Obama on Lessons’s From the Libya intervention

In a widely read interview in The Atlantic, among the many issues that President Obama addressed was his view on what went wrong in the NATO led intervention in Libya. With respect to the approach taken for undertaking the Libyan intervention, he said ‘We got a UN mandate, we built a coalition, it cost us $1 billion—which, when it comes to military operations, is very cheap. We averted large-scale civilian casualties, we prevented what almost surely would have been a prolonged and bloody civil conflict. And despite all that, Libya is a mess.’

Indeed, Libya has disintegrated beyond recognition and today the country endures, arguably, far more destruction and human suffering than what it faced under Gaddafi’s authoritarian rule.

Explaining what went wrong, Obama, rightly, blames Libya’s descent into abyss on the lack of follow up. On this he in particular puts the responsibility on the members of the coalition notably France and the UK. True enough, those countries who took did not envisage their intervention to go beyond and above ending Ghaddafi’s rule. There was no plan or strategy as to what happened after and as a follow up to the military intervention. With Ghaddafi’s removal and the dismantling of his regime, the only entity that held Libya together also disappeared. No unified political movement or agreed transitional framework was emerged to fill the huge political and security vacuum that Ghaddafi’s demise left.

As in Iraq, the lesson from Libya is it is much more easier to remove a regime than bring about a functioning and legitimate replacement. Even more importantly, regime change through external intervention in fragile or long enduring authoritarian countries tends to precipitate the disintegration of the country and can do more harm than good.

From a perspective of the responsibility to protect, the failure of the intervention was not limited to the absence of a plan for post-conflict reconstruction. It also involves at least two other important lessons.

First is the need for limiting the military action to the terms of protecting civilians as specified in the resolution authorizing the action. In implementing the terms of Resolution 1973’s objective of ‘protection of civilians and civilian populated areas’, NATO went further and pursued the objective of overthrowing Ghaddafi. In an open letter dated 15 April 2011, the US President Barack Obama, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, stated that ‘it is impossible to imagine a future for Libya with Qaddafi in power’. The problem with pursuing regime change was not only that it was contrary to international legality but also, and on that account, results in destructive outcomes that defeat the objectives of protection of civilians as developments in Libya illustrated.

The situation revealed that the UN does not have an effective monitoring and accountability mechanism for ensuring that UNSC resolutions are executed without exceeding the terms and objectives of the resolutions mandating military action.

Second is the need to give diplomatic and/or political processes and hence the voice of all local political forces adequate and genuine chance to lead the effort for resolving the crisis and succeed. NATO countries and their allies were determined to use military means as the only solution to the crisis. They left no room for giving diplomacy a chance. Thus, the opportunities that arose when the Libyan government declared its willingness for ceasefire and negotiated settlement were not adequately explored. Instead, the government’s declarations of ceasefire and willingness for negotiation were dismissed as a deliberate ploy by Ghaddafi to buy time and shield himself from the escalating military assault targeting him and his government. By May 2011, the AU even managed to secure Ghaddafi’s commitment that he would not be part of the negotiation for the formation of a new government and of the government to be formed.

In this regard, Obama’s admission of the failure of NATO’s intervention in Libya vindicates the position that the AU adopted at the time both about exhaustion of the diplomatic avenue and the perils the military campaign posed.

It is not merely the use of military force in the particular setting that made the Libyan intervention, to use the language from The Atlantic, the ‘stupid shit’ that it has turned out to be. It is also, and perhaps more importantly, on account of the fact that the intervention did not give space for diplomatic means of resolving the crisis and breached legality by pursuing an agenda not mandated in the resolution that authorized the intervention.


The new Peace and Security Council of the AU

The election for the new 15 members of the Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the African Union (AU) was held on 28 January at the meeting of the Executive Council of the AU. There were 22 AU member states in the list of candidates (as shown below).

Candidates for the 2016 PSC election (own compilation)

Region Available Seats in the 2016 Election States Running Years Previously Served on the Council
Central Africa 3 Burundi, Cameroon, Gabon,  and Chad Burundi served three times, (2008, 2010 & 2014) and seeking reelection; Gabon served twice previously (2004 & 2007); Cameroon served three times (2004, 2006, 2012); Chad served three times (2008, 2010 & 2014)
Eastern Africa 3 Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda Djibouti served twice previously (2010 & 2012) Kenya served twice (2004 & 2010) Rwanda served three times (2006, 2008 & 2010) Uganda served three times (2006, 2008 & 2013) Sudan served once (2004) Comoros & Eritrea never served on the Council previously
Northern Africa 3 Algeria, Egypt, Mauritania & Tunisia Algeria served three times (2004, 2007 & 2013) Egypt served two times (2006 & 2012) Mauritania served once (2010) & Tunisia served once
Southern Africa 3 Botswana, Swaziland & Zambia Botswana served once (2006) Swaziland served once (2008) & Zambia served once (2008).
Western Africa 4 Sierra Leone, Niger, Nigeria & Togo Nigeria served four times (2004, 2007, 2010 & 2013) Niger served once (2014) Togo served once (2004) & Sierra Leone never served previously.

Few days before the election Cameroon left the election in favor of Congo. Similarly, Swaziland and South Africa swapped the former’s candidacy. It is not common for the Southern Africa region, which has the distinction of following the principle of rotation strictly, to have a current member to stand for re-election. Just before election started on 28 January, Tunisia withdrew its candidacy. At the time of the election the list of candidates was as follows.

Region Candidates in January 2016
Central Africa Burundi, Chad, Congo and Gabon
Eastern Africa Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda
Northern Africa Algeria, Egypt and Mauritania
Southern Africa Botswana, South Africa & Zambia
Western Africa Sierra Leone, Niger, Nigeria & Togo

The countries that specified their candidacy for the three-year seat of the Council were Congo, Djibouti, Gabon, Egypt, Nigeria and Zambia. According to the modalities of the Election of the PSC, if these countries do not receive the two-third majority vote required for their election they will automatically lose their candidacy altogether and will not thus stand in the elections for the two-year term membership of the PSC.

While Egypt, Nigeria and Zambia had no other country from their respective regions running for the three-year term membership of the Council, Gabon and Djibouti faced competition from other states in their region. Gabon was running against Congo and lost the election by 15 votes against Congo’s 34 votes and run out of the entire competition. Similarly, Djibouti competed for the three-year term membership of the PSC against almost all candidates from East Africa except the Comoros. After several rounds of voting it lost the election for Kenya, which received 45 votes in the last round of votes for the three-year term membership in the PSC.

Zambia, running as the only candidate for Southern Africa, was elected with 100 per cent vote for the three-year term membership in the PSC. Running as the only candidate from North Africa, Egypt was also elected by 47 votes. Similarly, Nigeria won the election receiving 49 votes.

PSC members elected for 3-year term in January 2016 

Region Elected in January 2016
Central Africa Congo
Eastern Africa Kenya
Northern Africa Egypt
Southern Africa Zambia
Western Africa Nigeria

The list of countries that run for the two-year membership in the PSC are as follows.

Region Available Seats in the 2016 Election States Running
Central Africa 2 Burundi and Chad
Eastern Africa 2 Comoros, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda
Northern Africa 1 Algeria and Mauritania
Southern Africa 2 Botswana and South Africa
Western Africa 3 Sierra Leone, Niger & Togo

In the election for the two seats slotted for Central Africa region, since Gabon went out of the election after losing the competition for the three-year term membership, Burundi and Chad became the only candidates from the region. Both countries received the required two-third majority vote (Burundi 38 and Chad 48) and duly elected to the PSC.

In the election for the two seats available for East Africa, after several round of votes Rwanda received the required majority to win one of the two seats. After another several round of votes in which the candidates with the least votes were eliminated, Uganda secured the required majority to win the remaining one seat.

For the two seats allotted for Northern Africa, Algeria received the required majority vote in the first round. Mauritania lost the competition by 13 votes against Algeria’s 39.

Since there were only two candidates for the two seats slotted for Southern Africa, both Botswana and South Africa received 48 and 49 votes respectively to win the election for the two-year membership in the PSC. Similarly, the three countries that were running for the three seats available for the West Africa region namely Sierra Leone, Niger and Togo also obtained 49, 47 and 48 votes respectively to win the election and join the PSC for two-year term.

PSC members elected for 2-year term in January 2016

Region Elected in January 2016
Central Africa Burundi and Chad
Eastern Africa Rwanda and Uganda
Northern Africa Algeria
Southern Africa Botswana and South Africa
Western Africa Sierra Leone, Niger & Togo

The result of the 2016 election of the 15 members of the PSC shows that four of the so-called ‘big five’ member states of the AU, who contribute 15 percent each to AU funds, are in the PSC. Six of the 15 countries, namely Algeria, Burundi, Chad, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda are returning members of the PSC and this guarantees some level of continuity from the PSC whose term ends at the end of March 2016.

The new members of the PSC such as Egypt, Kenya & Rwanda are also expected to bring new dynamics as well. Sierra Leone is the only new member that makes it to the PSC for the very first time and thereby increasing the number of states that have so far served on the PSC to 38.

It also became clear from this election that the practice of paying no attention to the requirements of Article 5(2) of the PSC Protocol in the election of PSC members has become persistent. This provision stipulates that one of the criteria for membership in the PSC is ‘respect for constitutional governance, in accordance with the Lome Declaration, as well as the rule of law and human rights’. Like previous elections, several countries, on whose unsatisfactory human rights record the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) lamented in its report to the PRC and the Executive Council, continue to be elected to the PSC.

Until such time that PSC Protocol Article 5(2) requirements are made to trump Article 5(1) requirements of regional representation and rotation, it is completely unlikely that this anomaly in the election of PSC members would be overcome. The nature of its composition did not stop the PSC from acting against its own members (suspended Mali in 2012 for unconstitutional change of government) or having them on its agenda (such as Mali, Libya & since last year Burundi). Yet, in the year that is dedicated to human rights, it is unacceptable that this practice is allowed to continue. It is thus imperative that a AU score card of AU member states human rights performance is introduced as a basis for operaitonalizing the PSC Protocol Article 5(2)    requirements in the election of PSC members with the result of countries scoring less than 5 out of 10 being disqualified from running for membership in the PSC.





