ARCSS and HLRF: Last or Lost Chance for Peace in South Sudan?

Posted: December 13, 2017 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Columnists, Commentary, Contributing Writers, James Okuk, Junub Sudan, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers

“Tell people in power that something they tried didn’t work as expected” – Peter Ross. “A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation” – Edmund Burke.

By James Okuk, Ph.D., Juba, South Sudan

IGAD plus President Kiir, 25 July 2017

IGAD plus President Kiir, 25 July 2017

December 13, 2017 (SSB) — The above quotes are the essential secrets of success or failure of countries. This wisdom from Ross and Burke should guide the High-Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) and its outcome. The warring parties should seize the opportunity as the unavoidable last chance for sustainable peace. There is no room or patience left now for accommodating the unending senseless war any longer. The Revitalization of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS) must change the tainted image that the country has acquired since 2013 crises to date. It should rescue South Sudan from its current situation of hopelessness and fragility. It must prevent the new country from premature disappearance into annals of history due to its trifling resistance to change for dignified happiness.

It is high time for South Sudan to be confronted truthfully to quickly regain the confidence of its lucky territory (644,329 km2) and the inherent abundance of virgin resources (oil, gas, gold, teak, mahogany, ebony, gum arabic, sweet water, tame and wild animals, proud and liberal people, etc..) located in the naturally blessed tropical savannah climate of agriculture. Article 1 (1)(2) of the Constitution of South Sudan has correctly defined it the sovereign Republic straddling Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria and Upper Nile with boundaries of January 1, 1956, including Abyei Area of  the Nine Ngok Dinka Chiefdoms transferred from Bahr el Ghazal Province to Kordofan Province in 1905 and as defined by the Abyei International Arbitration Tribunal Award of July 2009. Article 1 (4) also provides for decentralized multiparty democracy and homeland for multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-racial people of South Sudan who should co-exist peacefully, including with their other African neighbors: Sudan (border of 2000 km) to the North, Ethiopia to the East, Kenya to the South East, Uganda to South, Democratic Republic of Congo to South West, and Central African Republic to North West. Egypt also claims to be a neighbor of South Sudan through links of history and Nile River.

Building on the international relations and the long history of the liberation struggle, the Republic of South Sudan has opened 29 Diplomatic Missions Abroad (with the bigger number in Africa, followed by Europe and none yet in South America, Central America, the Caribbean, and Oceania). South Sudan has also become a member of multilateral international and regional organizations (e.g., UN, AU, IGAD, ICGLR, EAC, etc..) and has been obliged to commit itself to the preservation of international peace, security, and cooperation. Many countries and international organizations have also established their diplomatic ties and opened their offices and residences in Juba. Numerous humanitarian agencies have also been operating in South Sudan, engaging the local counterparts and distribution agents, especially after 2005 and more from 2013 to date. Nevertheless and despite all these interactions, South Sudan has remained vulnerable and upside-down state surviving virtually on humanitarian reliefs by NGOs and ‘Lords of Poverty’ promoted by ‘Masters of Crises’. Why? War and bad governance, stupid!

Given the above-mentioned circumstances, South Sudan shouldn’t be tolerated further or treated as an exceptional nuisance in the flesh of the region and international community. The heartbreaking statistics on its 13 million population  (i.e., 64 tribes and communities) must not be taken lightly: over 2 million displaced to neighboring countries and more as illegal migrants without refugee records, about 2 million living as vulnerable IDPs even in Juba the Capital City, over  6 million living as food insecure in their original settlements and threatened by hunger during the dry season, over 70% living below and even beyond poverty line in urban areas alone, 3 digits of upper numbers defining hyperinflation in the market, the unthinkable diminished purchasing power of public servants due to valueless salaries they receive late after months of waiting and resilience, the severe humanitarian need  for ordinary people who have no alternative means or  lucrative tactics of survival, high rates of death from treatable diseases, alarming illiteracy magnitude with over 2 million children out of basic schools, uncontrolled migration of frustrated youth overseas and at times trying their luck in the deadly Mediterranean Route, Vicious Routines of attacks of residences by the known or unknown gunmen, etc..).

