The “Trust Deficit Factor” in the December 2013 Crisis and Civil War in South Sudan (Part 6)

Posted: May 12, 2019 by PaanLuel Wël Media Ltd. in Columnists, Commentary, Editorials, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers, PaanLuel Wël, R-ARCSS, R-TGONU

The Formation of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGONU): Why South Sudan is better off with Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO in Juba than in the political wilderness

By PaanLuel Wël, Juba, South Sudan

Riek Machar
Riek Machar

Sunday, May 12, 2019 (PW) — Today, 12 May 2019, was earmarked for the establishment of the long-awaited Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGoNU) after the expiration of the 8-month pre-transitional period in which the warring parties and peace partners were supposed to have cantoned and integrated their respective armed forces into a unified national army; determined the appropriate number and demarcated the exact boundaries of states; demilitarized Juba and other major urban centers for safe return of the civil population; facilitated the deployment of the UN-mandated regional protection forces (RPF) in Juba and other major towns to allow the safe return of senior opposition leaders; tabled and ratified the constitutional amendment bill enshrining the revitalized peace agreement into the current Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan (2011), without which there would be no legal basis to form and run the revitalized transitional government (R-TGONU), and more importantly, provided sufficient funding for the timely and full implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS), 12 September 2018.

Instead, on 3 May 2019, the summit of the parties to the 2018 R-ARCSS, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 2 to 3 May 2019, unanimously decided to extend the pre-interim period by an additional six (6) months, from 12 May to 12 November, 2019, purportedly to allow more time for the implementation of the critical and consequential outstanding issues – primarily the failed unification and deployment of armed forces and the pending determination of the number and boundaries of states. During the summit, the representatives of the parties to the 2018 R-ARCSS, having taken “stock of the status of the implementation of the R-ARCSS, identified progress made, challenges encountered and deliberated on the way forward and agreed on a roadmap,” concluded that the timely and full implementation process of the revitalized peace agreement was shackled and doomed by financial constraints, trust deficit and dearth of political will among the warring parties and peace partners, as well as by inadequate support from the peace guarantors and the international community, among others.

To begin with, it is possible to agree with Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO and IGAD Council of Ministers that the necessary pre-transitional tasks and prerequisite conditions, as explicitly stipulated in the 2018 R-ARCSS, for the formation of the revitalized transitional government (R-TGONU) have not been fulfilled, and still reach the opposite conclusion that South Sudan would have been better off with the establishment of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGoNU) – with Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO in Juba than in the political wilderness. Assuming that the intention of the government from the outset (and there are inexhaustible documented evidences to that effect) has always been to keep Riek Machar away from Juba in particular and South Sudan in general, on what basis could the SPLM-IO have logically requested for an extension of the pre-transitional period when the prevailing conditions would be the same in six (6) months time as they are today? Why would Riek Machar’s SPM-IO play into the trap when they have little political and military leverage to compel the government to address the critical pending tasks in relation to the implementation of the revitalized peace accord (R-ARCSS)?

A number of popular fallacies capture and elucidate this misguided resolution by Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO and IGAD Council of Ministers to vigorously campaign against the formation of the revitalized transitional government (R-TGoNU) and misguidedly extend the pre-transitional period by another six (6) months when nothing tangible had been accomplished in the previous 8 months allocated to the execution of the critical tasks of the pre-interim period under the revitalized peace agreement (R-ARCSS). These trendy fallacies are borne out of the confused notion that (1) the government negotiated and signed the revitalized peace agreement (R-ARCSS) in good faith and therefore should be expected, and held accountable, to implement the peace accord in its entirety; (2) the outstanding problems under the pre-transitional period can be resolved within reasonable time, after which the warring parties and peace partners would happily embark on the formation of the revitalized transitional government ((R-TGoNU), resulting in long lasting peace and reconciliation across the country, (3) the warring parties and peace partners do care and think about the lives and welfare of their own people and would therefore prioritize the actualization of peace over power politics for the sake of their own citizens, and (4) Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO has some credible political and military leverages on the government to compel it to do anything that might level the playing field for SPLM-IO to achieve some parity with the government.

