Uganda: Museveni and South Sudan's Sad Story

South Sudan's Salva Kiir and Riek Machar interact as President Museveni looks on at State House Entebbe.
analysis

Kampala, Uganda — The Nov.12 deadline for forming a government of national unity in South Sudan was never going to be met. A tripartite summit where President Museveni met both President Salva Kiir and his former vice president-turned-rival Riek Machar on Nov.7 at State House Entebbe resolved to extend the deadline for another 100 days. It was the third face-to-face meeting of Kiir and Machar since they both signed a major peace deal last year.

Abdalftah Alburhan, President of the Transitional Sovereign Council of Sudan, Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, Kenya's Special Envoy on South Sudan, attended the summit too.

Museveni and other regional leaders have been talking tough but analysts fear the situation in South Sudan will either not change or worsen. Part of the problem is the lack of an honest peace broker.

At a meeting in Juba, South Sudan's capital, held on Oct.14 to launch peace talks, Museveni used a mixture of Arabic and English as he lambasted Kiir and Machar. He said it was wrong for them to pride in their status as tribal chiefs.

"It is absolute rubbish to waste even one afternoon to talk about hawiya (identity). I tell you to go to hell. These mistakes have been going on because of this rubbish hawiya of tribe, religion etc and we have killed each other," he added, "When you want to bring prosperity to the people yet you front identity, then what are you going to do?" Museveni asked.

Museveni's strong language has been liked to that of former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn who once threatened to arrest both Kiir and Machar if they did not sign a peace agreement in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Desalegn was said to be at the end of his tether with the two leaders.

Uganda is the guarantor of the South Sudan peace agreement signed in September 2018 between Kiir and Machar and Museveni is looked up to in the Great Lakes region as an elder statesman. He remains an intimate player in the South Sudan peace process but also appears to be running out of patience in as far as finding a lasting solution to the conflict. He also stands accused of contributing to it.

During the recently held Geopolitics conference at Makerere University in Kampala, Jacob Chol, a Senior Reader of Political Science at the University of Juba shared some insights on the tricky path forward for his country.

"Last year alone, over 20,000 weapons crossed over from Uganda to South Sudan," Chol said to a startled audience. Whereas Uganda is the guarantor to the South Sudan peace deal, it is also partly responsible for the mayhem that occurs there regularly.

Chol added "For South Sudan to be stable, Uganda has to be more stable, for South Sudan to be more stable, Sudan has to be stable."

Chol is also founder and Executive Director of the Centre for Democracy and International Analysis (CDIA), a research and an academic think-tank based in South Sudan.

Observers say the alleged gun running in Uganda could be fuelling conflict in South Sudan. Ugandan troops that massed in the country after the war in 2013 also remain an issue of contention.

When President Museveni deployed UPDF troops in Juba in December 2013 after war broke out, Kiir is said to have been handed a lifeline because the UPDF troops are what stood between him and an annihilation by forces loyal to Machar.

Now Museveni appears to be pushing conditions seen by some as hindrances to peace in South Sudan.

According to sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations to bring peace to the country, Museveni has reportedly directed that Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior, widow of former leader John Garang, hold one of the five slots of Vice Presidents of South Sudan.

These slots were created by the September 2018 Revitalised Agreement for the Resolution of the Conflict of South Sudan (RARCSS) signed in Addis Ababa.

Nyandeng is an ally of Machar who heads the Sudan People's Liberation Movement In Opposition (SPLM-IO). There has also been concern about whether the extra vice president positions would not create more centres of power and thus ground for conflict.

But Uganda is just one of several complications surrounding the failure to find peace in South Sudan.

Problem of IGAD

Sudan from whom South Sudan seceded in 2011 is in a delicate transition after protests overthrew strongman Omar al-Bashir in April. Besides, tensions remain between the two countries from oil and border disputes to long standing rivalry.

From Ethiopia, the current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed may have just won the prestigious 2019 Nobel Peace Prize but in South Sudan the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) which he currently chairs is far from securing peace. The IGAD comprises Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda.

IGAD brokered the first peace deal between Kiir and Machar in 2015. It was signed by Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), the ruling political party in South Sudan and SPLM-IO, its breakaway faction, to heal the divide created by the war that broke out in 2013.