Faced with the despairing and disgusting dynamics of all the above bad news caused by the on-going civil war and man-made suffering, well-wishing keen persons should ask their conscience: Is it immoral from the international community and the region to impose peace into South Sudan by any means possible and without the second thought on doing this immediately? What good did political leaders of South Sudan in the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) achieve so far in the interest of ending the war and pursuing real peace and legitimacy for them to continue ruling by getting the free-of-charge extension of their term in public offices? What is attractive and promising about the opposition outside the TGoNU that its leaders must be included in power-sharing for the unending transitional periods in South Sudan? What is new about the IGAD mediation and JMEC this time around that we should be really optimistic for safeguards of the long-awaited sustainable peace and development in South Sudan?

The last opportunity granted in the HLRF for South Sudanese leaders as well as for the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) and IGAD-Plus to commit themselves seriously and accountable to the revitalization of the ARCSS, should serve as final wakeup call for all. The critical evaluative focus should be placed on ARCSS paralysis and it’s oversight ineffectiveness so that repeat of failure of ‘African-solutions’ is not regenerated intentionally. Good governance, security, humanitarian assistance, economic dividends and credible democratization should be seen emerging urgently from the new approach for peace and progress. The Terms of Reference for the HLRF are already clearer in this direction (i.e., Enforce Permanent Ceasefire, Implement the ARCSS Fully, and Revise the Scheduled Timelines Realistically for Elections to be Conducted Credibly Towards the End of Revitalized Transition Period).

The tricks and tactics used by many South Sudanese politicians and their attached armed groups to cling or ascend to power under pretexts of indefinitely extended transitional periods must not be entertained again. It is commendable that the IGAD Special Envoy, the Cool Excellent Ambassador from Djibouti, has taken his time keenly to consult and know South Sudanese better before jumping into the conclusions of the HLRF, which will kick off on 18th – 22nd December 2017 in Addis Ababa and as new realities of the situation emerge. Thereafter, it should be known in black and white who are the malicious ‘bad guys’ wanting the new country on the world map to be defined by vicious statistics and who are the virtuous ‘good guys’ working for peace. It must also be underscored that the devil around peace deals in South Sudan is not really in the multiple mediations or negotiations and tendencies for ‘forum shopping’, neither in the inclusivity or transparency; but in the missed and messed pudding of implementation processes that often flop from scoring the targeted goals effectively in time.

Even if the multi-dollar fund is poured in abundantly for peace-making, peace-keeping, and peace-building or humanitarianism, still the absence of the necessary political will from leaders of South Sudan and the region shall continue to take us back to undesirable ‘Square One’ (especially when the same failed methodology and personnel are s kept intact to run the repeated futile show without facing the intransigence sticks). This detrimental haggling misconduct and insensitive unchanging attitude raises this essential question for pondering: what is so honeying and milking inside government, military, political parties, and opposition groups of South Sudan that rigidly makes leaders and their supporters not to think of surviving in dignity elsewhere at the private sector, civil society zone and faith-based institutions?

The bitter truth about the embattled South Sudan must be honestly exposed and confessed for the ARCSS Revitalization to succeed, including regaining the lost confidence in liberty, justice, penance, reconciliation, and healing to prevail at last. The Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS) was signed in August 2015 by the Parties (GRSS, SPLM-IO, SPLM-FD and OPP), Adherents and other South Sudanese Stakeholders under Guarantors of leaders of IGAD countries and international witnesses of the Troika (i.e., U.S, U.K & Norway) as well as other international partners/friends. All the parties, especially the GRSS and the SPLM-IO, were advised to withdraw their reservations. They were also cautioned to avoid the mentality and precipitous interpretation of the ARCSS as if it was the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, where the original SPLM/A of Chairman Dr. John Garang and his lieutenants came back home from liberated areas and bushes of rebellion to share power and wealth (i.e., oil revenues mainly) with the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in the 25 states of the Sudan. Special upper control and privileges of autonomous government were accorded to the SPLM/A in the 10 states in the South and with capital in Juba.

