More than a week ago, the Special Envoy for South Sudan, Ambassador Dr Ismail Wais, held a teleconference with reporters from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Some of his comments raised concerns and brought intense scrutiny on the peace initiative brokered by the Community of Sant’ Egidio in Rome, Italy. It led to a strongly worded response in the form of a press release by the South Sudan Opposition Movements’ Alliance (SSOMA).
The particular remarks that triggered the controversy were the following:
- In response to a question regarding the possibility of participation of the SSOMA factions in the transitional period institutions, Dr Ismail Wais said – “One alternative, they come back and again join their former institutions. The other alternative is to stand alone and join the process but not in the implementation as such. So they can prepare themselves and participate in the elections within three years, and take any activities or mandate given to them by the people of South Sudan.”
- He further explained that the above is the IGAD’s rules of engagement, and all the parties are aware of them implying that they are adhered to in the Rome peace process.
What the Ambassador said had enabled many to connect the dots. It’s, however, essential to know a very critical insider piece of information that sums up the Rome peace process. In his opening remarks at the outset of the Rome peace process, the Community of Sant’Egidio top official (name withheld) emphasised that the Revitalised Agreement on Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) will not be reopened for renegotiation. He, however, said the Rome peace initiative is about finding common grounds between the non-signatories and the government to address the root causes of the conflict. SSOMA delegates spared no time to seek clarification from the top official as the reopening of R-ARCSS is the single crucial step to address the root causes of the conflict and ensure inclusivity. The Sant’ Egidio’s official answer was vague but hinted that the R-ARCSS is bound to collapse, which would eventually pave the way for the Rome peace process to replace it.
Furthermore, the mediation team had made it abundantly clear that it cannot undertake any diplomatic activities in the region in isolation of the IGAD body. Indeed IGAD’s presence was noticeable through the IGAD Observer who attended all the meetings before his boss, Dr Ismail Wais, finally made an appearance. But the activities of the IGAD Observer were far from what you would expect in such a situation. He was active in the negotiations and had put forward a few suggestions for consideration by the parties. In fact, on one occasion, he protested against the inclusion of a particular clause in the agreement.
It’s evident that the IGAD has been all along involved in the Rome peace process; the significance of that role is unfolding as time goes by. The fact that the agreement required the approval of the IGAD Council of Ministers gives it away, that the two peace processes are not separate from each other but intertwined. Therefore, the uproar that was triggered by Dr Wais’s reference to the IGAD’s rules of engagement lacked knowledge. The SSOMA members should have reached that conclusion long ago, but the Community of Sant’ Egidio knew this fact from day one of the Rome peace negotiations.
The first option suggested by Dr Ismail Wais would be a sort of political suicide for the non-signatory Movements that aim to bring about reforms and fundamental change to the status quo in South Sudan. Even if they decide to join the R-ARCSS, they will have to follow the footsteps of the SPLM IO, namely, settle on a negotiated surrender. But for them to get a piece of the cake, they will have to scramble for the crumbs and join Riek Machar on the SPLM party re-unification wagon.
In the same vein, they will have to forget about pluralism or any prospects of reforms. Like the SPLM IO leader, they will have to forego any ambitious plans to stand against President Kiir in future elections. Well, some leaders may be allowed to run against President Kiir for propaganda purposes. It will not be much different than when President Omar al-Bashir allowed the Sudanese international swimmer Sultan Kijab to run against him in the 1996 Presidential elections.
The second option is impracticable and would not render a levelled ground for the opposition to compete in a fair election. The following observations negate the prospects of credible democratic elections in South Sudan.
Firstly – The elections would be conducted under the imposed state of emergency, which puts the SPLM party at a significant advantage. Moreover, it could use the government machinery to frustrate, stop or curtail any political activities by the non-signatories.
Secondly – If Riek Machar, who is the principal partner to President Kiir in the R-ARCSS is under house arrest, then how will the situation be with the non-signatories? The National Security Service (NSS) would not only make life unbearable for the opposition leaders but pose a real threat to their very existence.
Thirdly – As there’s no freedom of speech in South Sudan, then how could the opposition get its message across to the masses? The government even went to the extent of imposing a media gag on discussions about federalism. It means the opposition parties will neither be able to explain their political programs nor propagate their visions and objectives to the people of South Sudan.
Fourthly – There’s no real distinction between what belongs to the government and what belongs to the SPLM party. The government’s coffers are, in essence, the SPLM party’s coffers. With the oil revenues at its disposal, the SPLM party would have full control over the entire electoral process, including rigging the elections.
Shortly after the formation of the Revitalised Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGONU), President Kiir’s side swiftly embarked on abrogating the R-ARCSS. It manifested in the lack of collegiality at the Presidency in the unilateral appointment of Ambassadors and Governors by President Kiir. Also, the insistence on the supremacy of the Transitional Constitution 2011 over the R-ARCSS adds to the list of violations.
As we know, the basis for the Rome Agreement is that SSOMA, and the government both agreed that the R-ARCSS didn’t go far enough to address the root causes of the conflict. The SSOMA members had rejected the “original” R-ARCSS at its signing in Addis Ababa on the 12th of September 2018. Therefore, an abrogated R-ARCSS would be more objectionable than the original one since it upholds the supremacy of the TCSS 2011 over the R-ARCSS. Since the root causes of the conflict can majorly be laid at the door of the TCSS, then the abrogated R-ARCSS becomes no much of a tool to tackle the problem.
We were made to believe that the Rome peace process is a sort of an insurance policy to replace the R-ARCSS on the assumption that it will not be implemented. Indeed, all the indicators were pointing in that direction. However, two unexpected things happened:
i – President Kiir backtracked at the eleventh hours reverting to the ten States’ system.
ii – Dr Riek Machar surprised everyone, including his supporters by going to Juba despite non-implementation of the security arrangements.
We had seen how the two moves resulted in the swift implementation of the R-ARCSS, regardless of its inadequacies. Now that the RTGONU is up and running, a legitimate question has cropped up.
What’s the endgame of the Rome peace process under the new circumstances?
The answer is that it’s heading to nowhere other than the two alternatives suggested by Ambassador Dr Ismail Wais.
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