The 2016 Election of the AU Peace and Security Council

2016 is African Union’s year of elections. The election of the entire leadership of the AU Commission including the Chairperson is due during the June 2016 summit of the AU. A ministerial committee the elections submits its report on the modalities for the election during the ongoing meeting of the Executive Council of the AU.

The election that is of immediate interest concerns the members of the Peace and Security Council of the AU, the highest decision-making body of the AU on matters of peace and security. While in 2015 there were no seats for election, all the 15 seats of the PSC are due for election in 2016. This is the second time since the PSC came into operation in 2004 that all the 15 seats of the PSC are up for grabs.

It is at the end of March 2016 that the tenure of the current members of the PSC (see Table 1 below) will come to an end.

Table 1 PSC members whose two-year term ends in March 2016 (author’s data)

Region States
Central Africa Burundi, Chad & Equatorial Guinea
East Africa Ethiopia, Tanzania & Uganda
North Africa Algeria & Libya
Southern Africa Mozambique, Namibia & South Africa
West Africa Guinea, Niger, Nigeria & the Gambia

The procedures for the election of members of the PSC are set out in the Protocol establishing the Peace and Security Council of the AU (PSC Protocol) and the Modalities for Election of PSC Members. Most notably, Article 5 (1) of the PSC Protocol states that the Council’s membership is to be decided according to the principle of ‘equitable regional representation and rotation’. In terms of regional representation, while East Africa, Southern Africa and Central Africa are allocated three seats each, West Africa and North Africa are allocated four and two seats respectively.

Following the submissions from member states expressing interest for election to the PSC, the list of candidates for 2016 elections are as reflected in the table below.

Candidates for the 2016 PSC election (author’s data) 

Region Available Seats in the 2016 Election States Running Years Previously Served on the Council
Central Africa 3 Burundi, Gabon, Congo and Chad Burundi served three times, (2008, 2010 & 2014) and seeking reelection; Gabon served twice previously (2004 & 2007); Congo served three times (2004, 2006, 2012); Chad served three times (2008, 2010 & 2014)
Eastern Africa 3 Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda Djibouti served twice previously (2010 & 2012) Kenya served twice (2004 & 2010) Rwanda served three times (2006, 2008 & 2010) Uganda served three times (2006, 2008 & 2013) Sudan served ones (2004) Comoros & Eritrea never served on the Council previously
Northern Africa 3 Algeria, Egypt and Mauritania Algeria served three times (2004, 2007 & 2013) Egypt served two times (2006 & 2012) Mauritania served ones (2010)
Southern Africa 3 Botswana, Swaziland & Zambia Botswana served ones (2006) Swaziland served ones (2008) & Zambia served ones (2008).
Western Africa 4 Sierra Leone, Niger, Nigeria & Togo Nigeria served four times (2004, 2007, 2010 & 2013) Niger served ones (2014) Togo served ones (2004) & Sierra Leone never served previously.

Only two of the five regions Southern and West Africa submitted number of candidates equal to the number of seats available to those regions. As it has been the case in previous elections, East Africa submitted much higher number of candidates (seven) than the number of seats available for the region.

From Central Africa region, Cameroon was a candidate in the original list that came from the region but withdrew its candidacy in favor of the Republic of Congo before the start of the Executive Council session. But the region has one candidate in excess of the number of seats available to it. In North Africa, although Tunisia was among the candidates in the original list of candidates it seems to have abandoned its candidacy. Yet, it remains to have one candidate more than the two seats allocated to that region.

From West Africa, Nigeria has become a de facto permanent member of the PSC that continued to retain the three year term of office in the PSC since PSC inauguration in 2004. It is sure to be back in the PSC.

In the application for candidacy, a new trend of specifying the term of office of the seat for which candidates vie has been witnessed. Accordingly, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Nigeria and Zambia expressed their interest to run for the three-year term.   Similarly Burundi, Chad and Comoros indicated their wish to vie for two-year term. All the other candidates did not make any indications.





Africa’s new arena of contestation for democratic change

From Burundi to Congo and Rwanda, one of the major stories that triggered the most debate and attracted headline news in 2015 has been the debate over presidential third terms.

Indeed, leaders attempts at overstaying their constitutional welcome (Burundi) or effecting contested constitutional amendments (Congo) has become a new realm of contestation for democratic consolidation on the continent.

Elections as norm

Granted, the era of military rule and one-party regimes has been replaced by the new era of multi-party democratic dispensation that started in the 1990s. Today, there is almost no African country that does not profess to a multi-party political system. Indeed, elections have become a common feature of the political landscape of the continent. In 2016 alone, at least 17 countries have scheduled presidential polls.

Despite routine elections, some ten African countries did not witness change of leadership for nearly three decades or more. The trend indeed shows that elections fail to effect regular change of leadership. The kinds of electoral change of leadership witnessed in 2015 in Nigeria and Tanzania are the exception rather than the rule.

It is against the background of the inadequacy of elections for effecting leadership change that constitutional guarantees for change of leadership, most notably presidential terms limits, have emerged to be the new arena of political contestation on the continent.

Africa’s enthusiastic embrace of constitutional limits on presidential terms

Where it is observed, presidential term limit not only enables competitive politics by restricting the advantages of incumbency but also facilitates change of leadership, affording the society the infusion of new thinking and new blood in the management of the affairs of the country. It was no wonder that as part of the wave of democratic constitutional change of the 1990s, the constitutions of 33 African states incorporated constitutional clauses limiting presidential tenure to two terms.

The operationalization of these limits has indeed facilitated changes. In this regard, Issaka Souré pointed out that ‘there is an empirically proven correlation between presidential term limits and leadership alternation in Africa, given that almost all the African leaders that have left power after elections have done so after ‘exhausting’ all their constitutional terms except in eight cases.’

Over the years the constitutional objectives that presidential term limit is meant to serve have become under immense pressure. Two related trends have thus emerged in this regard.

The steady retreat from presidential term limits – the source of contestation

The first trend relates to the rising number of countries seeking the removal or amendment of constitutional clauses limiting presidential tenure to two terms. Indeed, the number of countries whose constitutions contain presidential term limits has shown steady decline from what it was in the early 1990s. That number is now less by about half a dozen countries.

Together with the successful removal of constitutional limits on presidential terms in Congo and Rwanda in 2015, the record so far, as reflected in the table below, shows that there have been 16 attempts at changing or removing constitutional term limits. This is in addition to Senegal (2012) and Burundi (2015) where incumbent presidents used legal lacuna in their respective constitutions to run a hugely contested third term.

Table 1. Countries where proposed amendments for removing or extending terms limits were made

State Year amendment proposed Outcome
Algeria 2008 Successful
Cameroon 2008 Successful
Chad 2004 Successful
Congo 2015 Successful
Djibouti 2010 Successful
Gabon 2003 Successful
Guinea 2001 Successful
Malawi 2003 Unsuccessful
Namibia 1998 Successful
Niger 2010 Unsuccessful
Nigeria 2006 Unsuccessful
Togo 2002 Successful
Tunisia 2002 Successful
Uganda 2005 Successful
Burkina Faso 2014 Unsuccessful
Rwanda 2015 Successful
Zambia 2001 Unsuccessful

It is interesting to note that the number of countries that succeeded in changing or removing constitutional limits on presidential terms is significantly higher than those in which attempts for such change did not succeed. Only in five of the 16 countries that attempts at changing constitutional term limits failed.

Additionally, irrespective of the success rate, recent changes in Rwanda and Republic of Congo and on going debates in DRC illustrate that there is continuing trend of seeking to remove or change constitutional provisions on term limits. Pending proposals in Algeria and Liberia for introducing term limits are not as common as the trends for removing such limits.

It is this successful retreat from term limits and the resultant loss of opportunity it presents for democratic change of leadership that sets the context for Africa’s new political phenomenon of contestation over constitutional limits over presidential term of office.

Violent contestation of the push of incumbents for third term

The second trend is that increasingly attempts at extending (or removing) term limits are being contested violently. While earlier cases include Niger (2010) and Senegal (2012), the most recent such trend started in Burkina Faso. In October 2014, Burkina Faso’s long term dictator Blaise Compaore’s political manoeuvring of using parliament to remove the constitutional limit on the president’s term set off a successful popular protest that not only forced him into exile but also plunged the country into volatile constitutional crisis.

In Burundi, the ruling party’s announcement in April 2015 electing President Nkurunziza as its presidential candidate, amid strong opposition contesting the constitutionality of his candidacy, has been received with protests in Bujumbura and some other parts of the country. The country has since been in political turmoil that has put the stability that the country enjoyed since the end of the civil war at  serious peril.

The situation in Burundi is strikingly similar to the third term controversy in Senegal in 2012. As in Burundi, Senegal’s President Abdoulay Wade insisted that he did not serve the two terms stipulated in the constitution arguing that the provision limiting term limits was not applicable to his first term. Again as in Burundi, President Wade sought legal interpretation from the Constitutional Court and the Court supported him. Where as President Wade was eventually defeated by the electorate at the ballot box, in Burundi elections (boycotted by the opposition) were held and the President secured a third term. Unlike in Senegal where the elections brought the political instability over President Wade’s third term campaign to an end, in Burundi the crisis has since the elections deepened further.

In 2015 two other countries namely Congo and Rwanda engaged in amending their respective constitution removing term limits. In Rwanda, although it did not set off the kind of instability observed in other countries, the constitutional referendum that removed the two term limit on presidential tenure with little opposition will extend the power of incumbent President Paul Kagame.