First, the government did not sign the revitalized peace agreement (R-ARCSS) in good faith and it is therefore a misplaced conception to pretend to hold it accountable to something it seldom believes in. If recent history is anything to go by, the government has never been interested in the implementation of the peace agreement in general and in having Riek Machar back in Juba in particular. The government was coerced into signing the 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS), was dragged into the 2017 High-Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) that birthed the 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS), and currently has no tangible incentives – carrots or sticks – to actively pursue a timely formation of the revitalized transitional government (R-TGoNU) and effective implementation of the revitalized peace agreement (R-ARCSS). Similarly, the SPLM-IO only consented to the peace process after their failure to militarily oust the government and it is therefore trying to achieve regime change from within using the platform of the peace process. This is why the government generally perceived and resisted the deployment of the regional protection force (RPF), the establishment of the hybrid court, the demilitarization of Juba and urban centers, and the eventual return of Dr. Riek Machar to Juba. To the government, those actions are tantamount to indirect attempt by the SPLM-IO, with tacit support from hostile external forces driven by ulterior motives, to achieve military and political success of the December 2013 coup on the negotiating table when it had failed on the ground.

Consequently, in the continued absence of the revitalized transitional government (R-TGoNU), the government, at least from their provincial perspective, does not stand to lose much since there is no promised funding to incentivize the revitalized peace process; instead, it stands to gain a lot by maintaining exclusive access to and control over petro-dollars and the national army. Thus, by successfully petitioning IGAD Council of Ministers to extend the pre-transitional period, Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO inadvertently boxed themselves into crafty political traps laid by a government that perceives the entire process of pre-transitional extension as in line with the three-year unilateral extension of their own mandate last year. The recent comment by President Kiir in which he suggested that the pre-interim period should have been extended by 12 months instead of 6 months betrays the hidden strategy on the side of the government to keep Riek Machar away from Juba as long as they can.

Second, most of the critical pending issues under the pre-transitional period are intractable — so divisive and polarizing — that it would take more than the 36-month interim period of the revitalized peace agreement (R-ARCSS) to resolve them. Take the politically sensitive and polarizing question of the number and boundaries of the states, for example. In a bid to win the trust and garner the support of some communities in South Sudan, Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO declared 21 federal states in 2014, along with a call for the establishment of federalism as a system of governance in South Sudan. In a counter strategic move to blunt and neutralize the calculated move from Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO, the government declared 28 states (later upgraded to 32 states in a concession to Taban Deng’s SPLM-IO) and proposed a referendum for the adoption and promulgation of federalism. The number and boundaries of 21 states favor the supporters of Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO while the number and boundaries of the 28 (32) states favor the supporters of the government. Because the rationale to declare more states was nothing more than a political ploy by both parties for military recruitment, it has tended to benefit the government more than Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO that had initiated it. This is why it is so much an emotive and intractable issue for both parties. The SPLM-IO want to revert back to the Omar Bashir’s 10 states while the government can’t let go of the current 32 states that better serve and advance their political and military interest. The question of the number and boundaries of states is so intractable and deeply polarizing that it would require more than six-month extension period to resolve, including a referendum that would likely be rigged or disputed by a party that would not get its way.

Likewise, the screening, cantonment and integration of the warring forces into a unified national army require not only an abundance of political will and considerable amount of trust among the warring parties and peace partners but also a sufficient funding and support from both the government of South Sudan and the international community. However, the implementation of the revitalized peace agreement (R-ARCSS), just like the revitalization process (HLRF), is fraught with trust deficit and lack of political will and funding from the government and peace guarantors who are being counted upon to close rank and ensure the timely and full execution of the remaining issues under the pre-transitional period. Yet, the government of South Sudan has adequate revenues from the sale of oil to fund the implementation process. Presently, South Sudan produces roughly 170,000 barrels of oil per day at the rate of about $60 per barrel at the international market. That is around $10.2 million per day, of which the parasitic Khartoum and the predatory oil companies take about 60%, with Juba with remaining with around 40%, which translates to $4.08 million per day. Because the government has been unwilling to share data on oil production, as well as on the sharing and usage of oil revenues, this is to speculate that the government of South Sudan receives approximately $122.4 million of oil revenues per month, which would amount to $979.2 million over eight months period (the duration of the previous pre-transitional period).

According to the revitalized peace agreement (R-ARCSS), the implementation of the peace process requires the government of South Sudan to provide $280 million for the execution of the critical tasks under the 8-month pre-transitional period. $280 million over eight months period would translates to $35 million per month or $1.17 million per day. Since the government of South Sudan is receiving about $4.1 million per day or $122.4 million per month from the oil revenues, one would expect the government to fulfill its part of the peace deal by providing the $280 million for the implementation of the critical pre-interim tasks. Yet, because of the lack of trust and political will among the warring parties and peace partners, the government has been clearly reluctant to commit sufficient resources as stipulated in the revitalized peace accord (R-ARCSS) for the timely and full execution of the peace agreement and formation of the revitalized transitional government (R-TGoNU). Reportedly, the government provided a paltry sum of $10 million for the entire 8 months of the pre-transitional period, most of which went for the refurbishment of top government officials, supposedly, in readiness for the formation of the revitalized transitional government (R-TGoNU). This brazen discrepancy between national resources and priorities of the government has resulted in an unfortunate situation whereby the peace guarantors, the international community and friends of South Sudan have been understandably reluctant to commit funding for the implementation of the peace process (R-ARCSS).

