is advisable than being too late to act.
4.2. Nuer in disgruntle strategy
During the 2018 country’s leadership transition period, while Anywa undertakes accusations to dismantle [the] Nuer image and loyalty on new leadership, Nuer were instead divided in two groups with some in favor of Gatluak leadership while other being against.
Those against the leadership establishes coalition with Anywa and pockets of Majang and Komo, then finally manage to develop strong relation with federal government leaders at EPRDF party head quarter. It was later leaked that some leaders in the party head quarter inform the group that, the Prime Minister is interested to change Gatluak from regional presidency for being suspected as loyal to TPLF and Tigray military generals. The group was also advised to create disagreement in the party leadership in order to effect Gatluak removal and instructed not to accept any reconciliation that can endanger or fail the plan.
Moreover, in order to sustain commitment of Nuer group’s members for successful execution of the plan, they were promised to strengthen division for federal government to have room to intervene for removing Gatluak and hand presidency to one of them. Such promises make hard for attempted reconciliations undertaken by church leaders and community elders as the group remain firm and unchecked from their stand, while some federal government leaders continue encouraging not to give up their stand. Although those in favor of Gatluak’s leadership attempt to rescue loyalty by influencing federal leaders to welcome dismissal of anti-leadership group, they fail to get significant support as federal leaders bonding with later group become compact and hard to breakthrough.
The group in favor of Gatluak’s leadership then remains being derived and pulled or pooled by vague and tricky advices and promises of some federal government leaders, void of reality. As disagreement in party cement, with some members of central committee submitting call for evaluation, while initiating violent scouted demonstrations against the leadership to step down, the federal government now find room for intervention. This result in call for party evaluation to be undertaken in Addis Ababa where the federal government instructed the resignation of President Gatluak Tut and Vice President Senai Akwer. It is later leaked that, some leaders in EPRDF central office insist on convincing Gatluak even at the last minutes that no action will be taken on him for being allowed to remains in power till election while only vice president and his group will be dismissed.
However, such convincing is later leaked as a trick to please Gatluak and make him relax. The strategy means to prevent him in trying to convince influential federal government leaders either to allow him remains in power or plan various options and mechanisms of leadership transition and several choices for successor. Moreover, the strategy means to confine Gatluak thinking for successor within party central committee members to ultimately be among those triggering leadership change for his removal. However, despite the group designs a strategy which confine Gatluak to their advantage, at surprise, the leadership transition come contrary to the plan. As the outgoing president’s view for successor is welcome, the fore runners’ credentials for the posts are turned down by recommending unimagined persons to take advantage of group’s struggle.
The outgoing president’s leadership transition trick is then lauded by Nuer and all his loyal for not surrendering the power to enemy, despite being criticized later for recommending incapable Nuer person, leading the dictator and discriminator Anywa person to smash the position. In this leadership transition process, Gatluak initially reports to public that through his recommendation, power balance is done where Thakuey Joack from Nuer is the president and party vice chairman while Omot Ojulu from Anywa is the party chairman and vice president. Such arrangement was lauded and welcome, especially by Nuer who accuse Anywa of instigating crisis to overthrow regional president for being Nuer in order to take the post. The arrangement initially calm hostile nature of leadership transition as it balances Nuer and Anywa counter leadership claims.
However, this arrangement is soon revoked under the pretext of Thakuey Joack incapability claim and the fact that, article in party regulation giving room for power balance is not yet endorsed by party general assembly. This revoking action which turn Omot Ojulu to be the president and party chairman with Thakuey Joack deputizing him in government and party, angered Nuer leading them to boycott regional parliament’s leadership transfer session done in October 2018. The “Goa animal Youth Association” then took the lead through making roads blockage to prevent Nuer MPs from going to parliament and participate in power handling session. However, such boycotting measure was later foiled by national security forces and public meeting called by Gatluak to convince Nuer and youth to accept the revoked leadership transition arrangement void of power balance.
In the meeting, Gatluak told the Nuer public that he was responsible for revoking the leadership transition arrangement because, Thakuey lacks experience and capacity to be president and the party didn’t change the regulation which could allow power balance arrangement. This Gatluak speech anger Nuer and publicly insults him as deceiver, misleader, coward and greedy, where he even responds by insulting public and demonstrate publicly his physical ability to fight as verification of not being coward. Such acts later degrade his dignity and loyalty, and thereafter, Nuer reduce further moves for obstructing the leadership transition as they feel being betrayed by their own son. As Nuer becomes reluctant in boycotting, it enables the leadership transfer session to be undertaken by the day without facing any obstacle.