Despite having been at the helm of the country for three decades, in September 2015 President Sassou Nguesso of Congo announced a constitutional referendum over proposed amendments to the constitution. The proposal involved amending the constitution to remove the 70 year age limit on presidential candidates as well as the two term limit the head of state can serve.

Although the country did not witness the level of violence that afflicts Burundi, the protest that the opposition and civil society groups mobilized meant that October 2015 became one of the most violent months in the country since 2002. Between four to 20 people are said to have lost their lives in the violence.

The riots and protests that affected the two largest cities of Brazzaville and Pointe Noire did not however change the outcome of the referendum. Both proposed changes were approved in the referendum held on 25 October 2015, although the opposition and civil society challenge the legitimacy of the referendum.

With incumbents continuing to win elections, the issue of third term is sure to attract continuing contestation in the years to come. In 2016, Democratic Republic of Congo is poised to be the next battleground in Africa’s new arena of contestation for democratic consolidation and constitutional rule. The contestation is sure to be violent. All eyes are on the African Union (AU) and the international community to see if they will act on the early warnings emerging from DRC and the lessons from other recent contestations and take successful preventive action preventing DRC’s descent into violent instability.

Urgency of peace talks high despite plan for deploying troops


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The decision of the Peace and Security Council, African Union’s standing decision making body on peace and security matters, to deploy troops to Burundi for human protection purposes even against the consent of the government in Bujumbura has been received with understandable enthusiasm.

It is seen as a bold act manifesting the determination of the continental body and its leadership to live up to AU’s ideals of non-indifference in the face of grave situations threatening the lives of people and ‘African solutions to African problems’. Even those who criticised the AU for not doing enough and limiting itself to issuing statements were quick to endorse and celebrate it.

As historic as the significance of this decision is to the AU and those of us who worked and followed up the AU peace and security decision-making for years, deployment of troops is not a panacea to the crisis in Burundi either. Indeed, the nature of the deteriorating situation involving what the fact-finding mission of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights called ‘escalating violence and violations of human rights’ cannot wait the arrival of troops in Burundi even with the consent of the government. In any case, Burundi’s remain to be a political crisis that principally requires political solutions with troops playing only a supporting and protective role.

Decision to intervene by force

Following the meeting its held on Burundi on Thursday 17 December during which Burundi gave up its position of chairing the Council, the Peace and Security Council adopted the decision of authorising the deployment of an African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU). The mission is envisaged to have an initial capacity of 5500 military, police and civilian personnel.

The decision gave the government of Burundi 96 hours for expressing its consent for the deployment of MAPROBU. In the event of non-acceptance of the deployment of MAPROBU, the Council plans ‘to recommend to the Assembly of the Union … the implementation of article 4 (h) of the Constitutive Act relating to intervention in a Member State in certain serious circumstances.’ This represents a decision by the AU that it will deploy MAPROBU even against the consent of the authorities in Bujumbura by using force.


Article 4 (h) stipulates the right of the AU to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely: war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.’ There have been many crises in Africa including most recently in Central African Republic and South Sudan exhibiting the occurrence or threat of occurrence of one or combination of the grave circumstances. Yet, Article 4(h) has never before been invoked in any of these previous cases. While there have been instances in which reference was made to the language of Article 4(h), the decision on Burundi marks the first direct use of Article 4(h) of the Constitutive Act for undertaking military intervention for human protection purposes.

If implemented against the consent of Burundi’s government, this decision will be historic and marks a departure from the scope of conflict management and resolution tools that have so far been used by the AU. But as Paul Williams explained, this will not be an easy decision to implement.

A number of factors account for this unprecedented decision.

One such factor is the events of Friday 11 December 2015. Following attacks on military establishments, Bujumbura witnessed its most intense fighting and deadliest response since the beginning of the crisis in April 2015. In the words of the PSC communiqué, ‘there is a real risk of the situation degenerating into widespread violence, with catastrophic consequences for Burundi and the entire region’.

Another factor is the reports that AU received about the escalation of violence and acts of violations of human rights. In this regard, as Paul Williams noted, the information from ‘the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ fact-finding mission, which visited Burundi from December 7-13, and the AU’s own human rights observers deployed in Bujumbura’ must also have played a major part.’

The slow pace of the mediation process in a context in which the situation is considered to be deteriorating must have also informed the decision for resorting to deploying troops. The mediation process, despite being around for some times, has not taken off the ground and no peace talks have so far been held.

Unlike troop deployment, peace talks can and should be convened immediately

As discussed by Paul Williams, even if the Burundi government obliges to AU’s request and gives its consent to the deployment of MAPROBU, it will take a minimum of several weeks if not a few months before MAPROBU troops will be on the ground. Apart from the logistical and financial challenges that often slow down deployment by AU, a number of actions have to be taken by the AU Commission. The first of this anticipated and called for in the decision, is generating the required forces. The other is drawing up and adopting the required technical and legal instruments including the concept of operations and the status of force agreement with the government in Bujumbura, if the latter consents.

Even in this best-case scenario, it is clear that there is a need for taking steps and preventing further violence in Burundi pending the actual deployment of MAPROBU. Ensuring that the situation does not deteriorate further in the meantime necessitate that the convening of peace talks is prioritized and urgently pursued.

But indications so far suggest that the authorities in Bujumbura are not consenting to the deployment of troops. While they have not responded officially as yet, Burundi authorities  reported to have said that they neither allow nor need ‘foreign troops’.

The result of Burundi’s refusal is that it will effectively put the operationalization of the decision for deployment of troops on hold. This decision can thus now be enforced only after Article 4(h) decision of the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government, the supreme decision making body of the AU made up of all leaders of AU member states. Unless an extraordinary summit of the Assembly is convened following the receipt by the AU of formal response from Burundi refusing deployment of troops, the earliest that the Assembly will convene is at the end of January.

Even with the best-case scenario of the AU assembly agreeing to the recommendation of the PSC for the Assembly to exercise its Article 4(h) authority, the use of force even under such circumstances raises fundamental legal questions. Most notably, in the light of the fact that the AU requested the UN to fund the deployment of the troops through the use of assessed contributions, it is not only legally necessary (due to the requirements of Articles 53 (1) of the UN Charter) but also financially imperative that the decision of the AU receives UN Security Council’s stamp of approval. Apart from the fact that such approval is not fully guaranteed, the process of getting such approval will in itself take sometime and can only come fast enough if the situation on the ground deteriorates further.

Given that intervention by the use of force would require much more planning, it will also take much longer time for undertaking the intervention than the time required for deploying troops with consent.

Clearly, the decision of the AU for deploying troops and the diplomatic attention it is likely to attract should not detract the attention of the AU, the region and the international community from mobilising efforts and prioritising the implementation of other policy actions that can and should be implemented immediately to stem further violence.

The first and important immediate step is the urgent convening of peace talks. Every day that passes by without talks starting creates vacuum that allows opportunity for the situation to deteriorate.

Similarly, pending the deployment of the troops, with or without consent, there is urgent need for scaling up human rights and military monitoring. In this regard, one agrees with the statement of South Africa on need for urgent strengthening of the size and operational capacity of AU military experts and human rights observers already on the ground.

Remembering the lesson from Libya

It is to be recalled that the intervention in Libya had the same motivation as AU’s proposed intervention in Burundi. Like the intervention in Libya, the principal motivation of AU’s proposed intervention is protection of civilians. This can be gathered not only from the reference to Article 4 (h) of the Constitutive Act but also from the name of the proposed intervention mission, African Prevention and Protection Mission in Burundi (MAPROBU). Indeed, the mandate that the decision establishing the mission assigned to the mission includes prevention of ‘any deterioration of the security situation, monitor its evolution and report developments on the ground’ and ‘contribution, within its capacity and in its areas of deployment, to the protection of civilian populations under imminent threat.’

One of the major failures of the Libya intervention was that other than the objective of averting the threat of atrocities there was no effective political strategy as to what happens after that objective was achieved. This omission has led to a political vacuum and Libya’s unfortunate descent into chaos. The lesson of this experience for Burundi is that the intervention has to be anchored on and form part of an effective political roadmap that can pull Burundi from its worst crisis since the end of the civil war.

There is no political roadmap for resolving the crisis in Burundi. Such a roadmap can only be drawn through peace talks. Thus, if the intervention was to go ahead and succeed, its success will not be complete without a political roadmap that resolves what remains to be a political crisis.

A lot of time has been spent to get the mediation process off the ground. To date, no peace talks have been convened under the mediation process. The result has been a vacuum that allowed the crisis to fester and be left to fate and the good will of the conflicting parties. As the tragic events of Friday 11 December unambiguously showed, without starting peace talks the crisis is sure to deteriorate to the point of spiralling out of control. The focus and energy of the AU, regional and international actors should thus be on the convening of peace talks as a matter of urgency and priority. The decision for deploying troops should not thus detract any attention from having the peace talks on motion immediately.

Reading the Report of the African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (AUCISS)


Finally, 10 months after AUCISS completed its investigations and seven months after it initially tabled one of its reports, the time has arrived to make the AUCISS report public. At a summit level meeting held in New York on 26 September 2015, on the sidelines of the 70th meeting of the UN General Assembly, the Peace and Security Council (PSC) answered the call from civil society organizations and AU partners for the release of the AUCISS report.

There are actually two reports. The ‘main’ report, which was prepared under the leadership of the Chairperson of the AUCISS, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, is 304-pages long (excluding annexes). Professor Mahmood Mamdani, one of the members of the AUCISS, singlehandedly authored the other report, also described as the dissenting report. The AU Commission submitted to the PSC and the PSC considered and decided to release ‘for public information purposes only’ both the ‘Final Report of the African Union Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan’ (Final AUCISS Report) and ‘A Separate Opinion’.

The two documents were released on 27 October 2015, a month after the PSC took decision for their release. The press statement announcing the release of the documents indicated that the documents are meant for ‘public information’ purposes and hence suggesting that may not be used as evidence for legal action.