Named the Agreement for the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ASSRC), it was praised by many South Sudanese citizens. Since then, however, Kiir's government has been violating it with attacks on citizens it deemed to be opposition, causing mistrust and disillusion.

On September 12 2018, a new peace agreement - RARCSS was signed in Addis Ababa by President Kiir, SPLM-IO chairman Riek Machar, and by representatives of other political parties. It was signed by stakeholders from IGAD, AU and UN.

But according to research carried out earlier by the International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI), an organisation formed to inform and improve responses to cycles of violence and human rights violations, South Sudanese citizens lost trust in IGAD. They accuse IGAD of bias towards the government of Kiir and a failure to apply pressure on parties to adhere to RARCSS.

The research titled "Dialogue and Peace Agreements in South Sudan" says IGAD did nothing when Machar was detained in South Africa in 2017. The study says IGAD did not follow up on other provisions in the 2015 agreement.

The research published in November 2018 says some members of IGAD particularly Uganda and Kenya were partial - they were on the side of Kiir's government because of business interests. The IRRI study also indicated that South Sudanese citizens regard the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in 2005 as the "only successful peace agreement for South Sudan" in the country's long catalogue of peace agreements.

The CPA was signed to bring peace between the government of Sudan and SPLM after decades of hostility.

Kiir the centre of trouble

Even as the bickering continues around South Sudan, at the heart of the failure to come to any lasting solution for peace is its heavily bearded and hat-spotting 68-year-old leader, Salva Kiir Mayardit.

He assumed power after the death of John Garang in a helicopter crash in 2005 when the country was still under Sudan. Since South Sudan achieved independence in 2011, he has exercised absolute power and crushed dissent mercilessly.

Analysts say he has failed to be a unifying figure for the nation at any time and has instead actively sabotaged the many peace agreements signed. Reports say Kiir fears a genuine peace pact with Machar will weaken his stranglehold on power.

In December 2016, for example, Kiir announced a national dialogue as a way of calming tensions in the divided nation. South Sudanese however did not warm up to it because Kiir was presiding over it and secondly there was war going on and many argued that it was pointless to have dialogue when there is no security for the people.

Reports indicated that the dialogue stood a chance if South Sudanese had had a more acceptable and impartial leader to preside over the process.

Many analysts see the South Sudan conflict as a migraine that refuses to heal. The more treatment is applied to it, the more stubborn it gets. The international community; led by the United Nations, has proffered a range of solutions from peace agreements, arms embargoes, holding elections, to negotiations for a broad based government. None have worked for this country, which became the world's newest nation on July 9, 2011 when it seceded from Khartoum.

Now, the international community may just be watching events in South Sudan as another deadline of forming a unity government counts down.

There is little hope for peace and frustration is growing over the likelihood of war breaking out in South Sudan because deadlines are not met and agreements are not respected. The transitional government was supposed to be formed in May but Machar asked for more six months and it was granted by IGAD.

Machar is more wary given that SPLM-IO has divisions in its ranks after Kiir appointed Taban Deng Gai, a former chief negotiator of SPLM-IO as vice-president in 2016. Since then, some members of SPLM-IO have been squabbling accusing Deng Gai of betrayal while others have backed him.

Machar has only been to Juba twice this year, most recently on Oct.14 at the launch of the South Sudan peace talks. The function was attended by regional leaders and overseen by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as the current chairperson of IGAD.

At this rate, no amount of time granted may provide assurance to Machar and his associates or create the ideal conditions for a safe haven in Juba. Machar and his advisors say there should be more attention paid to the issue of cantonment for government troops as stipulated by the 2018 agreement.

Judging from the mistrust and suspicion between Kiir and Machar and their loyalists, it is unlikely that the deadline will be met. Machar lives in Khartoum, Sudan and has avoided Juba due to reservations about his personal security.

Next month will mark six years since war broke out in South Sudan. It was just two years after independence. The conflict has claimed 500,000 lives, and displaced over 2 million people.

Today, some of the same refugees and more from the conflict between Kiir and Machar are reported to be under recruitment as fighters which fuels violence.

That is why regional leaders who suffer the after effects of turmoil whenever South Sudan erupts into armed conflict desperately want peace. Uganda which is next door to South Sudan and bears the heaviest burden of refugees is equally pushing for peace. Unfortunately, strong language from Museveni might not be all that South Sudan needs.

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