However, it is later leaked that the federal government pressures Gatluak to conduct public meeting to convince Nuer and failing to do so, definitely leads to his arrest, which force him to confront Nuer and commercialize their right to escape arrest. Moreover, the logic behind federal government pressures on Gatluak to convince Nuer rest on the fact that, such arrangement of handling regional leadership to Anywa has already been secretly agreed upon, despite misleading Gatluak to propose power balance mechanism. It is later leaked that some federal leaders initiate Anywa’s opposition to power balance arrangement and after securing party chairman, they ask why the arrangement isn’t done under Gatluak and why to be done under Anywa leadership. In addition, the Anywa insists that such arrangement requires party regulation amendment, only possible after being endorsed by party general assembly.
Such claims then convince federal government leaders to agree on Anywa demands and reinforce the already secret agreement to handle leadership to Anywa. Since this leadership transition process doesn’t comfort Nuer, they keep on blaming Galuak of surrendering community under Anywa’s dictatorship hostage. Immediately in the aftermath of leadership transition, the Nuer find themselves in disarray, divided along several political groups. The initial grouping was in two political groups of Galuak leadership loyalist and anti-Gatluak leadership. These groups continue to Thakuey leadership with Gatluak loyalist being Thakuey’s loyal group. The anti-Gatluak group continue being anti-Thakuey for viewing him being nominated by Gatluak from his loyalists’ group and continue working under interest and guidance of Gatluak.
Later, Thakuey group disintegrate as the hope in defending and implementing Nuer rights and interests diminish. This loss of hope and trust develop as Thakuey fails to adjust and counter atrocities and injustice measures perpetrated on Nuer by Anywa and president Omot. These atrocities and injustices include among others, the continues killing of Nuer on roads and government decision to forcefully evict Nuer from cultural village residential area in Gambella town. Other include the president rejection of establishing safe bus station in Nuer residential area as bus station in Anywa residential area becomes murderous center for Nuer passengers. In the government, president undertakes measures which guarantee Anywa interest, by allocating nine cabinets to Anywa and seven cabinets to Nuer, contrary to country’s constitution, allowing 47% majority Nuer lion share than 21% Anywa in population.
Likewise, such circumstance is witnessed in other offices allocation as well as development and trading sectors, having unfair and discriminatory distribution. All these injustice measures undertaken by Anywa and the president on Nuer receives silence reaction from Thakuey and whenever “Goanimal Youth” file appeal on leadership and attempt to undertakes peaceful demonstration, they end up in prison. Since Thakuey fails to prevent their arrest, while other Nuer political appointees even encourage their arrest, they become losing moral and unity in struggle to rescue Nuer from hostage. By becoming the target of leadership intimidation without rescuer, they scatter where most choose being silence. Similar despair is witnessed among Nuer politicians where they scatter along submissive, opportunists, silence, and radical (Nuer safety or anti-Anywa dominance) groups.
As Thakuey group supposed to guarantee and rescue Nuer right comes disintegrating into four camps, Nuer community then disintegrates along these camps including anti-Gatluak camp. By taking advantage of Thakuey’s incapability, insignificance of his loyal party central committee and disintegration of his group, the Anywa and anti-Gatluak or Thakuey group continue insisting to implement the vision to remove Thakuey and all radical loyalist from government. In the implementation of this vision, the radical loyalists of Gatluak (Nuer safety or anti-Anywa dominance) ends in target while submissive, opportunist, and silence group remain staggering on bidding Thakuey, Anywa (Omot) and anti-Gatluak group loyalty. As Nuer becomes in such disarray, it leads to absence of developing strategy to counter Anywa atrocities and injustice as well as future strategy to attract Abiy’s leadership sympathy to regain regional leadership.