As outlined in the PSC decision of 30th December 2013, the mandate of the AUCISS was to ‘investigate the human rights violations and other abuses committed during the armed conflict in South Sudan and make recommendations on the best way and means to ensure accountability, reconciliation and healing among all South Sudanese communities’. While it is clear from these terms that the mandate of the AUCISS involves two broad parts of investigation and proposing recommendations, the two components of the mandate of the AUCISS were further elaborated in the Terms of Reference (ToRs) that the AUCISS adopted following its establishment on 7 March 2014.

The first component of the mandate of the AUCISS is elaborated in the ToRs to include: the establishment of the immediate and remote causes of the conflict; investigate human rights violations and other abuses committed during the armed conflict; establish facts and circumstances that may led to and that amount to such violations and of any crimes that may have been perpetrated; compile information based on these investigations and in so doing assist in identifying perpetrators of such violations and abuses with a view to ensuring accountability; and compile information on institutions and processes or lack thereof that may have added or aggravated the conflict resulting in violations of human rights and other abuses.

The second component of the mandate was elaborated in the TORs to involve the submission of recommendations on: appropriate mechanisms to prevent a recurrence of the conflict; mechanisms to promote national healing and cohesiveness; modalities for nation-building, specifically focused on building democratic institutions and post-conflict reconstruction; and accountability mechanisms for gross violations of human rights and other egregious abuses to ensure that those responsible for such violations are held to account.

The report (as well as the separate opinion) makes a heart wrenching reading. The main AUCISS report contains incidents of excessive brutality not only gruesome details but also in pictures mirroring haunting images. Even so, the report as well as the separate opinion has understandably captured only a portion of the events that constitute the civil war and the violations it inflicted the entire affected population. Indeed, the main AUCISS report indicates that the number of the dead remains unknown.

The broader historical and institutional roots of the conflict

The final AUCISS report traces the antecedents of the armed conflict that broke out in South Sudan in mid December 2013 to divisions, infighting and violations that emerged among Southern political and armed forces in the course of the North-South civil wars, most notably in the context of the second North-South civil war that broke out in 1983. As the report put it, the dissolution of the regional assembly of Southern Sudan and the division of ‘the South into three administratively weak regions – Equatoria, Upper Nile and Bahr el Ghazal … effectively introduced a new dynamic to the war in Sudan: it also became a South-South conflict, which the successive regimes in Khartoum would encourage and exploit from then on, beginning with the Anyanya II – SPLM/A divide in the mid 80s.’ The report stated that while the ‘1983 insurgency’ at the initial years involved ‘five disparate formations’, they coalesce to form the SPLM/A under John Garang which, after weathering further storms, emerged to be the dominant rebel force.

According to the AUCISS report the original sin, so to speak, that led to South Sudan’s eventual fall to disaster in 2013 was the 1991 SPLM/A split, which, in the words of the AUCISS, ‘stand out as defining moment in the life of the movement’. The AUCISS found that the instability, violations and animosity that the 1991 split precipitated was not properly investigated and dealt with. This suggests that the events of 1991 laid the seeds of the current violence. Indeed the AUCISS concluded that ‘[f]rom our consultations with South Sudanese, it emerged that events surrounding the split in 1991 continue to define and order relations within the movement.’ Accordingly, as far as truth, reconciliation and healing is concerned, the Commission suggests the need for confronting what it called ‘the ghosts of 1991’.

The AUCISS report also attributed a significant amount of blame on the design and (problematic) implementation of the CPA as a major factor that contributed to South Sudan’s eventual descent into the civil war.

‘The Commission takes the view’, reads the report, ‘that the current conflict can be attributed, in part, to the flaws of the CPA (in terms of process and outcomes) as well as its implementation. Most notably, the Commission blames, in one notable line, the inevitability of the eruption of the conflict on the failure of the CPA to address longstanding South-South grievances and problems. Related to this was also the SPLM/A monopolization of the peace process to the exclusion of other South Sudanese actors.

The separate opinion brought out other legacies of the CPA that created the conditions for the eventual eruption of South Sudan. ‘[T]he Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), held the opinion, ‘was responsible for setting up an unchallenged armed power in South Sudan, and thereby legitimizing both anyone holding a gun and the rule of the gun.’ It further states that ‘[t]he CPA introduced an armed power into South Sudan, but not a civil service. Ministries were occupied rather than run by generals and their relatives.’

The broader institutional framework of the South Sudan state that facilitated the eruption of conflict has been interrogated in great depth in the main AUCISS report. ‘It is widely accepted’, according to the AUCISS, ‘that the crisis in South Sudan is primarily attributable to the inability of relevant institutions to mediate and manage conflicts, which spilt out into the army, and subsequently the general population.’ The AUCISS thus interrogated the various dysfunctions afflicting the institutions constituting the South Sudan state (the system of government, the executive, the legislative, judiciary, army, political parties, the media and civil society) leading to their failure to detect and peacefully resolve the issues that precipitated the violence.

According to the report what obtained in South Sudan was something akin to an all too powerful imperial presidency. It thus established that ‘the President has extraordinarily wide and apparently all-pervading powers, with very limited checks and balances in place.’ (para. 159) Apart from the problems it identified in their constitution and functioning, the structural causes that this extensive review established included the lack of accountability and authoritarianism, rampant corruption and the militarization politics and the ethnicization of politics and the security establishment that operated as an amalgam of disparate militias answerable to various political figures.

The separate opinion of Prof Mamdani took a much stronger view on the state of the institutional setup of South Sudan. ‘The state called South Sudan exists more as a juridical fiction than as an institutional reality.’ Elaborating this point, the opinion stated, ‘[i]t is wrong to think of South Sudan as a failed state – for the simple reason that South Sudan never was a state. There was no bureaucracy, no judiciary, there was nothing to fail.’ Whatever existed ‘were only fighting forces, most of the times fighting one another and a make believe state whose leadership was propped up and fated by important sections of the international community, key being the Troika.’

It further states that ‘[t]o think of South Sudan as a failed state is to overlook the simple fact that the very political foundation for the existence of a state – a political compact – has yet to be forged, either within the elite or between the communities that comprise South Sudan.’

Immediate causes and triggers of the civil war – no attempted coup

The divisions and issues that resulted from the 1991 split survived during and after the transitional period. During the CPA, this evolved into rivalry and division between the President Salva Kiir and his deputy Machar. As the AUCISS report pointed out, the recent origin of the conflict was the tension that resulted from the 2010 elections during which ‘the two leaders are said to have supported rival candidates in a number of key electoral positions, particularly the governorships of several states.’

A series of political developments within the SPLM and in government in the months prior to the eruption of the conflict have also been cited as the main circumstances that precipitated the eruption of the conflict. These developments emerged in the context of the emergence of open power struggle in the leadership of the SPLM and hence the government. In anticipation of and as part of the jostling for the party and national elections expected in 2015, leading political figures, namely Vice President Dr. Riek Machar, SPLM Secretary General Pagan Amun, and Madam Rebecca Garang, the widow of the late Dr. John Garang, publicly announced their intention to run for the post of Chair of the SPLM, and thus President of the country.

The resultant perceived challenge that this presented to the current chair of the SPLM and President of the country, the split in the SPLM descended into fierce power struggle. In April Riek was stripped off his executive powers. In July, President Kiir dissolved the cabinet. As documented in the AUCISS main report ‘[t]he consensus among the ex-officials (former detained senior SPLM figures) was that the genesis of the conflict in South Sudan began from an intra-party disharmony specifically between President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar.’ (para. 420)

As both reports highlighted, while the foregoing set the political background for the conflict, the immediate precipitating event was the confrontational atmosphere that prevailed during the meeting of the National Liberation Council (NLC), the legislative organ of the SPLM, the failure of the NLC to resolve the major issues of disagreement and stories of Nuer members of the presidential guard being disarmed. The separate opinion of Prof Mamdani puts it thus ‘[t]he meeting of the NLC took place against a rumor-laden, crisis atmosphere. A sense of a protracted crisis had permeated the public sphere ever since the dismissal of most of the cabinet. The atmosphere was rife with rumors, with talk of a possible breakdown leading to a split in the army and civil war.’ (para. 20)

While both reports noted the existence of divergent narratives over what triggered the conflict, the main AUCISS report concluded ‘from all information available to the Commission, the evidence does not point to a coup. We were led to conclude that the initial fighting within the presidential guard arouse out of disagreement and confusion over the alleged order to disarm Nuer members’. (para. 68)

After the AUCISS examined what was alleged to be intelligence evidence indicating the moment when Taban Deng and Riek Machar ordered fighting (for ousting President Kiir’s government) to start, it concluded that ‘it could not detect information relating to a coup from the intercepted conversation they (members of the AUCISS) listened to.’ (para. 418)

On the question of how the violence in the army spread to the public, while the main AUCISS report offers a structural analysis whereby the divisions in the political arena finds expression in the army and in the general public, the separate opinion put the focus mostly on who carried out the attacks against civilians in Juba on 16 and 17 December 2013. While noting three explanations to the question of who carried out the killings of Nuer civilians in Juba, the separate opinion pointed out that the ‘most widespread explanation was that the body of killers was a body of irregulars recruited in two districts of Bahr el Gazal by the current Chief of Staff who was then Governer of Northern Bahr al Gazal and ran the party branch in the district.’ Various testimonies contained in Chapter III of the main AUCISS report also lend strong support to this version of events.

Human rights violations and other abuses

The scale of the violations that engulfed South Sudan is unprecedented in so many ways. As the AUCISS main report pointed out ‘[w]hilst the crimes committed during the on-going violence are thus not new, the rate at which people have been killed during this conflict could be higher, according to some estimates, than during the (22 years of Sudan – Southern Sudan) civil war.’

