Why negotiations will be stalled for the foreseeable future

Perceptions of peace negotiations tend to shift rapidly from inertia to optimism, to disillusion and back to inertia. Peace talks also tend to be long-winding. True to form, the IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) facilitated negotiations between the Government of South Sudan and its opposition led by Riek Machar has been a roller coaster ride – and it has barely begun.  In early January we saw endless discussions over format and agenda, then, on 23 January the parties signed an agreement on cessation of hostilities and agreed on the initiation of a political process to address current challenges (see brief 1 for a more detailed analysis).  If not a genuine breakthrough, the agreements nevertheless indicated a willingness to talk.

The agreements did not provision a release of the politicians detained in Juba, but it appears that some kind of reciprocity was expected after the Opposition agreed to cessation of hostilities. Seven of the eleven detainees were subsequently released “on bail” to Nairobi where the Kenyan government initially denied them permission to leave Kenya. However, international political pressure was brought to bear and Riek Machar responded by announcing that unless the former detainees were allowed to attend, he would boycott the negotiations. Eventually they were allowed to travel to Addis to attend the peace talks to which they became a third party, or “block”, naming themselves SPLM leaders former detainees.

Apparently this third block still agrees with Machar’s criticism of the current state of affairs in South Sudan and has similar demands for political reform, but they do not condone Riek Machar’s armed rebellion. It might very well be that this group of politicians indeed does not regard political violence to be the right means at the moment, but there are also other reasons why they have not joined Machar. Perhaps most important, they do not want to become subordinate to Machar. Their earlier political alliance on display at the press conference 6 December 2013 was tactical and only reflected agreement on the demand for Salva Kiir to step down. Who the members of the third block want as his successor is not clear, but it is certainly not Riek Machar.

Recent developments – notably the attack on Malakal over the weekend – confirm that Riek Machar and his SPLM in Opposition has the capacity to destabilise and harass Government forces in Greater Upper Nile and at the very least to disrupt some of South Sudan’s strategically important oil production.  But, the Opposition seems to lack the military strength and co-ordination needed to control larger towns. Moreover, it appears that African states and other strategic allies, as well as the UN, are willing to invest considerably in avoiding a capture of Juba and a subsequent military seizing of power by the Opposition.   It is too early to conclude that this is a stalemate, but the situation does not suggest that a military resolution of the crisis is imminent. Unfortunately, there are no signs that any kind of durable political compromise is in the offing either.

It is still not clear what kind of political process the IGAD talks in Addis is supposed to initiate. The immediate problem is the leadership crisis within the state bearing party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. But underneath there is a dual challenge that needs to be addressed:

Firstly, the SPLM is a grand coalition of some of the major political forces within South Sudan and a break-up of the party has been expected. Lam Akol already left the movement and established the SPLM Democratic Change prior to the last election in 2010. The faith of SPLM DC illustrates one of the challenges with being an opposition party in South Sudan: lack of resources. Aspiring opposition party leaders have to either be independently wealthy or find a secret (foreign) sponsor to be able to run a political party and an election campaign. Although officially and formally independent from the Government of South Sudan, the SPLM has the whole government apparatus to draw upon in the next election. Under the current arrangement, whoever controls the SPLM will win the Presidential election. Or, put differently, whoever controls the government, also controls the SPLM. Therefore, the cost of forming an opposition party is prohibitively high and the only viable path to power is within the SPLM.

Secondly, there are many disenfranchised elites and intellectuals in South Sudan which are not part of the current process. The locus of power within the SPLM is with the initial nucleus of intellectuals who turned fighters in the mid-1980s. This excludes those that joined the movement at a later stage, notably many in the three Equatoria states to the South, but also refugees who returned after peace in 2005, women (despite the introduction of nominal 25 % women quota) and a rapidly expanding “youth” segment.  In consequence, even in the unlikely event that the SPLM leaders negotiating in Addis should reach a compromise acceptable between themselves they will increasingly be challenged by these excluded elites. The citizens’ initiative calling for direct participation of civil society in the peace talks might be seen as the most articulate and non-partisan group hailing from these “outsiders”.

Summed up, the crisis in South Sudan is destined to last since we still do not know:

  • what kind of process is needed to solve the crisis in South Sudan;
  • what kind of compromises will be possible to reach; and,
  • who among the South Sudanese are going to participate in this process.

Anyone suggesting that this cluster of problems will be solved in the near future is betting against high odds.

Øystein H. Rolandsen, Senior Researcher PRIO and Helene Molteberg Glomnes, Research Assistant, PRIO

This Week in South Sudan – Week 8

Monday 17 February

 Tuesday 18 February

Wednesday 19 February

Thursday 20 February

Friday 21 February

Sunday 23 February

Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities

[Originally written 30 January]

Peace talks between the Government of South Sudan and its opposition within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) facilitated by the IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) started in Addis Ababa in early January. On the 23rd the parties signed an agreement of cessation of hostilities committing to “cease all military actions aimed at each other and any other action that might undermine the peace process.” They also committed to an Agreement of the Status of the Detainees regarding the future of the politicians held in Juba since violence escalated in late December last year. However, signatures do not equate stability or termination of violence; violations of the agreement were reported already 25 January.