Therefore, while Anywa is undertaking future leadership sustenance strategiy, Nuer remain lacking initiative to approach and develop friendship with Oromo public and influential personalities in Abiy’s leadership to acquire loyalty. In addition, they remain idle in undertaking activities aimed at reversing the image being dismantle by Anywa nationally. Moreover, they lack contacts with influential business personalities of Oromo community and lack financial contribution internally and even from Nuer diasporas. Further, Nuer then place hope on federal government intervention without filling appeal for injustice and undertaking other measures to initiates intervention. Such circumstance then provides Anywa’s easy ride to continue atrocities and injustice as well as sustaining leadership while making hard for Nuer to breakthrough.
4.3. Majang, Opo and Komo in opportunist strategy
Although Komo and Opo ethnic groups were known in Gambella during the Derg regime, they lack significant contribution and influence in the government while Majang was only incorporated into Gambella during the EPRDF regime. When Majang becomes incorporated with some minor population remaining under Sheka zone-Yeka wereda of Southern Nations region, the three ethnic groups’ contribution in the regional government become significant as indigenous ethnic groups of Gambella region. However, as the groups remains accepting their minority status, they usually chose a wait and see result of Anywa and Nuer regional presidency struggle. Such position is witnessed during 2002 Anywa and Nuer conflict and 2003 Anywa and highlanders’ conflict, which often leads to new arrangement in regional administrative and political structures.
In certain cases, the groups chose separate support on Anywa and Nuer in references to whose leadership preserves their interests and rights. Following 2002 regional restructuring into three zones, where Nuer and Opo come under Nuer zone with Anywa and Komo under Anywa zone, Opo and Komo in most cases render political support to owns’ zone’s mate, while Majang remains rendering political support to leadership which they view can best serves their interest. In the October 2018 regional leadership transition, the Majang ethnic group wholly side with Anywa despite being at odds during their violence conflict. Such bonding is reinforced by their dissatisfaction on highlanders’ encroachment of land through the pretext of investment and illegal resettlement leading to forceful and violence eviction of their farmers.
4.4. Federal government in crisis resolution strategy
As the measures undertaken on two ethnic groups’ land receives significant backing of the TPLF-EPRDF controlled government, the groups turn anger on the leadership, where those politicians and civilians taking leads in rejecting such measures end being imprisoned. Such circumstance then leads two ethnic groups to develop common anti-TPLF/EPRDF’s leadership front, and in turn developing anti-Nuer/Gatluak leadership front in Gambella region. When Anywa instigates leadership change in Gambella, the Majang along with Komo and pockets of Nuer politicians joins them, thereby forming anti-Gatluak leadership front, while Opo remains siding with Gatluak leadership loyalists. As anti-Gatluak leadership front manage his removal, they continue to cement their front in support of president Omot Ojulu (Anywa) leadership, while Opo ethnic group’s politicians continue support to vice president Thakuey Joack (Nuer). In such circumstance, Mjang, Opo and Komo ethnic groups remain under disarray, with no common strategy to either claim top regional leadership or neutralize Anywa and Nuer violence leadership struggle. This validate the claim of being in opportunist strategy by insisting on rendering support to best savior of their interests.
In Gambella, it remains to be permanent strategy for federal government to intervene following violence crisis eruption. This is validated by the 2002 Nuer and Anywa conflict and the 2004 Anywa and highlanders’ conflict. In the Abiy’s leadership period, similar strategy is witnessed where the federal government intervene following violence atrocities and demonstration against Nuer leadership. Likewise, following removal of Nuer guy, despite the Anywa guy’s leadership instituted through the support of some leaders in Abiy’s leadership pursue atrocities and injustice in the region, it is believed that the leadership waits for crisis resembling that of 2002 and 2004. However, such strategy often ends to be temporary solution to the crisis than aiming for sustainability. This lead many to ask why federal government admire crisis resolution strategy for Gambella than crisis prevention and management.
In analyzing the intention of the strategy, it becomes clear that, the leadership objective and loyalty dictates, in which the federal intervention is only necessitated when loyalty that determines handling power to particular ethnic group in the region becomes exposed to danger. This is what EPRDF-TPLF’s leadership did in 2002, 2004, and 2012 when loyal leadership enter into danger. Likewise, it is presumed that as Abiy’s leadership previously encourages instigation of uprising against the regional leadership suspected of having negative loyalty, the leadership then waits for exposure of Anywa’s loyal leadership into danger to intervene. Such circumstance lead to question why federal government entertains waiting for violence incidence in backward regions to intervene while such scenario doesn’t apply for advance regions in the country. This necessitate the advice of reversing strategy as it comes after Gambella plunge in blood basket.
