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On 26 August 2014, an an extraordinay summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia the Horn of Africa regional grouping, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) announced the signing of a new deal for South Sudan. While it has been welcomed internationally, this is only the latest in a serious of agreements that the IGAD medaition process produced with very little impact on events on the ground.

IGAD’s troubled mediation process

Since the war broke out in December 2013, the Horn of Africa regional grouping, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), has been toiling to end the civil war in South Sudan. IGAD’s efforts were made difficult from the start. One of its major member states, Uganda deployed its forces on the side of one of the parties to the conflict and there by casting doubt over the credibility of IGAD. The fact that IGAD countries have interest in South Sudan and these interests do not converge was not also without its consequences on IGAD’s role.

The IGAD’s mediation team, headed by former Ethiopian chief diplomat Ambassador Seyoum Mesfin, has been mediating talks between the Government of President Salva Kiir and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement/Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) with the participation of other stakeholders in neighbouring Ethiopia.

Despite the modest achievements it registered, IGAD’s effort was a troubled one frustrated by warring parties that lacked complete commitment for a negotiated outcome.

IGAD held five rounds of talks. The first session was convened on 6 January 2014. The major agenda item of this round of talks was the signing of cessation of hostilities. A major sticking point during this phase of the negotiations was the opposition demand for the release of detainees and the withdrawal of Ugandan troops deployed in support of Kiir. This phase culminated in the signing of the cessation of hostilities agreement (CHA) and the agreement on the question of the detainees on 23 January 2014.  The talks adjourned for two weeks.

Under regional pressure, Kiir released seven of the 11 political detainees on 29 January 2014. While the CHA was a welcome development, it was not effective. It lacked effective enforcement mechanism. Although it envisaged a monitoring and verification mechanism (MVM), this was not made operational immediately. For the two sides, the CHA did not count for anything. Before the ink of the pen with which they signed the CHA dried, they resumed fighting. Major fighting was reported on 1 February in Unity State and there was heavy fighting on 18 February for control of Malakal.

Second round/session of the talks, scheduled to start on 10 February, resumed on 11 February 2014. The mediators presented for negotiation the Declaration of Principles (DoPs) and framework for political dialogue toward national reconciliation and dialogue.  This round of talks faced difficulties from the start as SPLM/A-IO put two conditions, withdrawal of Ugandan troops and participation of the Group of 7 detainees released into Kenyan custody. Even after the talks started, the request of the G7 to participate in the negotiations as third entity and the demand of the SPLM/A for the release of the remaining 4 political detainees presented made progress difficult. Despite agreement on the DoPs, progress was not made in this round of talks as government objected to the signing of the DoPs by the G7. On 3 March 2014, IGAD mediation was once again adjourned amid threats of sanction against those obstructing the peace talks.

The issue of the participation of the G7 and other stakeholders was then presented to an extra-ordinary IGAD summit held on 13 March 2014 in Addis Ababa Ethiopia. The summit attended by President Kiir, reaffirmed ‘the need for an inclusive political dialogue and further calls on the parties to include in the negotiations all South Sudanese stakeholders particularly SPLM Leaders (Former Detainees), other political parties and representatives of CSOs as deemed necessary by the Mediation Process’.

Although the second session of Phase II of the talks were scheduled to resume on 19 March, it was again postponed with the government objecting to the inclusion of the G7 as a third negotiating party. But it resumed again on 25 March amid government denial that it dropped its demand. It again focused on the the conduct of a political
dialogue towards national reconciliation and healing. Continuing disagreement over participation and process again led to the adjournment of the second session of Phase II of the talks on 7 April 2014. In a communique that they issued on 7 April, the mediators  stated that during the adjournment, the parties will confer with their principals while the IGAD special envoys will remain closely engaged with leaders of IGAD member states; the parties; IGAD partners and other stakeholders’.

In the meantime, the violence on the ground escalated further as major fighting took place in the states affected by the civil war. On 15 April, opposition forces seized Bentiu, the capital of oil-producing Unity state, after two days of intense fighting that allegedly claimed the lives of 510 government forces. Following the take-over of Bentiu, the SPLM/A in Opposition killed more than 400 civilians. On 17 April, youth who were mainly from the Dinka-Bor group attacked a UN site in Bor protecting more than 5,000 people, mainly Nuer and killed 58 people.

Although the adjournment of the talks was meant to last only until 22 April, the third session of the talks did not begin until 28 April.

This session of the peace process saw the first direct face to face negotiation between President Kiir and SPLM/A-IO leader Machar. To the respite of IGAD and its mediators, it produced the 9 May 2014 deal that the two principals signed in a widely publicized and celebrated ceremony. In a press release of 19 May 2014 announcing the adjournment of the third session of Phase II of the talks, IGAD lauded the deal, perhaps prematurely, for favorably changing ‘the landscape of the negotiation into a more inclusive, representative and forward looking process.’

Encouraged by the outcome of the third session of Phase II of the talks and building on the agreement for inclusive peace talks, IGAD convened on 5 June 2014 a multi-stakeholder symposium bringing together 150 representatives of South Sudanese society, including delegates from the government, opposition, political parties, faith based groups, civil society and traditional leaders to kick start the inclusive negotiation process.

Although IGAD declared the symposium a ‘success’, when the fourth session of the talks started on 20 June it run into serious difficulty. This was despite the fact that Kiir and Machar recommitted themselves at an IGAD summit on 10 June 2014 for the formation of the transitional government within 60 days. The SPLM/A in opposition refused to join the talks on grounds that the process for selection of civil society participation was not transparent and the participation of CSOs was not representative. This led to the indefinite adjournment of the talks on 23 June 2014.

