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THE BIG INTERVIEW
By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi
Undermining chances. A peace deal was signed in 2015 to end the fighting in South Sudan that had broken out only two years after the country had attained independence. A year later there was another fallout and Juba was once again swamped in heavy fire. The situation has continued to deteriorate. South Sudanese academic and activistDr Remember Miamingi tells Sunday Monitor’s Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi that Uganda, by just standing with President Salva Kiir in the conflict, undermines its chances of influencing the resolution of the conflict. When Kiir was preparing to sign the agreement, he had a reservation about the power sharing formula; he had a reservation about the oversight mandate of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission; he had a reservation
Sudan People’s Liberation Army in full gear patrolling
A peace agreement was signed in July 2015 and according to the government of South Sudan it is being implemented. But we see more people running out of the country. What do you say about this?
When the peace agreement was signed in August 2015, we all had hope that it was going to provide South Sudan with a framework to sustainable peace.
Unfortunately, those people who negotiated and formalised the peace agreement did not anticipate, and if they did, did not prepare for the role that spoilers were going to play in ensuring the peace agreement did not get implemented.
So as I speak, I am convinced beyond reasonable doubt that the peace agreement collapsed and that what is happening right now is that Juba has, based on the 16 reservations that president Salva Kiir produced on 25 August 2015, to the agreement. Those 16 reservations now form the new agreement that Kiir is implementing.
What are some of these 16 reservations?
When Kiir was preparing to sign the agreement, he had a reservation about the power sharing formula; he had a reservation about the oversight mandate of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission; he had a reservation about the monitoring mandate of the Military Review Board and their mandate to monitor; he had a reservation about the collegial system of the presidency that was created, in fact he said, and I quote him, that ‘this agreement is the most divisive agreement in the history of South Sudan’.
He said he was only signing the agreement because he was left with two options – either to accept a forced peace or the continuation of war.
And as a result he opted for ‘forced peace’ knowing that through his actions and inactions he would renegotiate the entire agreement and continue to do what he is doing.
What does it mean if the peace agreement has collapsed?
The implication of the collapse of the peace agreement in Juba is that it is the only agreement that provides the only legitimate basis for governance in South Sudan. So once the agreement has collapsed, the legitimacy of the government has collapsed.
So the government we are having right now is unconstitutional, is illegal, and therefore should be approached and dealt with in those terms.
You are talking about ‘forced peace’. Who was forcing this peace?
Salva Kiir is of the opinion that the international community, and of course you had Americans powerfully behind and pushing the peace agreement down the throats of Kiir and whoever else didn’t want it signed. In our opinion as civil society and players in South Sudan, there is nothing wrong with this. Peace is what we need, forced or otherwise.
Each of the protagonists had reservations about the agreement. Does that make you feel there was a problem with it?
The test of a good agreement is the extent to which the parties are not happy with it. Because the fact that each party doesn’t get whatever they wanted means a good compromise has been struck.
So from the perspective of a compromise the agreement satisfied the basic requirement. But beyond the compromise content of that agreement, the mechanism the agreement put in place in terms of monitoring, implementation and compliance with the agreement was fantastic.
The power sharing formula – because the agreement unfortunately was predicated on the assumption that the war in South Sudan was a war about power and resources, and that once power was shared among the protagonists the basic tenet of the war would collapse.
But beyond the power sharing, the agreement provided for institutional reform, provided for change in governance culture, it provided for disarmament, it provided for demilitarisation, so comprehensively.
That agreement still remains the best possible avenue for resolving the South Sudan question. But the spoilers would not want to see the agreement fully and unconditionally implemented.
The agreement required that the people who committed atrocities since 2013 are punished. Don’t you think this clause was bound to make people stick to their guns and fail the agreement?
Unfortunately in Africa we can conveniently lock away a murderer of a single person for life. But we cannot find space in our hearts to deal with someone who is responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands just because that person is privileged enough to occupy a position of power. This is most unjust.
But some will dismiss this as just a moral argument. Do you expect someone to relinquish power so that he may be tried?