As witnessed earlier, the EPRDF’s regime is remarkable for instituting ethnic federalism, granting undermined rights including self-administration, and undertaking promising development activities. However, unjust national control on regional administration and unjust leadership system working to fulfil Tigray interest, negate enjoyment of opportunities and generate national popular struggle to terminate leadership, leading Dr. Abiy to take power in 2018. In Gambella region, as the regime turns working to fulfil Anywa interest, such tendency generates regional popular struggle to terminate unjust leadership, leading Gatluak Tut to take power in 2012, despite the struggle often faces Anywa’s violence resistance.
Likewise, despite Abiy’s leadership receive wide hope to address EPRDF’s leadership injustice, it soon encounters varied interpretations, relating to reform measures, leaving country under varied speculations on leadership system. In Gambella, the leadership transition measures of instigating division, demonstration, requesting president’s resignation, and handing presidency to Anywa, undermine unreserved welcome of Abiy’s leadership. In addition, as the measures lack legal and political justification, they signify Abiy’s leadership loss of trust on Gatluak’s leadership, in which his early resignation request intends to remove power to safe so call transition loyalists dismissal. Moreover, the measures invite interpretation that, Abiy’s leadership loss trust on Nuer and develop trust on Anywa, leading regional president to undertakes unjust leadership practices which create ethnics’ hostility and deferring regional leadership strategies.
In general analysis of EPRDF and Abiy’s leadership systems, it would be wise for Abiy’s leadership to reverse EPRDF’s leadership style of establishing unjustified national controlling mechanism on regional administration which negates genuine self- administration.
In addition, it could be wise to clarify leadership vision intention before undertaking reform measures to avoid incorrect interpretations and speculations as well as dilemma on leadership vision. Likewise, it is wise to reverse attaching leadership change to particular group which often lead regime to focus on fulfilling the group interest and neglect the populace. Moreover, it is wise for the leadership to reverse crisis resolution strategy by adopting crisis prevention strategy for justified intervention in the regions. In Gambella, it could have been wise for Abiy’s leadership to refrain from instigating leadership change which end in favor of one ethnic group against other.
Moreover, regardless of Gatluak’s lacks of strategic leadership transition plan or threat of intimidation from federal leaders, it could be wise to design resignation probation period like former Prime Minister Desalegn. The period would have been favorable to arrange healthy leadership transition through calling urgent party’s general assembly meeting to address party regulation which can allow power balance arrangement. In general, these measures should avoid ethnics’ hostility, interpretation of transition as particular ethnic victory against other, injustice leadership system, and ethnics’ varying regional leadership strategies. Therefore, it seems valid to conclude that, under such circumstance, the Abiy’s leadership nationally remains under the custody of varying interpretations and speculations, which lead the country to dilemma on leadership vision destination. Likewise, Gambella regional leadership system proves hard to categorize under Abiy’s vision mirror as the leadership fall under the custody of undertaking reform measures against genuine Abiy’s vision version.
The author is an Ethiopian citizen, Former Gambella Deputy Police Commissioner, Former Deputy Anti-Corruption Commissioner and Former Regional National Security and Intelligent Advisor. He’s currently a PhD candidate in Peace and Security studies in Leizig University in Germany and Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia.He can be reached via his email at: Chanpost2004@yahoo.com
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May 4, 2020 (Thessherald)-South Sudan’s First Vice President Dr. Riek Machar has reinstated James Gatdet Dak as Press Secretary or Head of Press Unit in the First Vice President’s Office, a position he held for years before he was kidnapped in Kenya in 2016.
While announcing that the office of the First Vice-president is about to be established, Gatdet urges members of the public to stay informed of the latest developments on South Sudan by liking and following the newly created official Facebook page of the First Vice President.
“As The First Vice President’s Office is currently establishing a Press Unit (Office of the Press Secretary), I am delighted to inform the wider public that from today, Monday, May 4, 2020, my Office, as Press Secretary, will be publishing official events, Press releases, news stories, or any other relevant activity eminating from the Office of the First Vice President, H. E. Dr. Riek Machar Teny, and other relevant official activities from the Presidency, on the newly created official Page as shared below,” he announced.