As both documents show, the level of brutality that the violations revealed during the course of the war that broke out in December 2013 has also been unprecedented. ‘The stories and reports of the human toll of the violence and brutality have been heart-wrenching’ stated the AUCISS main report’. It went on to note ‘reports of people being burnt in places of worship and hospitals, mass burials, women of all ages raped; both elderly and young, women described how they were brutally gang raped, and left unconscious and bleeding, people were not simply shot, they were subjected, for instance, to beatings before being compelled to jump into a lit fire. The Commission heard of some captured people being forced to eat human flesh or forced to drink human blood.’ In the words of Prof. Mamdani’s separate opinion, ‘[g]ratuitous degradation was a marked feature in many of the incidents of brutality narrated to us.’

Civilians were the main target of the violations perpetrated in the conflict.The AUCISS noted thus ‘[w]hat is evident that civilians bore the brunt of the atrocities and that the conflict played out primarily amongst the civilian population and civilian targets. Indeed, specific identifiable groups within the civilian population were targeted on the basis of their ethnicity, and gender, as an integral part of the armed conflict.’ Various institutions of refuge such as hospitals and religious sites such as churches turned into sites of atrocities. There were also the use of hate speech and incitement to violence.

Perhaps, the most distinct aspect of the violations against civilians was the targeting of women and hence the prominence of the gendered dimension of the violence. As the AUCISS main report put it ‘[g]ang rape was (and continues to be) a common feature of the atrocities committed during the on-going conflict in South Sudan.’ The violations stand out not only for their targeting of women but also the brutality with which they victimized them. The AUCISS report thus noted ‘the wide use of objects such as stones, guns and sticks to rape women.’

The violations as documented in the two documents also involved strong mobilization and organization. As such, the AUCISS main report concluded that the ‘investigations reflect that violations documented were committed in a systematic manner and in most cases with extreme brutality.’ (para. 358) Similarly, the separate opinion of Prof Mamdani held that the violence ‘was intense and brutal, and targeted specific groups: Nuer in Juba; and Dinka, Nuer and Shiluk in the three states of Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile.’

As the separate opinion pointed out, the violence that propelled South Sudan to a full-scale war ‘was unleashed in two phases. The first was over three days, from the 16th to the 18th of December, in Juba. The second phase covered three states in the provinces and was centered around three towns: Bor, Bentiu, and Malakal.’

On events in Juba, the main AUCISS report established that the ‘evidence gathered by the Commission suggests that there were killings committed by elements of security forces from 16th December 2013 in residential areas like Muniki 107, Khor Williams, New Site, Gudele one, Mangaten, Mio Saba, Customs, Nyakuren.’ (para. 464) According to the separate opinion, ‘[o]f the Nuer who remained in Juba, few survived the killing spree of December 16-18, 2013’.

Apart from killings, other violations documented in the AUCISS main report include torture and ill treatment (para. 475) and rape (475). The AUCISS accordingly held that ‘acts of torture and rape were committed in Juba by elements of security forces aligned to the government’.

The violations were well organized and targeted. Check points were established on the roads in various areas of Juba. The perpetrators of the violations undertook house-to-house searches.

The events in Juba triggered violent response in Jonglei State. Here the response mobilized the Nuer. As the separate opinion put it ‘Nuer mobilization began on the 17th and 18th of December. It took two forms, a rebellion and an uprising.’ ‘The rebellion’ according to the separate opinion, ‘followed a mutiny by Nuer in the army, led by Peter Gatdet, commander of 8th Division of SPLA’. The uprising involved what the separate opinion called ‘a more spontaneous response’ that came from ‘county level youth fighting formations known as the White Army (the name refers to white ash from cow dung with which the youth smear their bodies).’

According to the AUCISS main report ‘[f]rom the evidence on record, Peter Gatdet defected on the night of 17th December 2013 with mostly Nuer soldiers. In the process of defecting, the general ordered the killing of his deputy in Command Brigadier Ajak Yen. The evidence also suggests that on 18th December 2013, soldiers under his command killed a prison warden called Lt. Manguak in Block 4. On the same date, mass killings were committed … The killings targeted civilians of Dinka ethnicity who were trying to cross the river fleeing the impending war.’

The separate opinion registered that the White Army mobilized spontaneously to go to Juba following the arrival of news that the Nuer in Juba were targeted. Explaining the context that led to their speedy mobilization, Prof Mamdani’s separate opinion observed that they ‘were fresh from campaign against David Yau Yau‟s Murle militias, they mobilized with relative ease and speed.’

As the separate opinion put it, the ‘White Army left a trail of pillage, carnage and destruction in the towns and villages they swept through in their march to Juba.’ According to the AUCISS main report, mass killings were recorded in various parts of Bor town including ‘at St Andrew Cathedral, at Bor State Hospital, Bor Market place, at the CID compound (river bank), at the Police barracks. Other areas where massive killings took place within Bor town are Panjak, Malou and Marol areas’.

The use of rape as weapon of war was one of the characteristic feature of the violations in Jonglei as it was in Juba. As the AUCISS main report pointed out the ‘majority of women stated that the rapists consistently uttered verbal references to be reiterated against Dinka, thus confirming that women were being targeted not only because of their gender but also because of their ethnicity.’

The AUCISS report and Prof Mamdani’s report took completely divergent position on the relationship between the SPLM-IO and the White Army. The AUCISS main report held that there existed an institutionalized tie between the two including based on claims by Riek Machar that he was in command of the White Army (see para. 571). By contrast, after providing details of testimony in his separate opinion Prof Mamdani concluded

The White Army is not an army. It is not even a collection of militias. These are not soldiers but civilians with arms. The difference is in motivation and discipline. The White Army is motivated by a deep sense of grievance – revenge – and the promise of plunder. Unlike with soldiers, its members lack any sense of military discipline, command or hierarchy.

On Unity State, the AUCISS main report documents the violations and destruction that befallen its capital Bentiu. As the report noted, although other parts of Unity such as Rubkona have been severely affected, Bentiu was the epicenter of the fighting and the human rights violations and other abuses. ‘As is the case for Malakal in Upper Nile as well as Bor in Jonglei, noted the AUCISS report, ‘Bentiu town is largely destroyed.’

AUCISS’s report held that ‘the Commission heard testimony that civilians were killed, houses burned, and sexual violence committed against women. It further stated that ‘[t]he Commission was actually provided with a list of people killed during a visit to Bentiu POC Site; including women who had simply disappeared when collecting wood, presumably abducted.’ The violations were committed both by the SPLM in opposition and government forces.

On events in Upper Nile, one of the three major centers of the conflict in South Sudan, the AUCISS documented similar violations. Unlike the events documented for Jonglie and Unity, which mostly report testimonies of witnesses, on the violations in Upper Nile the AUCISS offers a synthesis of violations that took place there. It thus stated ‘[r]eported violations and crimes committed include: extrajudicial killings and rape.’

On how the violations were committed, it held that ‘[b]oth sides have reportedly targeted civilians, often conducting extensive house-to-house searches for individuals from rival ethnic communities, mostly Dinka and Nuer. Individuals from other communities, notably Shilluk, the third largest in South Sudan, have also been targeted.’

Regarding the scale of the violence, the AUCISS report noted that Malakal, having been the most contested of the various areas changing hands between the SPLM-IO and government forces, witnessed the most destruction. In the words of the report, ‘the majority of buildings and infrastructure have been destroyed. This includes government buildings and installations, civilian property.’

War Crimes

After treating the situation in South Sudan as a case of internal armed conflict falling within the rule of common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, the AUCISS found that war crimes were committed by both sides. In the words of the report, ‘considering the applicable law and case law, and the evidence and testimony the Commission has before it, the Commission believes that war crimes were committed in Juba, Bor, Bentiu and Malakal.’ The crimes include war crimes of unlawful killings or civilians and those believed to be hors de combat, rape, torture, and forced recruitment of children.

Crimes against humanity

Holding that ‘crimes such as murder, extermination, torture, rape, persecutions on political grounds as well as inhuman and degrading treatment were committed against civilians in various parts of South Sudan’ and that they were committed in a widespread or systematic manner, the AUCISS stated that it is reasonable to conclude that these crimes amount to crimes against humanity. It concluded the existence of a planning element with respect to some of the violations that took place in Juba. In terms of organization and specific targeting, it held that ‘[r]oadblocks or checkpoints were established all around Juba and house to house searches were undertaken by security forces. During this operation male Nuers were targeted, identified, killed on the spot or gathered in one place and killed.’

The AUCISS held that the evidence suggests that these crimes were committed in furtherance of state policy. In the words of the AUCISS ‘t[]he evidence also shows that it was an organized military operation that could not have been successful without concerted efforts from various actors in the military and government circles.’

Importance of the report/s

The AUCISS report together with the separate opinion presents a detailed account of the causes & immediate trigger of the civil war and the atrocities perpetrated by both sides of the conflict. In recording the details of violations, it offers a comprehensive account for helping South Sudan build a shared memory that will serve to fight impunity. It sought to give voice to the views and concerns of affected communities and various sections of South Sudanese society both about the war and its resolution. It has also laid down the foundation for the transitional justice processes envisaged in the IGAD sponsored peace agreement including the proposed hybrid court and the commission on truth, healing and reconciliation. In documenting and availing to the public the events constituting the civil war and the violations it inflicted on the civilian population, the AUCISS report as well as the separate opinion gives strong impetus for the implementation of the parts of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan relating to accountability and truth, reconciliation and healing.


African Union Commission 18 September 2015

The year of review of peace operations

Following months of investigation and consultations, the UN High Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO), which UN Secretary-General Ban ki-moon established in June 2014, finalized and submitted its report in June 2015. The last time a similar review focusing on UN peacekeeping was conducted was 15 years ago by the Brahimi panel. The report, which has reviewed developments and changes in the peace and security landscape of the world since its predecessor the Brahimi report, is expected to define the course of UN’s engagement in the maintenance of international peace and security for the coming decade or more.