You see, the fact that that person can stay in power despite his misdeeds is not a statement of their strength; it is a statement on the weakness of the international system, because no criminal of whatever class will be willing to be arrested and spend the rest of his life in jail. Surveys have been conducted in South Sudan to ask whether people would want peace, justice, or peace with justice. The majority of the people agree that they want a just peace.
Some people say both Riek Machar and Salva Kiir have questions to answer about the war and suffering in South Sudan. If this is the case, why did these two fall out so quickly after the recent peace agreement instead of sticking together?
There is probably very little room for compromise between Kiir and Machar; I mean compromise for a bigger picture. For the collapse of the peace agreement in Juba, and I am not speaking for Machar here, Machar played no active role. And I may actually take one further step to say that Kiir may not have played an active role.
People within the camps of these leaders who felt disadvantaged, may be disempowered, or maybe exposed as you have alluded to, instigated the collapse of the agreement. And in this they are the beneficiaries. They stand today in Juba, from where they pushed over four million people out of the country.
They stay today in Juba where the national economy has collapsed but their personal economies are thriving. They can ignore the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council and play members of the Security Council against one another with no consequences to themselves.
What better place would they want to be? They designed it, they executed it, and they are enjoying it. And we sit outside here thinking how we can accommodate them.
How dire is the war situation in South Sudan today as compared to when the peace agreement was signed?
When the agreement was signed, we were talking of a humanitarian crisis unfolding, we were talking about pockets of war in the country. Now we are talking of genocide, we are talking about genocide.
Say more about what you call genocide
Right now in South Sudan we are witnessing for the first time in the history of Sudan, not just South Sudan, a time when the level of inter-ethnic hatred has reached unprecedented levels.
Today, in the forests of Equatoria, we have people of Dinka ethnic group for example, who go and destroy entire villages, rape women, kill, cause people to eat human flesh and drink human blood, simply because the other people belong to a different ethnic group. Conversely, we have armed groups in Equatoria who will stop a vehicle and call people of Dinka ethnic group and slaughter them simply on the basis of ethnicity.
How do you get such information?
It is documented by the United Nations. The UN envoy on genocide went inside the country, spoke to people and documented it; the UN Commission on Human Rights for South Sudan went into the country, spoke to people and documented it. In their own words during a press conference in Nairobi, they said there is an unfolding genocide in South Sudan because all the ingredients of genocide are currently present in South Sudan.
These include unprecedented levels of ethnic hatred; high sense of dehumanization of the ‘others’; acute levels of economic want that create an existential threat and life becomes a zero-sum game. These are the four ingredients of genocide. We have had all these in South Sudan for months now. So you have entire villages in Yei, you have entire villages in Upper Nile, which have been completely destroyed and the only reason they have been destroyed is ethnicity.
Before the peace agreement we had serious war crimes being committed and the situation was dire, but we have now migrated from that category of crimes to a situation where we are now talking about genocide. We have moved to a situation where we had 15 armed groups across the country before the agreement to now a situation where we have about 40. The collapse of the peace agreement has localized war in South Sudan and is now using ethnic mobilisation strategy. It is frightening.
Many South Sudanese are fleeing the country…
For a very long time we have warned that treating the war in South Sudan as a disagreement between Kiir and Machar, as a disagreement between Nuer and Dinka, is basically playing with fire.
The conflict in South Sudan is also intricately linked to the situation in neighbouring countries. What has happened now is that South Sudan has become one of the greatest security risks to Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, DR Congo and the Central African Republic. That is one export that we have had. In addition to that, conflict in South Sudan has become a great economic risk to the neighbouring countries.
Businesses in Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, name it, that developed business plans and amassed resources based on interaction with South Sudan right now have lost out. Some people have probably gone into depression because of the extent of losses they have suffered.
In addition to that, we are sending to Sudan over 400,000 people as refugees, we are sending to Ethiopia over half a million, we are sending to Uganda over a million. The pressure they bring to the communities, the tensions they create, and the economic burden they create in the host countries is monumental.
And that has just happened over the past six months and the situation is deteriorating, the region and the international community cannot can no longer afford to play business as usual; they can no longer afford to play the sovereignty card.