“I have therefore invited you all to like and follow the Page so as to make it easy for you to timely see any popped up story from The First Vice President’s Office.”
Kidnapped in Kenya and locked behind bars in the capital, Juba for two years – Gatdet was released from prison under a presidential pardon in November 2018 following the signing of the current peace agreement and has not been reinstated to his previous position since then.
Immediately upon his release from prison, Gatdet launched a 116-page handbook recounting and reflecting on his abduction in Kenya and the suffering he had gone through while in detention in the capital, Juba at the National Security Service’s detention facility.
April 20, 2020 (Thessherald)–A senior official of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-IO, Duer Tut Duer has criticized Nuer communities for involving in the movement’s politics and internal affairs by condemning those who recently defected to the government.
In a statement he posted on his social media account, Hon. Duer faulted Nuer communities for their deep involvement in politics more than community issues.
“SPLM-IO is not a communal organization. Defections from the SPLM-IO should be condemned by the SPLM-IO Leadership and not by Communities or by Community Leaders.”
He stressed that the latest defections of the SPLM-IO members should have been condemned by the leadership and not by local communities or elders.
“The Secretary General and the Spokesperson of the SPLM-IO are the ones to condemn the defections after consultation with the Chairman.”
Duer stated that recent rifts between senior officials were caused by elders’ involvement in the internal affairs of the movement.
“Nuer Communities are neither behind the wrong unilateral decisions which cause the defections, nor behind the defections of the SPLM-IO members.”
“Let us not try to create divisions amongst Nuer Communities by involving them in the inernal political differences within the Movement. Let us play our political games in the political play ground and not in the Nuer Community.”
“Although I doubt, let us hope there will be no more defections after the appointment of the State Governors and the Members of the Transitional National Assembly and the Council of States,” Duer concluded.
(Thessherald)–The formation of South Sudan’s new unity government on 22 February is a major milestone in recent efforts to restore peace in that country. This is the first successful attempt to form an inclusive government since 2016.
The swearing-in of Sudan’s opposition leader Riek Machar and four other vice presidents was a relief not only to the South Sudanese people, but to the many regional and international actors involved in Sudan’s peace efforts.
Yet the diplomatic pressure needed to secure the last-minute deal has left many wondering whether the actors will be committed to the outcome of the process. Will the way ahead for the new unity arrangement differ from the failed 2016 attempt, and can it bring about lasting peace?
Despite the fragile nature of the unity government, there are numerous major improvements on the previous agreement that give rise to cautious optimism. Apart from the fact that the June 2018 ceasefire seems to be holding, the compromises the parties made in the run-up to 22 February are key.
Many believe the weight of the compromises made suggests some level of commitment to the process
Under intense pressure, President Salva Kiir Mayardit reversed his controversial decree to create 32 states in South Sudan and accepted a return to the pre-war 10 states. Machar also backed down on his earlier insistence on having his own private security on his return to Juba, accepting government protection. This was significant given previous attempts on Machar’s life. In 2016 he had to flee on foot from Juba to the Democratic Republic of Congo after being pursued by government forces. Many believe the weight of these compromises suggests some level of commitment to the process.
And while Kiir’s government has had the upper hand on the battlefield against the various opposition forces, it’s failed to maintain a healthy relationship with key international actors and to sustain the international goodwill the country had at independence. The Kiir government’s lack of political will and poor human rights record has had a negative impact and towards the end of the pre-transitional period it increasingly slipped into an antagonistic relationship with major powers. Regionally the lack of progress contributed to a wait-and-see attitude by some countries, including Kenya, which became notably absent from regional diplomatic efforts regarding South Sudan.
Meanwhile Machar’s opposition group has also been on the back foot since the collapse of the 2015 peace agreement, and has lacked the capacity to match the government’s military strength. The proliferation of armed groups and the emergence of leaders such as Thomas Cirillo Swaka and Paul Malong Awan to contest Machar’s dominance of the opposition space has also diluted the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition’s (SPLM-IO) position as the go-to party for those opposing Kiir.
The current unity government is in the interest of both leaders, as it gives them new relevance The government and the main opposition (SPLM-IO) were locked in a stalemate that would have been difficult for either to sustain in the long run. The formation of the current unity government is in the interest of both leaders, as it gives them new relevance. Many believe this could motivate Kiir and Machar to work together in the interest of peace, rather than against each other.