Their argument seems to be something like this: If the government of the people of South Sudan is not prepared and willing to prioritize the implementation of the peace process (R-ARCSS) that would end the war and restore peace and reconciliation in the country for the sake of their own people, why should we? Nonetheless, what the peace guarantors, the international community and friends of South Sudan are missing is the fact that the government was never interested in the peace agreement from the beginning and can’t therefore be expected to invest in its viability, especially when the actualization of the peace process (R-ARCSS) would be tantamount to bringing Riek Machar back to Juba. As previously mentioned, the presence of Riek Machar in Juba is supposedly linked to forces of regime change through the demilitarization of major towns, the deployment of the regional protection forces and the establishment of the hybrid court to target the leadership in Juba. These trust deficits and lack of political will among the warring parties and peace partners, coupled with the reluctance of both the government of South Sudan and the international community to provide sufficient and adequate funding for the implementation process, can’t be cured with a six-month extension of the pre-interim period. Since there are enough revenues from the sale of oil, the best course of action would have been to establish the revitalized transitional government (R-TGoNU) and to place all oil revenues under its authority for the full implementation of the critical outstanding issues of the revitalized peace agreement (R-ARCSS) for the success and viability of the revitalized transitional government (R-TGoNU).

Third, there is a widely held false assumption that the warring parties and peace partners do care and think about the lives and welfare of the people of South Sudan and would therefore prioritize the actualization of peace over power politics for the sake of their own citizens. On the contrary, the government, the SPLM-IO and all opposition parties do not care about the interests and lives of the people of South Sudan. One, the ongoing destructive civil war is a living proof of their enduring proclivity to value their bucolic interests above and over the lives and welfare of the people of South Sudan. Two, these are the very leaders who bankrupted the nation between 2005 and 2013, and then took it to unnecessary and distractive war that has killed, maimed and displaced people in their multitudes, crippled the economy, and condemned the survivors to the UNMISS PoC sites, IDPs and Refugee camps. Three, both the government and the SPLM-IO have been hijacked by hardliners whose economic and political interests are threatened by the potential for peace and reconciliation under the revitalized peace agreement (R-ARCSS). The hardliners within the SPLM-IO have invested too much emotion and propaganda in overthrowing the government such that the peace process (R-ARCSS) is tantamount to the betrayal of their chosen and practiced positions. Equally, the hardliners in the government have invested too much emotion and propaganda in preventing the return of Riek Machar to Juba.

On the other hand, the government of President Kiir is under a firm grip of a cabal of small notorious clique, comprising of the NCP-wing and Taban-wing of the government, which has practically captured the state. Political scientists define state capture as the efforts of a small number of people or groups, with vested economic, social or political interests, “to shape the rules of the game to their advantage through illicit, non-transparent provision of private gains to public officials” resulting in “a type of systemic political corruption in which private interests significantly influence a state’s decision-making processes to their own advantage.” Therefore, the government is beholden to these two interest groups – those hardliners invested in keeping Riek Machar away from Juba and those small cliques invested in enriching themselves and who therefore prefer the current status quo to endure so that they can continue to enrich themselves at the expense of the people of South Sudan. This explains why the government has not invested (funding) in the peace process in spite of the fact that it has adequate resources to sufficiently fund the implementation of the revitalized peace agreement (R-ARCSS) without necessarily extending a begging hand to the international community. To the hardliners on both sides of the warring parties and peace partners, and especially to the small clique in Juba that has captured the state, the six-month extension of the pre-transitional period is an Easter gift that must be savor until Christmas when, hopefully, Providence might avail another one.