Unlike the CPA, the ARCSS was launched with little hope and faint optimism in the practicality of its ambitious roadmap for enabling South Sudan to rise up again in dignity during the 32-months transitional period and beyond. It was wished that the deal will stop the devastating hostilities of the civil war and its horrible human rights abuses and disgusting humanitarian law violations. Hence, the JMEC’s Chairperson and his Deputy were rushed into Juba for a miracle but to find themselves in the limbo of complications of ‘peace-war’ politics (local, regional and international), and without clarification by IGAD Mediation whose Three Envoys put off their hands on the ARCSS after it was finally signed by the President of the Republic of President at Freedom Hall in Juba on 26 August 2015. These Envoys (all retired army generals) from Ethiopia, Sudan, and Kenya didn’t want to be bothered further as they thought to have accomplished their mission. Nothing was significantly heard about them again on the trap of ARCSS implementation.

The principal warring parties of that time (SPLM-GRSS and SPLM-IO) could only trust the show of their balance of military power, including VIP guarding units in Juba and troops deployed in other parts of their respective controlled territory in South Sudan. Particularly, the SPLM/A-IO Leader was hesitant to set foot in Juba without seeing significant boots of his own trusted guards and relatives on the ground. Planes and Cargos were hired to transport them and their heavy armaments to the Seat of the TGoNU, while at the same time pressing the GRSS to demilitarize Juba (except for a sizable Presidential and VIPs guards) to a distance of 25km outside. The First Vice President was sworn in, Ministers were appointed, and Presidential Advisors announced without proper procedures and bases in the ARCSS and with impatient to wait for promulgation of the new transitional constitutional (which didn’t see light after that).

Also, the parties to the ARCSS failed to collectively apologize to the people of South Sudan for the wrongs caused by their unworthy violent conflict in 2013 and onwards. They couldn’t act jointly to conduct public rallies in Juba and other parts of South Sudan to declare the end of the war (with its pervasive incentives, distorted propaganda, irrational arrogance, mediocre pride, disrespect to the rule of law, and mobilization of fighters and supporters on destructive tribal and regional sentiments, etc). They failed to build confidence in the culture of harmony and peaceful socialization in South Sudan. They provoked the economy to ‘take up arms’ against the people, adding to the suffering caused by wild guns. The bad business went on as usual without change. It was a wrong and false start for ARCSS implementation. The darkness haunted later as the tricky situation allowed the dwarf alligators to become giant crocodiles in the TGoNU, confusing the JMEC’s leadership to distinguish the hyenas in sheep skins from real peace agents.

The inherent ARCSS’ contradictions didn’t take long to explode after the TGoNU was lately formed in 2016. The political will to move on as a coalition ‘government of bitter enemies’ was not seen around any corner of the TGoNU’s leadership. It proved so difficult and itchy to allocate the First Vice President an Executive Office space adjacent to the Office of the President as it used to be in the past. The RPGs and PKMs of his bodyguards were demonstrably lethal for a serene atmosphere to prevail. The Presidency couldn’t agree on anything constructive and well-wishing in the interest of fast-tracking the ARCSS implementation, particularly after the complications of the unilateral Republican Executive Order 36/2015 for the establishment of 28 states to replace the 10 states and impose a de facto situation as a retaliation by the GRSS against what its politicians and council of elders detested as an imposed peace deal. Also, the SPLM/A-IO continued to operate in parallels on its 21 bush states, governors and commissioners, and with tribal communities and all types of opportunists flocking to the SPLM/A-IO Leader at his Pagak II in Juba’s suburb while troubles signs on the wall were clear for a possible bang. The IGAD’s Council of Ministers’ Communiqué, which authorized a formation of boundary committee to resolve the complications of the 21 and 28 states, fell on deaf ears of obstinacy.