The distinction between a cease-fire and cessation of hostilities must be borne in mind. A cease-fire tends to be part of a binding peace agreement and violations have severe consequences. A cessation of hostilities is a temporary pause in military engagement with limited options for sanctioning outbreaks of violence. Even more so than a cease-fire, a cessation of hostilities depends on political will to succeed. Moreover, the agreement is only signed by the delegation leaders, Taban Deng and Nhial Deng Nhial, rather than by the President Salva Kiir and the opposition leader Riek Machar. Ratification by the latter two will in itself strengthen the agreement and send a clear signal to the forces on each side of the conflict.

The parties are still far from a comprehensive political solution and there seems to be a lack of commitment to compromise among the South Sudanese political leaders. Rather than a final settlement, the agreements represent an opening to further peace negotiations. The agreement on detainees outlines a political process under the auspices of IGAD where the parties welcome an all-inclusive dialogue and they commit to the outcome of the peace process. Further, a national reconciliation process is to be established, “in which the detainees and other political actors, civil society organisations, traditional and religious leaders have a significant role to play.” The implementation of these paragraphs will depend on a broad and inclusive approach. Parts of South Sudan’s political establishment stand outside the conflict, and most of the violence have so far been limited to the capital of Juba and states within Greater Upper Nile (Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity). A reshuffling of political power needs to include influential parties who have abstained from fighting. The existence of a broad and concerned intelligentsia is evidenced by the request for a national dialogue recently published by the Citizens for Peace and Justice. As they highlight, to obtain peace, South Sudan needs democratic reforms and open legitimate institutions. The agreements signed in Addis represent only a step on the long road towards these goals.

The agreement reflects the opposition’s limited negotiation power as it has found no external sponsor, is short on supplies, and has lost the state capitals it temporarily controlled (Bor, Malakal, Bentiu). In the agreements signed in Addis Ababa the government does not give any political concessions or binding commitments to policy reform. Unless the subsequent process rapidly gains momentum there is little incentive for the opposition to adhere to an agreement where nothing but recognition as a negotiation partner is won. If armed youth and soldiers in the region of Greater Upper Nile do not see actual improvements to their lives or convincing concessions being made, a paper signed by the negotiation leaders may seem an insufficient reason to lay down arms. Riek Machar and the other politicians on the rebel side might instead lose credibility and hold over the armed groups supposedly under their control.

The lack of commitment and the opposition’s weak position is reflected not only in the agreement, but also in the effort to fulfil it. On 28 January the government answered to their commitment “to undertake every effort to expedite the release of the detainees” by releasing “on bail” seven detainees, noticeably those less threatening to the government. Within this group former Minister of Cabinet Affairs Deng Alor is the odd one out. He is a political heavy-weight with considerable influence within the Abyei constituency and he has been under investigation for corruption since July 2003 – an investigation which was probably motivated by the ongoing power struggle. Since Abyei has so far stood outside the conflict, it might be that Salva Kiir by releasing Deng Alor hopes to gain the support of this strategic group. Prominent politicians within the group of detainees were not released and are awaiting trial for treason and planning a coup attempt. Riek Machar, Taban Deng and two other politicians at large are presented with the same charges.  This attempt by the current Government of South Sudan to give the political rift within the SPLM/A a legalistic hue muddles the water of what should be a political process.

Øystein Rolandsen, Senior Researcher, PRIO and Helene Molteberg Glomnes, Research Assistant, PRIO

This Week in South Sudan – Week 7

 Monday 10 February

  • Riek Machar announced, on behalf of the opposition, that they would not attend the next round of the peace negotiations as the released detainees were not invited to the negotiation table.

Tuesday 11 February

  • Public rally for peace and reconciliation in Juba, more than 4000 participated.
  • South Sudanese president Salva Kiir terminated the SPLM membership of former vice-president Riek Machar, former Unity state governor Taban Deng Gai and former environment minister Alfred Lado Gore.
  • Machar withdrew the boycott of the negotiations as the released political detainees were invited to attend the peace talks.
  • New round of peace facilitated by IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority for Development) talks started in Addis Ababa.
  • IGAD asks for withdrawal of Ugandan troops
  • UNHCR  position recommends of non-return of refugees to South Sudan

 Wednesday 12 February

 Thursday 13 February

 Friday 14.February

  • Machar asks the USA to pressure Ugandan troops out of South Sudan

Monitoring the situation in South Sudan

15 December 2013 conflict broke out between army fractions in South Sudan. So far 50,000 are estimated to be dead and 2.5 million have fled their homes in the world’s newest state. The conflict has generated considerable media attention and developments are followed by the Norwegian government and other countries which have invested considerably in the peace process and in building up the new country. However, reporting from the conflict has reflected a chaotic situation, with several conflicting interests at stake. An overflow of substandard news and analysis has contributed to cloud the real dynamics of the conflict, and the significance of reported events becomes hard to grasp.

This blog seeks to offer an improved understanding of the current situation by monitoring, forwarding and analysing information concerning developments in the South Sudan. It follows news, reports and NGO publications, and critically assesses this information and its sources. The blog is run by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), project: Dynamics of State Failure and Violence, funded by the Research Council of Norway. Some funds were also provided during the initial phase of the blog through the projects: Conflict Trends and Youth and Violence in South Sudan, funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Monitoring South Sudan is edited by Senior Researcher, Øystein H. Rolandsen, and managed by Fanny Nicolaisen.

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