Appointing a Governor for Upper Nile State seems to have become a bottleneck in the implementation of the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS). Only less than five months ago, the signatories to the peace agreement, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the Troika group of nations breathed a sigh of relief after the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Government and in Opposition (SPLM IG and SPLM IO) struck a deal on State allocations. Now it appears the optimism expressed by the parties was premature. An impasse has set in that could impede progress in establishing the institutions of the Revitalised Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGoNU), and ultimately unravel the (R-ARCSS) itself.
The problem that had cropped up is not about misinterpretation or rejection of the provisions of the peace accord by a stakeholder. It’s instead a decision by one party to the agreement (SPLM IG), to reject the nominee of a rival party (SPLM IO), without any legal justification. The agreement stipulates that once the parties have agreed on the States’ allocations, then it becomes the prerogative of the respective party to fill up its share of governorship positions from within its rank and file. There shouldn’t be any interference from the other parties to the agreement. The President’s role is confined to the appointment of the nominees of the different parties and nothing more. There’s nothing ambiguous or equivocal about this process.
Some observers have already reached conclusions about the endgame based on first impressions of the political leaders during the ongoing crisis in South Sudan. Machar had given concessions in the past that baffled not only outsiders but many of his supporters. He succumbed to pressure in 2016 and went to Juba without the security arrangements put in place. At the time, the SPLM IO leader said he was going to Juba for the sake of peace. All are aware of the consequences of that unwise decision. The same scenario repeats itself in 2020 with Machar coming under intense pressure and giving in again. The familiar theme of going to Juba for the sake of peace was back in use, but this time around, it’s the regime that provides security for Machar and his followers.
Around the globe, once negotiations for whatever matter have ended by signing a deal, the next step would be the implementation of its provisions in spirit and letter. Well, the R-ARCSS turned out to be one of a kind due to the weakness of the SPLM IO leadership on the one hand, and the apparent bias of IGAD and the peace mediators on the other. To the surprise of many, the implementation of the provisions required rigorous negotiations between the two principals. It’s as if there was no deal in the first place.
To resolve the deadlock that emerged in the allocation of states, the SPLM IO morphed into an accomplice to the SPLM IG in abrogating the R-ARCSS which eventually led to denying the Other Political Parties (OPP) group of its rightful share to nominate one Governor. It seems plausible that Dr Riek Machar “traded” non-objection to the SPLM IG having six States in return for the SPLM IO being given Upper Nile State. A door has been opened for violations and non-adherence to the provisions of the R-ARCSS. It’s a precedent that would challenge any future attempts by the SPLM IO to stick to what is stipulated in the peace deal.
But there are more tricks up the regime’s sleeve that the SPLM IO never expected. For Kiir’s government, a further agreement is required on who takes up the position of Governor of Upper Nile State. The SPLM IO thought a breakthrough had been achieved paving the way for its chairman to nominate General Johnson Olony ( the Agwelek leader) as Governor of Upper Nile State. Riek Machar and his team never saw it coming. They have been completely outmanoeuvred.
President Kiir though is not immune from backtracking. We have seen him doing so on a few occasions. The most recent was the revocation of the 32 States, something he had vowed in the past not to do because he claimed it was a popular demand. His Spokesman, Ateny Wek Ateny dramatised it by saying, I quote: “There shall be no pressure on Earth, under the sun that’ll make President Salva Kiir put his pen on an order that’ll cancel the 32 States. What President Salva Kiir can do is to allow the people of South Sudan to go for a referendum.” Well, the 32 States had been thrown into the dustbin of history by none other than President Kiir himself surrendering to mounting regional and international pressure. Therefore, it’s likely that General Olony could, after all, become the Governor of Upper Nile State provided his boss doesn’t cave in during the current standoff.
Perhaps the one person who is unlikely to concede is General Olony himself. His rebellion is majorly driven by protest against encroachment on Chollo land by other communities backed secretly by President Kiir’s government. General Olony enjoys unrivalled popularity among the chollo people in Upper Nile State. They see his appointment as Governor of Upper Nile State as a much-needed step in restoring law and order while keeping land grabbing at bay. General Olony had shown consistently less interest in taking up political positions as opposed to resolving the land issue. Therefore, it may be possible to strike a deal where Riek Machar nominates another person as Governor of Upper Nile State with the blessing of the Agwelek leader.
It would be a grave mistake to send General Olony back to his supporters empty-handed. The fact that he possesses overwhelming support from his community makes the Agwelek a force to be reckoned with. Any move to side-line General Olony could dramatically set off the collapse of the fragile peace agreement.