Even the TGoNU’s Council of Ministers couldn’t discuss anything critically relevant to the implementation of the ARCSS; sometimes it failed to meet  for ‘lack of agenda’ but also for fear from the possible backlash of the heavily armed troops guarding the President, First Vice President, Vice President, Minister of Defense, Minister of Interior, among other VIP guards. Somatization of Ministries Complex and streets of Juba was real. The agreed demilitarization or cantonment of forces was just a dry ink on ARCSS Paper. Nothing admirable was positively seen on the ground in the interest of Cessation of Hostilities, Permanent Ceasefire and Peaceful Security Arrangements as stipulated in Chapter II of the ARCSS.

Thus, it was not a surprise for many critical observers to witness the pungent military showdown in Juba when the guarding forces of the principal TGoNU’s leaders started searching and shooting themselves as legitimate targets in June 2016. This culminated in the Real PlayStation Film and close-ranged Dogfight that took place among the Presidency Guards, letting loosed finally the clouds of hell that were hovering around the Presidential Palace (J1) during the extraordinarily emergency security meeting of the TGoNU’s top bosses. The residents of Juba had to see the lethal live fireworks that they had never witnessed once, especially after the fifth Independence Anniversary was suspended two days before the show of SPLA military might. From then the hope for peace via ARCSS was put into critical balance with the Old Man from Botswana and Representatives of International Community in Juba getting jumbled by the fast-evolving renewed war situation, right on their helpless watch. Alas!

The First Vice President and his surviving 700 guards and some political supporters had to escape death narrowly after smelling terrible smoke from the sky and dust on the ground around their temporary residence in Jebel area (Pagak II). The spree of shooting, killings, looting and raping of South Sudanese and foreigners alike became so scaring (e.g., spraying live bullets on bullet-proofed American Embassy’s Marked CD Car that was carrying the high ranking staff, vandalizing Terrain Hotel and abusing its residents to the extent of fatality of a journalist, looting stores and warehouses of humanitarian agencies, all at a close vicinity and clear watch by the UNMISS Peacekeeping Forces). The Airport and exits from key transportation installations in and around Juba became inaccessible and unsafe. Despair about the relapse to 2013 situation got renewably real. The ARCSS was seen to have fallen apart, especially when some prominent Ministers of the TGoNU resigned and declared rebellion.

The UN Secretary-General was furiously stunned as he conducted an urgent press conference to condemn the unjustified renewed fighting, calling the ToNU’ Principals “failed leaders”. The IGAD’s Council of Ministers had to convene urgently for an extraordinary meeting in Nairobi, especially when it was discovered that the 17,000 UNMISS troops were helpless to help in keeping peace at that tormenting moment (including inside their own camps and fenced civilian protection sites around them). They didn’t want to die for the right cause of discharging their mandate of protecting the civilians and keeping peace using any means disposable. Hence, Regional Protection Force (RPF) was recommended and authorized for deployment in Juba to stabilize the situation, protect the civilian, and guard the airports and key installations. The RPF was endorsed unanimously and quickly by the AU and UN Security Council in 2016, attached with some targeted sanctions against fee individuals and possible arms embargo on the country as a whole in case the civil war failed to get deescalated and resolved.

Now with the unacceptable gloomy reality of war-torn South Sudan, what must and what should be expected sufficiently from the ARCSS revitalization? Stopping the damning war in order to build and develop the naturally blessed South Sudan on fundamental pillars of human rights and civil liberties needed for the realistic social contract between the people and their legitimate government of peace. No more destruction! The post-war South Sudanese state must be reformed and restructured federally and democratically on this foundation and without losing the legacy of historical struggle of its ancestors against all forms of inhumanity. It should adapt to the dynamics of the political environment and establish strong institutions and functional processes of good governance, matching with globalization requirements.

It must also be acknowledged that the people of South Sudan and their well-wishing international partners and friends have lost confidence in the TGoNU, in the opposition, and in the neutrals who have remained silent in the face of unleashed evils on the land. Three years of the transitional  period have almost been wasted against ARCSS implementation as promised and mandated legitimately for action by: 3 men in the presidency, 30 ministers and 8 deputy ministers in the 29 ministries, 400 MPs in the Transitional National Legislative Assembly, 50 MPs in the Transitional Council of States, Civil Servants in all Public Institutions, Officials in the National Commissions and Parastals, Justices and Judges in the Judiciary, JMEC’s Members and Leadership, Political Parties, Media and Public Opinion, Civil Society Organizations and Academia, Faith-based Organizations, and other pressure or interest groups.