Despite optimism in some circles, however, there is still deep mistrust between Kiir and Machar. Machar intends to contest Kiir for the presidency, and it isn’t clear how Kiir might respond to this. The antagonism between the two over this issue helped trigger the 2013 crisis.
Bringing the two into the unity government without any significant changes to the underlying contestation between them effectively restores the status quo. The formation of the current unity government can thus at best be described as patching up South Sudan’s broken political space. This is necessary for interim peace, but offers no lasting solution to the country’s underlying drivers of instability.
It is an arrangement that assumes the two rivals will look beyond their differences to find a working formula for dealing with the crisis. Despite increasing the number of vice presidents, there’s no indication that this will generate any new ideas. Facilitators of the peace process must continue to build confidence among members of the rather large presidency.
The current configuration has effectively returned South Sudan to its pre-war political context. It raises questions as to whether the country’s politics can be reconstructed to revolve around the state rather than personalities.
The unity government can best be described as patching up South Sudan’s broken political space
One of the risks to the new government is that the opposition could again fracture if the expectations of the various interest groups aren’t met. The existence of armed groups outside the current process and outstanding security arrangements are also crucial matters that will determine the unity government’s success. Any defecting faction is likely to join the groups currently outside the unity government.
In a country with a history of political fracturing and transactional politics, managing existing interests, differences over emerging interests, and outstanding issues is a delicate balancing act. Any further splintering of the armed groups will offset gains made in forming the unity government and could derail the process.
A key lesson from current developments in South Sudan is that concerted regional and international efforts that support willing domestic initiatives can make a major difference. The regional consensus that informed the final push to end the pre-transition phase and the pressure that came with it should continue in order to sustain the unity government. Development partners must adopt a common voice in their messages for maximum impact.
The African Union Peace and Security Council should commend the parties for making the necessary last-minute concessions to establish the unity government. The council should also decisively reiterate its rejection of spoilers and its readiness to sanction any policy or action by individuals, entities and groups aimed at sabotaging peace in South Sudan.
Andrews Atta-Asamoah, Senior Research Fellow, ISS Addis Ababa This article was first published in the ISS PSC Report.
(Thessherald)–In recent years, the United States Department of Treasury has imposed targeted sanctions on some war-affected African countries, often in response to pleas by activist groups in the United States or Europe.
Advocates see these sanctions as the only way to deal with corrupt, autocratic, and violent regimes in which some government officials and their business associates allegedly take advantage of civil wars to amass wealth for themselves and promote those wars as means of profiteering. The activists, claiming that corrupt individuals have captured the state, argue for exacting better political behavior out of these leaders by targeting them with sanctions, including asset freezes, travel bans, and attacking their business networks.
In a recent African Arguments1 piece on U.S. sanctions against Sudan, John Prendergast of the Enough Project—a Washington-based activist group that led the drive for recent sanctions against South Sudan— asserted that sanctions have evolved significantly over the past two decades from the “sledgehammer” to the “scalpel.” His argument advanced the idea that sanctions can be precisely targeted at individuals and their business networks, as opposed to targeting an entire country. His conclusion was that the effort to fight public malfeasance has evolved from concentrating on economic isolation of the country in question to focusing on a more surgical approach that excises the cancer (corrupt individuals or networks) without killing the patient (an entire country and its populace).
This distinction is important. Targeted sanctions against South Sudanese political, military, and business leaders are a far cry from sanctions imposed elsewhere, (for example, by the United States against Sudan’s al-Bashir regime for sponsoring terrorism, by the United States and others against Iran for enriching uranium to nuclear-weapon grade, or by the UN Security Council against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq following its 1990 invasion of Kuwait).2 In theory, the idea of targeted sanctions is smart. However, the concept of “smart sanctions” has long been contested by mounting evidence that a very thin line separates the application and enforcement of targeted sanctions versus other forms of sanctions, with the impact on ordinary people being the same.3 A Global Policy Forum article entitled “Smart Sanctions on Iran are Dumb” condemned sanctions targeting Iran’s oil and gas industries for hurting the country’s populace at large. Because Iran’s “economy is dependent on its energy sector,” the authors argued that sanctioning this sector deprived the Iranian government of income needed for popular food and housing subsidies.