Given the focus of the report on peace support operations, there is no region of the world to be affected more by the policy, institutional operational and financial implications of the proposals the report sets out than Africa. No part of the world features more prominently in the work of the UN Security Council (UNSC) than Africa. The UNSC dedicates more than 60% of its agenda to African issues. Africa also hosts more peacekeeping or peace support operations than any other continent. Of the 16 ongoing UN peacekeeping operations in the world, nine are in Africa. In terms of personnel numbers and budget size, the largest and most expensive peacekeeping operations are in Africa.

These facts also mean that for the UN, perhaps more than any other part of the world, developments in Africa have a significant impact on its peace operations.

Given that the review of UN peace operations is a once in a decade and half exercise, how the proposals of this report are translated into policy, institutional, operational actions is of strategic interest not only to the UN but also particularly to Africa.

Indeed, These considerations informed the decision of the AU (as contained in the AU 24th summit outcome document) and its member states to articulate an African position on the high level review of UN peace operations. A number of important aspects of the proposals in the African common position were favorably received and reflected in the final report of the HIPPO. Following the release the HIPPO report, the AU Peace and Security Council held a session on a report and commended the HIPPO for its work.

On 2 September 2015, the Secretary-General released a report on the implementation of the recommendations of the HIPPO. As the UN and member states start to look into the implementation of the recommendations of the HIPPO, it is of utmost importance for AU member states to reflect on, together with partners, the recommendations of the report and achieve the required preparedness for actively shaping and participating in the processes of pursuing the implementation of the recommendations.

To this end, the Permanenet Mission of Ethiopia and the Norwegian Embassy together with the AU and the UN Office to the AU will convene a working lunch on the HIPPO report.

HIPPO Report and Secretary-General’s report on the HIPPO: implications for Africa and the AU

The African common position argued for a strategic partnership between the AU and the UN underpinned by a number of principles within the framework of Chapter VIII of the UN Charter. In a section dealing with what the HIPPO called a global and regional partnership for peace and security, this point has been addressed. Affirming the Secretary-General’s conclusion that ‘we have entered an era of partnership peacekeeping’, the report acknowledged the prominent role that regional and sub-regional organizations have come to assume. It in particular noted the increasing capability, reliability and assertiveness of African states serving under the AU flag. Taking into account the need to enhance partnerships in Africa, the report emphasized that the UN and the AU must strive for common approaches through shared assessments, sound consultative mechanisms for decision-making and tools for collaborative planning and operations across the conflict cycle.

With respect to UN-AU strategic partnership, it identified as founding principles cooperation, consultative decision-making and common strategy, division of labor based on respective comparative advantage; joint analysis, planning, monitoring and evaluation; and integrated response to the conflict cycle, including prevention. While most of these reflect those articulated in the African common position, the HIPPO report additionally added transparency, accountability and respect for international standards.

There are a number of issues that arise from these. One such issue is the assessment of the current state of and mechanisms for UN-AU partnership. The other is the identification of further modalities and mechanisms for a stronger partnership able to effectively and coherently respond to the peace and security challenges on the continent. Equally important is the analysis and determination of the comparative advantage of each for burden sharping and achieving mutual understanding on and acceptance of each other’s complementary role.

Apart from the various institutional arrangements and mechanisms framing AU-UN partnership, the rising contribution of Africa to UN peacekeeping also shapes UN-AU partnership peacekeeping. Africa has become the largest single regional contributor to UN peace operations, contributing approximately 45 % of the UN’s uniformed peacekeepers. In this regard, it is worth to look into the role of enhancing the representation of the voice of African troop and police contributors in the UN structures and decision-making processes for further strengthening AU-UN partnership for peace and security in Africa.

While the UN and the AU have made significant progress in developing an increasingly functional working relationship over the past seven years with respect to peacekeeping, the perennial problem that this partnership has not been able to resolve is the question of sharing the burden of financing AU-led and UN-authorised peacekeeping operations. For a long time, the AU advocated for the use of UN assessed contributions for funding UN authorized AU missions as the most predictable and reliable source of financing, while also mobilizing AU member states for increased contribution for funding AU missions.

Noting that the lack of provision of sustained, predictable and flexible funding to AU missions impacts the effectiveness of UN missions when taking over from the AU and recalling the recommendations of the 2008 Prodi Report, the HIPPO recommended the use of UN-assessed contributions on a case-by-case basis to support Security Council authorized AU missions. Additionally,

While this is a very positive development, whether and how this is going to be translated into action is critical. In this regard, the formulation in the Secretary-General’s Report on the implementation of the recommendations of the HIPPO report in this regard has failed to embrace the recommendation and meet expectations. While the HIPPO report specifically singled out the use of UN-assessed contributions, the Secretary-General’s report expresses agreement in general terms with ‘the Panel’s call for sustained, predictable and flexible funding mechanisms to support African Union peace operations’. Most notably, instead of adopting the recommendation of the HIPPO, the Secretary-General envisaged a joint ‘review and assessment of various mechanisms currently available to finance and support African Union peace operations authorized by the Council.’

This is one of the major areas of divide between the HIPPO report and the Secretary-General’s report. It is worthwhile to look into other areas of differences and what such differences mean on the follow up and implementation of the agenda for reform of UN peace operations and in taking AU-UN partnership to a more strategic level.

The HIPPO recommendation on the use of UN-assessed contributions has various institutional ramifications for the AU and it also affects the role of AU member states. As outlined in the HIPPO report, any African union peace support operation receiving UN-assessed contributions should provide regular reports to the council, financial report to the UN and comply fully with UN standards, such as human rights due diligence policy, and UN conduct and discipline frameworks. Secretary-General’s report further states that ‘financing provided by the United Nations will depend on institutional capability to effectively plan, deploy and conduct peace operations and will be contingent on compliance with United Nations norms, standards and financial rules and regulations.’

With respect to the AU, this requires increased alignment of AU’s working standards and procedures to the standards of the UN. Similarly, it also demands that the running, assessment and reporting of AU operations reflect and meet standards at the UN level. The institutional and reporting requirements also mean that AU’s training and deployment of troops are made to be in sync with those the UN use. From the side of member states, such requirements demand that their troops meet these standards and expectations and conduct themselves, ones in mission, accordingly.


As the UN holds the 70th General Assembly and member states discuss during a summit level meeting on UN peacekeeping, it is of high importance for the AU and AU member states to build on the progress made so far and identify priority areas for engagement. In this regard, a good starting point is to identify areas from the African common position that have not been reflected in the HIPPO report and need to be followed up within the AU and in the strategic dialogue with the UN.

While working on the follow up and implementation of the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of the recommendations of the HIPPO report, there is also a need to identify those parts of the recommendations of the HIPPO report that have not been adequately reflected in the Secretary-General’s report which are of strategic importance deserving follow up.

What chance for undoing Burkina Faso’s counter revolutionary coup?


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Following the not unexpected coup on 16 September 2015, Burkina Faso has been plunged into a constitutional crisis and political turmoil. The Presidential Guard, known by its French acronym as RSP, after taking the transitional President Michel Kafando, Prime Minister Isaac Zida and two ministers hostage and dissolving the government announced the formation of a new entity, which ironically decorated itself with democratic façade naming itself National Council for Democracy, headed by no other than General Gilbert Diendéré, leader of the RSP.

Despite the apparent sway that the junta Diendéré leads holds at the moment as the de facto authority, the head of the National Transitional Council, Chérif Sy, has defied the dissolution of the transitional government declaring himself the be the legitimate “Interim President of Burkina Faso” while the transitional president and PM are being held.

This unsavory move that the junta made also interrupted the country’s less than one year difficult but promising journey of transition to a new democratic beginning. While the election planned to take place on 11 October is unlikely to stand, it remains uncertain if and in what form the transitional process will be restored.

As a counter revolutionary act aimed at protecting elements of the old regime, the coup set off widespread opposition in Burkina Faso that turned violent. It has not only triggered protests in the capital and other parts of the country but also produced a confrontation with the RSP whose violent response led to the death of 13 protestors and the injury of more than 100 others.

Although after Senegal’s President Macky Sall and Benin’s President Boni Yaye visited Burkina Faso ECOWAS announced a peace plan, this was received with dismay and anger on the part of the Burkinabe public and the transitional authorities. Many view the deal as a reward to the coup makers for using force to safeguard their narrow interests that came under threat due to the reform process initiated under the transitional process.

Civil society groups and opposition politicians, who said they had not been informed of the document’s contents before they were announced, totally rejected the 13-point ECOWAS peace plan, which included an amnesty for the coup leaders. Despite the fact that the initiative from ECOWAS led to the release of the leader of the transitional government, President Kafando rejected the ECOWAS plan saying that ‘I was not associated with the negotiations at Hotel Laico … It does not take into account the interests of the Burkinabe people.’

While civil society organizations, former opposition political parties and community leaders continue to oppose and mobilize against the coup, the junta has also faced a major opposition from the Burkinabe army. In a development that has threatened to push the country to the brink of armed confrontation, Burkina Faso army chiefs gave the coup leaders ultimatum to step down or forcibly disarmed by the army. Although this prompted the leader of the junt to apologize and promise to end the crisis and instigated the release of prime minister Zide, the army has been mobilized to the capital Ouagadougou to disarm the junta.

ECOWAS summit and the major sticking points

In the meantime, on 22 September ECOWAS has convened a summit level emergency meeting in an attempt to end the crisis in Burkina Faso.

As ECOWAS leaders gather in Abuja, Nigeria, there are three major issues for negotiation. The first relates to the controversy over the new electoral code that the transitional government adopted in April 2015 which has the effect of excluding politicians from the old regime who supported Compaore’s bid in 2014 to change the constitutional provision limiting presidential terms and extend his 27 years rule. Despite the fact that this new electoral rule proved contentious and a ruling from ECOWAS court of justice rejected it, the country’s Constitutional Court upheld it.

The second major sticking point concerns the fate of the RSP. The inclination of members of the transitional government and those who participated in the protest against Compaore in 2014 for the dissolution of the RSP has in previous occasions also led to attempts at derailing the transitional process.