Fourth, there is an argument that Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO has some credible political and military leverages on the government to compel it to do something that could level the playing field for the SPLM-IO to achieve some parity with the government, either politically or militarily or both. According to this argument, the six-month extension period would provide the SPLM-IO with enough time and resources to mount some political undertakings and military actions that could compel the government to accept the demilitarization of Juba, the deployment of the regional protection force and the creation and demarcation of states whose number and boundaries would better serve and advance the political stance and military interest of the SPLM-IO. Connected to this argument is the supposition that it would be pointless for the SPLM-IO to partake in a shameful revitalized transitional government (R-TGoNU) that has not implemented the barest tasks of the pre-interim period, and could not therefore be counted upon to execute the necessary reforms stipulated in the revitalized peace agreement (R-ARCSS). Joining such a rudderless government, the argument goes, would be to superfluously expose the SPLM-IO to damning criticisms that would ensue in the event that the revitalized transitional government (R-TGoNU) fails to fully fund and implement the revitalized peace agreement (R-ARCSS). Therefore, it is possible that Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO is acutely aware of the intractability of the pending tasks and outstanding issues, but still prefer to play politics with the implementation of the peace agreement (R-ARCSS) in the slimmest hope of extracting political capital and military gains from the government.

However, both the military situations on the ground and the political landscape in the region are becoming increasingly unfavorable to Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO. On the military front, the SPLM-IO has lost the fight on the front line, and the very argument from the hardliners within the government revolves around why the government would negotiate with an entity that has effectively lost all major towns except Akobo, Fangak and the southern tip of Unity region in the Upper Nile region, and no major town under its control in both the Bahr el Ghazal and the Equatoria regions. Politically, South Sudanese are so polarized and sharply divided along tribal lines and political leanings to the extent that it would be extremely hard to campaign and gain extra political support or more military recruitment other than from your current supporters most of whom are already deeply demoralized and disillusioned by the length and magnitude of the civil war. There is basically a war fatigue on the frontline and political stalemate at the peace front. Externally, Ethiopia and Khartoum that had been the mainstay of SPLM-IO external support are embroiled in seismic political changes at home; none of them is currently prepared and ready to embark on providing military and political support to Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO. Even the international community, which the government has been accusing of sponsoring the SPLM-IO in a grand scheme of regime change, has grown lukewarm to political bickering and military stalemate in South Sudan. Only Uganda, if only under special circumstances, seems prepared and ready to provide military and political support to their allies in South Sudan.

Hence, there is no guarantee that the six-month extension period could provide sufficient time and resources for Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO to regroup, reorganize and launch a decisive political and military action to force the government to reconsider their stance on the implementation of the revitalized peace agreement (R-ARCSS). Furthermore, unlike in 2017 and 2018 when the government was confronting real economic meltdown, oil production has now gone up, thanks to the ceasefire (military stalemate rather) under the revitalized peace agreement (R-ARCSS); currently, the government has enough oil revenues to sustain themselves, long enough to compel Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO to compromise their preferred political stance or risk having Akobo, Fangak and Southern Unity region taken over by government forces, bringing the entire Nuer areas under the control of the government and thus deprive Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO of military recruitment grounds (the SPLM-IO would still maintain considerable political support though as military victories over and territorial control of the civil population rarely alter their preferred political allegiance). Most importantly, it is not abundantly clear how long Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO is willing and ready to wait before joining the government without adequate implementation of the peace agreement (R-ARCSS). If, by abstaining from the status quo, the SPLM-IO helps the government to achieve their ultimate goal – keeping Riek Machar away from Juba and maintaining exclusive access to and control over oil revenues – for how long can the extension be sustained?

If the government has no intention of doing anything in the next six months – either in the name of “no money” or sheer intransigence as has been the norm in South Sudan or simply because the government has discovered that simply not doing anything about peace implementation is the surest and most effective way to keep Riek Machar away from Juba – for how long can the SPLM-IO abstain from joining the government? This author believe that the SPLM-IO are better off in Juba, partaking in the revitalized transitional government (R-TGoNU) and shaping the allocation and usage of the oil revenues to fund the implementation of the revitalized peace agreement (R-ARCSS) rather than enriching the small clique around the presidency. This course of action remains the most preferred alternative since the international community is unlikely to commit any resources for the implementation of the revitalized peace agreement (R-ARCSS) any time soon. Of course, Dr. Riek Machar has legitimate and valid fear for his safety in Juba without the regional protection forces. However, true leaders are always prepared to undertake whatever it takes for the sake of their people. South Sudan have lost top leaders who put the interest of their people above their own safety and were killed in action – in the service of their people. This is how South Sudan lost such great leaders as Father Saturnino Lohure, William Deng Nhial, Joseph Oduho, Kerubino Kuanyin, Arok Thon, William Nyuon, Martin Majier and recently Dr. John Garang. It is up to Riek Machar to decide what matters to him the most – the interest and destiny of the people of South Sudan or his own safety concern.