The revitalization process should avoid the ‘Nirvana fallacy’ of letting the situation sort itself on wrong perceptions. It should also avoid keeping South Sudan as the hostage of unending transitional governments, which is used by the unpopular politicians as the easiest gateway for ascending to power and capturing state resources on a short-cut treachery without the real scrutinized mandate from the people. Peter Schuck in his Book ‘Why Government Fails So Often’ (2014) cautioned for vigilance against entertaining politicians who are mostly short-sighted, selfish, partisan, lazy, opportunists and hypocrites, especially where citizens live in apathy, cynicism, and ignorance. Thus, all post-war eggs of South Sudanese Republic must not be put in politicians’ baskets. Some eggs should wisely be reserved for alternative baskets of strong independent Judiciary with robust Constitutional Court, for vibrant Civil Society, and for Honest Faith-based institutions, as a strategy of guaranteeing the safety and preservation of the South Sudan species against the deeper tipping cliff of any political dooming abyss.

There should be strict follow-up mechanisms and sustained honest pressure, regionally and internationally, to enforce and safeguard the revitalized ARCSS implementation for good governance, stable security, serviceable humanitarianism, and economic recovery and growth. Tough lessons must be learnt from past blunders on the ARCSS. The roots causes of the conflicts must be diagnosed correctly and settled amicably for good. The legacy of ‘liberation-ism’ with its strong link to fallible faith in unconventional military victory must be shunned as untenable for the liberal tribal loyalty, difficult geographical terrains, infrastructural underdevelopment, and uncontrollable intrusion of neighboring countries or foreign allies into internal affairs of South. The Senseless War must and should be declared as totally unsustainable for South Sudan. The bad situation has become like ‘big snake in tunnel’ whose poison sprays into all directions.

On one hand, sufficient sticks must be prepared to knock down warmongers. On the other hand, attractive carrots must be availed for awarding those who are willing to implement the revitalized the ARCSS, in letter and spirit. It is no longer a matter of inclusive power-sharing and enjoyment but the restoration of the lost dignity of the hard-worn Republic of South Sudan above any parochial interest of an individual or a tribe. All the diverse people of South Sudan and their respective leaders must all be empowered without undermining anyone or entity, be it the smallest or the biggest on the land. Armed forces must be distanced from active politics, from political parties or movements, and from tribes and regions of South Sudan, so that they are re-oriented and transformed into true national defense forces loyal to the unity of country than divisiveness of individual commanders or tribes.

Among all the scenarios, peace and sustainable security must be the only choice worth revitalizing for South Sudan. The war shouldn’t be given any further chance to eat away the original DNA of South Sudan (though 90% of its lifespan has been spent in the war situation and humanitarian catastrophe). The revitalized ARCSS should be supported sufficiently for it to create a fertile ground for seedling the terribly needed culture of peace and development in South Sudan. Tenacious technocrats must emerge from within South Sudanese themselves (after serious character scrutiny) to help put their country on the correct path of good governance with the categorical rule of just law and strong non-partisan public institutions. No last or lost chance. The Republic of South Sudan must and should become Peace, Peace, and Peace!

Dr. James Okuk is Professor of Politics at the University of Juba and Peace-building Consultant in South Sudan. He is reachable at

The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made is the responsibility of the author, not PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers (SSB) website. If you want to submit an opinion article or news analysis, please email it to SSB do reserve the right to edit material before publication. Please include your full name, email address and the country you are writing from, plus a concise biography of yourself.

  1. Peter Athiu says:

    Well done Dr Okuk, your article deserves to be developed into a position paper for post war South Sudan. This country needs the collective efforts of it’s citizens, in order to have a genuine sustainable peace and development in post-war South Sudan.


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