There are several fundamental problems with sanctions, targeted or not, especially as applied to countries at war, such as Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), or the Central African Republic:
First, information linking business networks to corrupt officials faces real credibility problems. Evidence is often acquired through leaks of unverifiable information from government offices, or via interviews with anti-government whistleblowers who might be more interested in implicating their government than in disclosing factual information. A report by The Sentry, an anti-corruption outfit created by Hollywood star George Clooney and associated with the Enough Project, was the basis for the campaigns to impose sanctions on South Sudan and the DRC.5 However, the report’s claims have not withstood further probing into the business networks it suggested were linked to the countries’ leaders. It did not take much to inject doubt into the impartiality of The Sentry’s claims: for example, some of the companies it listed as linked to corruption in South Sudan simply did not exist. A key ripple effect is that sanctions based on weak and unverified evidence are unlikely to persuade countries in the region to cooperate with their enforcement.
Second, in the case of South Sudan, the persistence of war, slow implementation of the peace processes, continuing fractures within the political class, ethnic rifts, and massive human suffering have frustrated attempts to achieve peace and left world leaders with few options to assist in ending the war. Long-standing frustrations with the peace process have helped drive the application of sanctions as a way to show something is being done, even as there is recognition that the measures will not work. Sanctions largely fail to address the fundamental political problems undergirding corruption. There is no evidence that even a modestly successful sanctions regime—one that suppresses money laundering, limits weapons purchases, restricts the sale of the target country’s natural resources, and starves it of foreign exchange—has ever forced a successful political transition.
Third, sanctions aimed at coercing senior military leaders and their suspected business associates fail to target political leaders who are the most influential in war-making decisions. In the case of South Sudan, The Sentry’s investigation has grossly over-estimated the assets of the targeted individuals, with the exception of two business moguls suspected of being fronts for top political leaders. While no one in South Sudan is sad about their being targeted, the intended impact is small due to their ability to evade the sanctions through a regional banking system that is subject to bribery, use of alternate names, and political favoritism that wealthy individuals can easily procure.
Finally, and perhaps most important, is that to date the sanctioning countries have skirted around the political-military leaders who hold real decision-making power in the targeted country. For example, it is hard to imagine that South Sudan’s rampant corruption is happening without the knowledge of the most senior government officials, from ministers to vice presidents all the way to the president—the very officials in whose hands lie decisions of war and peace. But to date targeted sanctions have not reached that high. The sparing of the real political and military machinery that makes decisions signals to those lower-rung officials who are targeted that they can go on enjoying the protection of the real power brokers who are spared. This is not to argue that the head of state be indicted on corruption charges, but rather to point out that sanctions cannot be an effective policy instrument.
The Case of South Sudan
Sanctions have created a heated debate in South Sudan about their real value, perhaps even further stoking the divides plaguing the country’s collective well-being. On the one hand, many activists see sanctions as an effective tool to force the ruling elite and their business cronies to stop ravaging the economy. They argue that the impact of sanctions on the general populace cannot be worse than the suffering inflicted by the warring parties, so better more pain now with a promise of eventual change than the current, slow pain with no end in sight. This position is particularly associated with the millions in refugee and Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDP) camps for whom, the argument goes, the situation could not get any worse, so if sanctions can weaken a government that does not care for them, all the better.
On the other hand, some South Sudanese citizens bitterly oppose sanctions, possibly because they support the government for a variety of reasons and believe the sanctions are aimed at toppling it. Others see sanctions as a foreign intrusion detrimental to the country’s general welfare by stifling business and discouraging foreign investment—thus by extension boosting an embattled regime’s public popularity. Still, others oppose sanctions based on their personal difficulties in receiving remittances from abroad. In their view, sanctions enforcement has been placed on the shoulders of banks, which—because they want to avoid the expense of distinguishing between targeted individuals and everyone else who is sending money to or from South Sudan—simply block South Sudanese banking transactions in general. As a result, a general populace already distressed by war-related economic collapse suffers the consequences. The lasting impression is that targeted sanctions are only targeted in name, while comprehensive in practice, such that few in the general populace remain untouched by the pain of sanctions.
If Sanctions do not Work, What Else Could Work?