In conclusion, therefore, Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO is better off in Juba than in the political wilderness. The SPLM-IO should realize that the government has never been interested in the peace process primarily because the implementation of the revitalized peace agreement (R-ARCSS) is tantamount to bringing Riek Machar back to Juba. This is an anathema to a large section of the government. Politically, majority of the people in the government don’t want Riek Machar back in Juba simply because Riek Machar is Riek Machar. Economically, the present status quo presents an unprecedented opportunity for some people in the government to enrich themselves with petrodollars. Therefore, if Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO care about the success of the peace process, and about the lives and welfare of the people of South Sudan, they should not have called for and supported the extension of the pre-transitional period; rather, they should have gone to Juba and form the revitalized transitional government (R-TGoNU), dismantle the parasitic clique that has captured the state and then, as part of the revitalized transitional government (R-TGoNU), channel the oil revenues to effectively and timely implement the revitalized peace agreement (R-ARCSS).

While the current stance and voiced position of the peace guarantors, the international community and friends of South Sudan is quite understandable, they should consider a different strategy that would at least give them some leverage over the government in the implementation of the revitalized peace agreement (R-ARCSS). Presently, the international community has adopted the strategy of withholding funding in the hope of forcing the government to support and implement the peace agreement in the hope of receiving funding from the international community. Rather than bemoaning the sore state of affairs in South Sudan, the international community should adopt a different strategy – providing carrots (funding) and wielding sticks (threat of withdrawing those funding, targeted individual sanctions and assets freeze and travel ban) – aim at supporting the formation and viability of the revitalized transitional government. The international community should provide a fixed percentage of the funding needed to support the formation of the transitional government, something from 25% to 30% of the required $280 million, while the government of South Sudan shoulder the rest of the cost with oil revenues. This, of course, sounds like asking too much of the international community when South Sudan has enough resources to fund the implementation of the peace agreement. However, the international community is already committed in funding the UNMISS and the humanitarian and civil society activities in the country and these endeavors would ultimately amount to nothing without durable peace in the country.

Therefore, the contribution from the international community should be seen as a carrot to lure the government into the formation of the revitalized transitional government. Once the revitalized transitional government is successfully established, the oil revenues would be placed under the sole authority of the revitalized leadership according to the stipulation of the revitalized peace agreement, exclusively to implement the peace process and sustain the affairs of the revitalized transitional government. Thereafter, the international community should continue to provide a fixed percentage of the financial resources needed to run and sustain the affairs of the revitalized interim government (R-TGoNU). This will provide the international community with the necessary leverage over the revitalized interim government, especially in the execution of the structural and institutional reforms necessary for the conduct and success of a general election in the post-interim period at the end of the 36 months of the transitional period.

The ill-advised six-month extension of the pre-transitional period does not resolve the fundamental problem of trust deficit between the government and Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO to permit effective and smooth implementation of the revitalized peace agreement (R-ARCSS) on one hand, and between the government and the international community to avail more resources to support the formation of the revitalized transitional government (R-TGoNU) on the other. Instead, the extension simply offers the small clique around the presidency that has captured the state more time to plunder the nation by legitimizing their exclusive access to and control over national resources, particularly the petrodollars from the oil revenues. More worryingly, in the inevitable event that the warring parties and peace partners simply fail to execute the critical pending tasks and outstanding issues under the pre-interim period in the next six months, just as they had failed in the last eight months, Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO and the IGAD Council of Ministers have no plan B in place to remedy the blunder.

PaanLuel Wël, the managing editor of PaanLuel Wël Media (PW) website, graduated with a double major in Economics and Philosophy from The George Washington University, Washington D.C, USA, and currently works as a Project Coordinator for one of the international NGOs in South Sudan. He is the author of Pioocku Thuongjang: The Elementary Modern Standard Dinka (May, 2011), The A.B.C.D.: An Introductory Book into the English Alphabet (July, 2011) and Who Killed Dr. John Garang (July, 2015). He is also the Editor of The Genius of Dr. John Garang, vol. 1-3 (November, 2013), including Dr. John Garang’s Speeches on the War of Liberation (November, 2015) and Speeches on the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (November, 2015), Salva Kiir Mayaardit: The Joshua of South Sudan (with Simon Yel Yel, February, 2011), as well as The Customary Laws of the Greater Bor Dinka Community: Legal and Basic Rules for Self-Administration (July, 2017).

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 Media (PW) website. If you want to submit an opinion article, commentary or news analysis, please email it to paanluel2011@gmail.com. PaanLuel Wël Media (PW) website do reserve the right to edit or reject material before publication. Please include your full name, a short biography, email address, city and the country you are writing from.

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