On 14 September, the Commission for National Reconciliation and Reform (CNRR) released a report which not only criticized the RSP for lacking accountability and operating as an army within the army and but also recommended its dissolution. The coup was a direct response to this report, which the RSP considered to be a mortal blow to its existence.

The proposal in the ECOWAS plan was to postpone the determination of the fate of the RSP until the establishment of a democratically elected government. While this may in the short term facilitate an end to the crisis, it would set a precedent that the RSP may as well repeat when and if a new democratically elected government opts to follow through the recommendation of the CNRR and dissolve the RSP.

The third major issue concerns the fate of the coup makers if and after they surrendered power. One of the elements of the ECOWAS peace plan that President Sall of Senegal announced after his mediation visit to Burkina Faso was the provision to spare the coup makers from prosecution for the coup. This received the most opposition from the people of Burkina Faso.

While there is legitimate ground for compromise on the first sticking point, the two other ones are likely to prove difficult to be accepted without endangering the journey for a new democratic beginning. By end of 22 September, it is reported that the speaker of the interim parliament has signed a decree dissolving the RSP.

The line of forces (or external intervention) likely to determine the outcome of the standoff

In the light of the perception in Burkina Faso that ECOWAS has shown bias towards the coup makers, what seems to be determining the undoing of the coup are the course of events on the ground. What stands to decisively shape the course of events on the ground is the line of forces between the coup makers and those opposing the coup.

Despite the fact that the coup makers receive support only from the members and limited supporters of the old regime, they have continued to hold their ground even in the face of threat from the army. The coup makers also have strong motivation for their counter revolutionary act. While the RSP is motivated by self-preservation, its leader general Diendéré, Compaore’s long time right-hand man suspected of being in charge of the soldiers who killed Thomas Sankar, is also afraid of the opening of old files that may send him to prosecution. Apart from the fact that the RSP is bent of thwarting efforts aimed at its dismantling and is a highly trained and well-organized force, it also seem to have the sympathy, if not full backing, of quite a number of ECOWAS countries, who agreed to pretty much everything that the RSP asked for.

The opposition to the coup is also very wide and strong. It brings together political parties, civil society groups and ordinary Burkinabes. Other significant components of the camp opposing the coup are the transitional government and the armed forces of the country.

Internationally, apart from the condemnation against the coup by the UN and western powers including the country’s former colonial ruler France, those opposing the coup and demanding the unconditional restoration of the transitional government receive the most support from the African Union (AU) and the EU.

In a principled decision that stood on the side of the Burkinabe public, the Peace and Security Council, AU’s highest decision making body on peace and security, not only declared the acts of the coup makers null and void and rejected it as an act of terrorism but also slapped on them a wide range of measures including asset freeze and travel bans and launching of processes to bring them to justice. On 22 September, the spokesperson of the Chairperson of the AU Commission in an interview with CCTV on 22 stated that the AU rejects amnesty to the coup makers. Similarly the EU also called for the unconditional surrender of the coup makers and the return to power of the transitional government.

If the coup makers continue with their determination to impose their will by force and no negotiated resolution is achieved, Burkina Faso faces the unfortunate prospect of a fighting between the RSP and the army. In the light of the serious risks of the descent of the situation into such an armed conflict to the countries of the region, this scenario may lead to another intervention by the French.

Burkina Faso is on a knife-edge and the coming hours and the days ahead will reveal its fate. May the act of counter revolution fail and the aspiration of Burkinabes for a new democratic beginning prevail!

South Sudan’s peace agreement: A firm promise for peace or another false dawn?


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South Sudan’s comprehensive peace deal, which was in the making for many months, is finally concluded, but 10 days later than its initial deadline of 17 August 2015. The only remaining but one of most important parties, President Salva Kiir’s government, expressed its agreement to the deal in a signing ceremony held in Juba on 26 August 2015.

It came after a great deal of cost, 20 months of brutal civil war; tens of thousands of civilian deaths and forced displacement of more than 1.6 million people.

To sign or not to sign: the choice that never was 

On departing Addis Ababa without signing compromise South Sudan peace agreement on the 17 August deadline, President Salva Kiir asked for and secured 15 more days to make final decision on signing the deal.

The additional15 days earned him no opportunity for securing a better deal his government was after. As all other signatories including the SPLM-IO and the former detainees signed the agreement during the 17 August signing ceremony in Addis Ababa, his refusal to do the same left his government isolated and cornered. In substantive terms as well, the only option available to him even with the additional 15 days was to sign the deal without any changes or amendments. The alternative option was made more costly with the UN introduction of a resolution for imposing new UN sanctions that the US proposed.

It thus came as no surprise when the announcement came from Juba that President Kiir would finally sign the deal long before the end of the 15 days. On 26 August in the presence of regional leaders and other invited dignitaries, he entered his signature to the compromise agreement.

President Kiir’s refusal to sign the deal on 17 August was in the main a result of deep divisions in his government. Major players in his government including some cabinet ministers and army generals and leaders of his support base were against various terms of the compromise agreement. If anything, the additional time only bought him time to shore up support for signing the deal and for consolidating his position vis-à-vis members of his government opposing the agreement.

The 72 page long peace agreement consists of eight chapters outlining, among others, the establishment of the transitional national unity government (TNUG) for a 30 month period of time and the formula for power-sharing; permanent ceasefire and transitional security arrangements; transitional justice, accountability and reconciliation; the parameters for the making of the permanent constitution; and a robust monitoring and implementation framework.


The power-sharing arrangement in the TNUG is in some ways return back to the status quo ante. While President Kiir maintains his position as President, his archrival Dr Reik Machar would return to Juba as the first vice president, a position not too dissimilar to the one he held before his dismissal in 2013. But the power-sharing under this agreement goes further and institutionalizes and nationalises the two warring parties. At the national level the ratio of power division as outlined in Chapter I is 53% for government, 33% for SPLM-IO and 7 % each for former detainees and other political parties. Apart from the 325 existing membership of the national assembly to which those lost their membership following the outbreak of the war will be reinstated, it will also add a further 50 additional members that the SPLM-IO will appoint, one by former detainees and 17 others to be nominated by political parties.

At the state level, two formula is applied one for the three conflict affected states and another for the remaining 7 states. In the three states of Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglie most affected by the war, the government gets the largest share of 46%, SPLM-IO 40% and former detainees and political parties 7% each. Additionally, the SPLM-IO is to nominate the governors of Unity and Upper Nile and the government Jonglie’s governor. In the other seven states of South Sudan, the SPLM-IO gets 15% government portfolios and seats.

Ceasefire and security arrangements

On security arrangements it provides, among others, for at least 18 months out of the 30 months of transitional period for completing the integration of the two rival forces loyal to president Salva Kiir and the armed opposition under Dr Machar. In a framework on which President Kiir’s side expressed strong opposition, the agreement stipulates that the two principals will separately be the commanders-in-chief of their respective armies, pending completion of the integration process.

In another security arrangement that attracted the opposition of President Kiir’s government, South Sudan’s capital, the agreement requires that all military forces within Juba shall be redeployed outside a radius of 25km from the centre of the capital Juba within a maximum of 90 days starting a month after the signing of the agreement. All state security actors allied to either party, including Ugandan forces deployed to South Sudan for supporting the government, would have to leave the country within 45 days except in Western Equatoria state, where Ugandan forces have been operating on the basis of a regional arrangement for combating the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Transitional justice mechanisms

The agreement also addresses itself to the grievances that the civil war exacerbated or created, the social animosity it resulted in and the serious violations of human rights perpetrated. Most notably, it provided for the establishment in six months time of a Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing along the lines proposed by the AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan. The Commission, combining South Sudanese and other African personalities, will investigate into all aspects of human rights violations and abuses, breaches of the rule of law and excessive abuses of power, committed against all persons in South Sudan by State, non-State actors, and or their agents and allies.

Most notably, it stipulated for a Hybrid Court for South Sudan as a measure for establishing accountability and fighting impunity. The Hybrid Court is tasked with the responsibility of to investigate and prosecute individuals bearing the responsibility for serious crimes including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

It is stipulated that no official capacity is a ground to avoid criminal responsibility. Equally, individuals indicted or convicted by the Hybrid Court will be ineligible for participating in the transitional or subsequent government or will lose their membership in government if already in government.

A firm promise for peace or another false dawn?

Certainly, the signing by President Kiir of the peace agreement marks a progress. It signals sparkle of light at the end of South Sudan’s conflict tunnel. Indeed, if followed through, not only that it will end the brutal fighting that inflicted a great deal of destruction and suffering to the people of South Sudan but may also create the ground for undertaking various reform and transitional processes for rectifying some of the structural issues underlying the civil war.

However, contrary to expectations the signing by President Kiir of the peace agreement was not a celebratory moment. As it became clear from his speech, President Kiir’s camp, not unexpectedly, has not fully embraced and welcomed the agreement. He signed the agreement grudgingly and expressing dissatisfaction. He told the attendees of the signing ceremony that ‘with all the reservations that we have, we will sign this document’.

President Kiir’s lack of enthusiasm for the agreement he signed did not end with him declaring unspecified general reservations in his speeches. In a sign that revealed much deeper and stronger qualm to important portions of the agreement, President Kiir, before signing the agreement, initialed a 12-page document detailing a list of 16 reservations. Although he wanted this document to be annexed to the agreement, IGAD leaders declined his request for adding their signatures.

There were a number of people in President Kiir’s camp who consider the power-sharing arrangement as involving too much concession to the opposition with some describing it as amounting to a sell-out. If reports of a walk out by the Minister of Information from the signing cermoney and the conspicious absence of the chief of staff of the army at the event are anything to go by, not every one in his government is behind President Kiir’s acceptance of the agreement. Certainly, for such members of President Kiir anything short of outright military victory or keeping the government’s supreme dominance in the TNUG is acceptable. Even the production in writing of the list of reservations, which mostly reflects their perspective of a peace deal that meets their expectations, would be insufficient. The resultant deep fracture in President Kirr’s house and the power struggle it may trigger is a cause for concern. As far fetched as it may sound, the risk that the factionalism may descend into a coup or mutiny should not be discounted.