The real question is not whether sanctions are sufficiently surgically targeted nor whether they are an effective tool in coercing corrupt officials profiting from war to change their ways. The real question is whether there are alternatives that are politically and morally affordable to the sanctioning countries.
Put differently, corruption does not happen in a vacuum, related to war profiteering or not. It happens in a climate where political leaders thrive on corruption, are unwilling to acknowledge its damaging effect, and will not listen when called out. So sanctioning corruption without a conception as to how to bring about a transition that overhauls the political system will simply allow the corrupt to forge ahead with their capture of the state. This further entrenches corruption to the point where it becomes not only the engine that keeps the political machinery running but also the national culture. Sanctions alone cannot root out such deep-seated malfeasance but are based on activist campaigns that have missed the point about the nature of corruption in countries suffering from malgovernance.
The obvious culprits are war, instability, and the weakness of state institutions. Sanctions will not stop the war; in fact, they can deepen the divides and harden the political positions that fueled the conflict in the first place. Building peace brick by brick is a function of state institutions being structured, empowered, and used by citizens to challenge the political-military class on the poor governance that stokes violence. Supporting state institutions instead of levying sanctions could have the twin benefit of building sustainable stability and forging goodwill among the citizens of the countries involved.
International players such as the United States and European Union, who draw upon campaigns by Western entities seen by some as non-neutral or bent on “regime change” in their decisions to impose sanctions, are avoiding more difficult options to address conflict.
These options include hands-on diplomacy, including providing support to judicial institutions in the targeted countries such that counter-corruption efforts enjoy local buy-in and a chance to shape the country’s political future. Therein lies the potential for the citizens of the targeted countries to become the champions of their political destiny such that within a generation, sanctions will be less tempting as tools for political change.
Western activist groups should share their findings with local activists in countries like South Sudan. Civil society could then use these findings to test the limits of their judicial system and the willingness of oversight institutions such as the Parliament, Audit Chamber, and Anti-Corruption Commission to live up to their mandates. Urgent change is needed to reduce atrocities, stop the war, and channel South Sudan’s resources toward the welfare of its citizens and away from financing the war. But sanctions will not accelerate this change and in fact, can deepen the factors that caused the crisis to begin with. It is best to come to terms with the reality that statecraft is a slow game, and any investment in it is likely to be more rewarding in the future than the temptation to seek shortcuts through punitive sanctions.
If sanctions are built on evidence collected by entities that are not impartial in a particular conflict, then they are based on false premises. At the heart of corruption is the failure of political leadership and oversight institutions to hold state officials accountable. Thus targeting the corrupt individuals is likely to fail if these officials continue to enjoy the patronage of the political system. History has not borne the effectiveness of sanctions that are blunt objects with no capacity to distinguish between targeted individuals and the general populace.
The question then becomes what policymakers can do, as their only options cannot be unworkable sanctions or no tools at all. If the United States sees unstable African countries as a security threat, sitting idle and doing nothing is not a viable option. If the sanctioning countries, together with activist groups that prompt them to adopt sanctions, find verifiable evidence linking public malfeasance to war profiteering, atrocities, regional insecurity, and human rights abuses in a country of interest, the best approach is to call that evidence to the attention of the government and civic activists and help them develop strategies for seeking redress in local courts.
It is important to support African counter-corruption champions by arming them with evidence of malfeasance that they may use to fight corruption, even if their country’s legal system is weak and dominated by the executive branch. Armed with credible documentary evidence, local activists could shame or sue unscrupulous public officials and build confidence in and independence of the country’s judiciary. This strengthened institutional capacity would empower the judiciary as a frontline agent against misconduct in public office. How otherwise does a country become truly sovereign if its citizens have to keep running to foreign countries and activists abroad to save them from the misbehavior of their own leaders? Corruption can only grow to acute levels when a country’s top leadership is either directly involved and/or protects corrupt patrons. And if indictment of a sitting head of state on corruption charges is hard to prove or presents a diplomatic challenge, why engage in a futile exercise of indicting his lieutenants when it is known he will either protect them or only give them up if politically expedient?
Dr. Jok Madut Jok is a Professor of Anthropology at Syracuse University and the former director of the Sudd Institute, a policy research center based in South Sudan, and a member organization of the Southern Voices Network for Peacebuilding.