After bilateral discussions with both sides and agreement was reached on the process for selection of CSOs, IGAD mediators announced the resumption of the fifth session of the talks to start on 30 July 2014.  The resumption of the talks was however rescheduled for 4 August following the failure of the government to send its delegation to Addis Ababa on the excuse that banks were closed for a number of days due to the Eid holiday.

Although the multi-stakeholder roundtable negotiation started on 4 August 2014 with the participation of all actors, it encountered a challenge when SPLM/A-IO failed to show up at the talks on the following day. The opposition expressed serious reservation over the participation of others as negotiating parties in the talks and demanded direct talks with government with other stakeholders taking the role of consultation. In the meantime, as they failed to honor most of their previous commitments, the two sides failed to meet the 10 August deadline for the formation of the transitional government.

The apparent preference of the two sides for military options over negotiation and the determination of each to see the other short-changed in terms of representation in the transitional unity government, along with their objection to participation of other stakeholders in the process were clear impediments to the success of the multi-stakeholder roundtable negotiation.

Unsurprisingly, despite the continuation of the talks with SPLM/A-IO participation, the talks stumbled again. On 19 August, government delegation failed to attend the talks demanding that the matrix of the cessation of hostilities agreement be signed first and that the rules of procedure for the talks be amended only by the two warring parties to allow direct negotiations.

As in the past, the mediators resorted to the IGAD summit. Rescheduled from 17 August and further postponed for a day from 25 August, the IGAD summit finally took place on 26 August with the agenda of the signing of a the matrix on the cessation of hostitities agreement and the protocol of principles on the transitional process.

26 August IGAD protocol of principles on South Sudan transitional process

With respect to the transitional government, the protocol, which was not signed by the SPLM/A-IO, stipulates that there will be a president and a prime Minister. While Kiir will continue to lead the transitional government, the SPLM/A-IO will nominate the Prime Minister. Unlike the post of the transitional president whose status was unquestioned, the Prime Minister not only should be acceptable to the president but also shall possess a such qualities as credibility and professionalism. The transitional period is also anticipated to run for a very long 30 months period.

While the protocol also pretends to make the transitional government representative by stipulating that the government shall include representatives including from SPLM leaders and other political parties, it is clearly skewed in favor of the government.

A major qualification provided for in the protocol which applies to all parties is the provision that anyone found responsible for committing war crimes or crimes against humanity by the African Union Commission of Inquiry for South Sudan would not be eligible to participate in the transitional government. If they already hold a governmental position, they would have to resign.

As for transitional security arrangements, like the 9 May 2014 deal, this protocol also calls for negotiation on permanent ceasefire. Recognizing its critical importance, the protocol provides for comprehensive institutional reforms in the security sector during the Transitional Period, to restore public confidence and that lead to enduring reforms beyond the Transitional Period.

With respect to transitional justice, reconciliation and national healing, while the protocol made the mandate of the AU Commission of Inquiry robust as noted above, it leaves the establishment of the mechanisms for reconciliation (a hybrid truth and reconciliation commission) and accountability (an independent judicial body) for the transitional period. The provision for accountability may prove to be problematic not only because it tends to preempt or even frustrate the pending outcome of the work of the AU Commission of Inquiry but also it will potentially put the process of establishing accountability in the hands of a transitional government whose membership is implicated in the perpetration of atrocities.

Perhaps a major aspect of the protocol that can be considered as achievement for the SPLM/A-IO concerns the parameters for a permanent constitution. In this respect, it stipulates that the Transitional Government will ‘initiate and oversee  a permanent constitution-making process during the Transitional Period, based on the principles of federalism and taking into account unity in diversity, and to devolve more power to the states.’

 Major issues

Unlike the 9 May 2014 deal, the 26 August agreements do not come as an outcome of the negotiation of the parties to the conflict. It rather comes as an imposition by IGAD on the parties. In this context, one major issue that is not yet clear is whether the SPLM/A-IO and other participants of the multi-stakeholder peace process have fully accepted the terms of this protocol. While the protocol was signed by the government and the government announced its acceptance of the terms, the SPLM/A-IO did not sign the protocol.

Other than the position of the President and the structure of the transitional national unity government, the appointment of the PM (left to SPLM/A-IO with assent of the President) and the other members of the transitional government is left for further negotiations by participants of the multi-stakehoder peace process.

Again, despite the commendable provision for security sector reform, this is also left for further negotiation and agreement. It is also anticipated to be pursued under an oversight mechanism to be established during the transitional period. Like the 9 May 2014 deal, the protocol simply calls for negotiation for a permanent ceasefire.

It is clear that a number of major issues are still left for further negotiation. This negotiation is anticipated to be finalized in 45 days. While indications have been made that the negotiations would continue even if some participants did not show up, there is no clarity as to what would happen if the same kind of troubles that frustrated previous talks occur again as they are sure to.

What is completely missing from the protocol is the future of the SPLM/A as a South Sudanese movement. Conspicuously absent from the terms of the protocol was also the mechanism for enforcing compliance. While Ethiopian Prime Minister warned that there should be consequences, what these are and whether there agreement to apply those consequences is not clear.

The foregoing shows that despite the apparent positive movement that the 26 August agreements seem to mark, it remains very unclear that it indeed represents meaningful progress in the quest for ending the bleeding of South Sudan.

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