As it turned out, the reservations President Kiir declared on signing the agreement extend to the establishment of a position of first vice president, the 46-40-7 power-sharing ration in the three conflict affected states, the 15% share of the SPLM-IO in the other seven states and the nomination of governorship by SPLM-IO for Unity and Upper Nile.

With respect to security arrangements, the issues on which the government extended its reservations include the redeployment of all security forces from Juba, the designation of Juba as one of the areas for cantonment of forces previously in combat and the reference to disarming of the Sudanese Revolutionary Forces.

The government registers further substantive reservations on the supervisory role assigned in the agreement to the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission and the stipulation for two-thirds vote of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission in the stringent procedure for the amendment of the agreement and the provision in the chapter on Transitional Justice, Accountability, Reconciliation and Healing for the establishment of a Reparation and compensation commission.

In legal terms the effect of such reservations does not reach to the point of nullifying the essence of the agreement. In a statement she issued soon after the signing of the agreement, US National Security Advisor Susan Rice stated that the US does not ‘recognize any reservations or addendums to that agreement.’ However it manifests in political terms strong lack of commitment on the part of the government to the agreement it signed.

Certainly, President Kiir’s camp is not the only group expressing misgivings to the peace agreement. Military factions that recently splintered from the SPLM-IO also expressed not only their opposition to the deal but also their plan to continue fighting. While the seriousness of the challenge that such divisions is difficult to gauge, it manifests the fragility of the alliance in Mr Machar’s camp.

It emerges from the foregoing that the context surrounding the signing of the deal is such that it is not strong enough as a firm promise for peace. The answer as to whether it will be another false dawn is ‘it depends’. It on depends on what happens in the coming days and on the implementation of the terms of the agreement. This further depends on whether the forces of peace and the costs of continuing with the war or derailing the peace remain stronger and higher.

Apart from and perhaps due to the foregoing issues, the Achilles’ heel of this agreement lies in the effective implementation of all of its parts including humanitarian assistance and socio-economic reconstruction dimensions. The area where the peace agreement faces the first major test concerns the observation of the timelines and provisions of the ceasefire and transitional security arrangements. While repeated breach of previous ceasefire commitments offers no ground for optimism, if the parties cease hostilities as stipulated in 3 days and disengage, separate and withdraw their forces as provided it will be the first simple but important step to boost confidence and facilitate implementation of other aspects of the security provisions.

As the history of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement shows, those who campaigned for, facilitated and supported the peace processes (partners of South Sudan or guarantors of the peace deal) should not leave implementation of the agreement to the parties to the agreement. Indeed, President Kiir himself in his speech before signing the deal admitted that ‘I warn you regional leaders you will stand with us in the implementation; otherwise we may spoil it if it is left to us’.

Apart from the challenge that the factionalism and divisions in both camps presents to the peace agreement, due to their potential of descending into further splintering or even military showdown taking the form of a coup or mutiny, the tendency of each side to short change the other during the implementation process can seriously derail the transition. There should be a very strong, active and dynamic oversight and (formal and informal) dispute prevention and settlement mechanisms. The guarantors of the peace agreement should also maintain as much, or even more, active and continuous engagement. This should be in a much more cohesive, unified and coordinated way (based on agreed upon procedures alongside and within the framework of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC)).

It is therefore upto the partners of South Sudan to shoulder the greatest responsibility. This is crucial at all stages of the implementation process but more so at this initial stage when the peace remains fragile and susceptible to all sorts of issues that can easily derail it. While fully assuming their active role as stipulated in the chapter on the  JMEC, partners should also consolidate supporters of the peace agreement in the government, the armed opposition and the political establishment. They should also further mobilise and assist the emergence of national constituents of support for the peace agreement from various other sectors of society including religious communities, traditional authorities and women groups. Such effort should include lending various forms of support for existing community level peace and reconciliation efforts and the launching of others both at national and local levels.

Despite the plethora of challenges including the inertia of past failures this is indeed the moment not to be lost if South Sudan is to be ‘lucky’ this time around. One hopes that South Sudanese, regional and international stakeholders would display the required leadership and willingness to seize this moment.

South Sudan’s peace process: One step forward, two steps backward?


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After the round of talks held in December 2014 ended without any progress, another round of talks was held in Addis Ababa during the week of 26 January 2015. At a time when confidence over the prospect of success of the IGAD led peace process has become very low, mounting international frustration and new expectations converged for the convening of yet another round of talks that has ended on 2 February 2015.

Mounting international frustration

In an unprecedented development, China held ministerial level consultation on the South Sudan crisis in Khartoum, Sudan, on 12 January 2015. Convened in support of the IGAD mediation process and to put pressure on the warring parties, the special consultation produced a five-point agreement on pushing forward the peace process, including accelerating the formation of a transitional government.

In a statement issued on 23 January, the US, United Kingdom and Norway (the Troika) also expressed grave concern over the continued lack of progress in South Sudan peace negotiations.

New expectations

The various factions of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) signed a re-unification deal on 20 January 2015 in Arusha, Tanzania. The agreement, which is 12 pages long, commits the signatories to ‘expedite the conclusion of the peace agreement in order to end the war’.

The schedule of the AU Peace and Security Council to consider the report of the Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan, led by former Nigerian President Obasanjo, on 29 January added new impetus to the urgency of signing a peace deal.

What IGAD Planned  

IGAD made various preparations for the talks. It put together proposed options that the parties will use as the basis for negotiation on the major sticking points. The chief negotiators of the two warring camps were scheduled to arrive on 25 January. On 26 January, the two chief negotiators laid down the ground-work and prepared the agenda for direct negotiation between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Reik Machar.

The leaders of the two warring factions started negotiations on 27 January and were expected to conclude in two days. IGAD scheduled yet another extraordinary summit of Heads of State and Government for 29 January, the eighth such summit level meeting since December 2013. This summit was called with two objectives in mind. First, it was meant to put pressure on the parties. Second, it was also expected to be a crowning moment for the signing of the peace deal.

Major sticking points for negotiation

Although the two sides have already agreed to jointly establish a national unity government, they remain divided over the details of the division of power in the transitional national unity government. When they came for the talks, there were at least three major sticking points between the two warring factions. The first is the nature and scope of division of executive power between the two sides. Although a new position of prime minister was proposed during the round of talks held in August 2014, the government subsequently rejected. The shape of the executive power during the transitional period was in contention. Most importantly, the main area of disagreement is the division of executive power between the two sides. The other is over the proposal for maintaining separate armies by the two sides for an agreed period of time. Finally, the use of federalism in the reorganization of the country is another major subject of disagreement between the two.

What actually happened

The first sign of lack of seriousness on the part of the two negotiating parties was the late arrival of opposition leader Machar for the talks. Significantly, defying all expectations the two sides showed little flexibility for compromise.

At the start of the talks, IGAD presented a compromise deal as basis for negotiation between the two sides. The proposal anticipated Kiir to retain his post and Machar to become the first vice president. In terms of division of executive power, the main issue of deep disagreement, IGAD, on the suggestion of office of PM Hailemariam of Ethiopia, proposed a 60-30-10 distribution of portfolios between the government, the SPLM-IO and others. While the proposed structure of the executive was not a subject of major disagreement, Kiir and Machar held talks for long hours over the distribution of executive power.

Despite the fact that militarily he was on the back foot, Machar insisted that there should be a 50-50 division of power between the government and SPLM-IO. Additionally, he demanded that the division of power should be reflected at all levels of the structure of government from the center all the way to the local structure.

The proposal for 80 % of votes for decision-making demanded by the opposition was received with strong opposition from the government. The government argued that such a very high threshold for decision-making was not only contrary to democratic principles of decision making by simple majority but it would also lead to gridlock that would paralyze the government.

The two days of intense negotiations between the two sides, first through their negotiating teams and later in direct talks between the leaders of the two sides failed to produce compromise. On 28 January, after long hours of talks Kiir was taken ill due to nose bleeding and the talks were pushed to the following day. As the two sides failed to reach at agreement, IGAD urged them to continue their negotiations until 31 January. With no breakthrough achieved in the talks, Kiir and Machar again held direct talks again with their negotiators on 31 January that lasted until 2 am the following morning.

The blames that go around

According to a senior official that I talked to on 31 January, Machar’s hardline position was meant that he doubted if the two sides would sign the power-sharing deal. When pressed on the reasons for Machar’s hardline position, he sates that he believes that he got encouragement from someone. In a conversation I had with a staff of the mediation team, it emerged that Machar received a commitment from President Kenyatta to support his demand for a 50-50 division of power between the government and his camp. As a shroud politician adept at manipulation and brinkmanship, this deal, although shrugged off as inconsequential by Kenyan delegation, offered Machar an ammunition for securing most favorable but unrealistic deal.

Another factor that contributed for the continuing stalemate is the recognition of the two sides that neither the region, nor the AU and the international community were ready to take punitive action. IGAD’s weaknesses continue to persist. Although IGAD succeeded in forestalling the spread of the conflict and played a role in keeping Sudan from taking active part in the conflict, it has not been able to secure the withdrawal of Ugandan forces. As it will be discussed further below, the indefinite postponement of the adoption and release of the report of the AU’s Commission of Inquiry also lifted one major instrument of pressure off the parties’ shoulders and hence lowering the cost of sustain the stalemate. The threat of sanction by the UN also remains still very far from being adopted.

The IGAD summit that never was

In the meantime, the IGAD summit that was planned for 29 January was rescheduled three times. First it was pushed from the morning to the afternoon of 29 January. When no agreement was reached between the parties by end of 29 January, it was postponed again for 31st. Three of IGAD leaders namely Al Bashir of Sudan, Museveni of Uganda and Muhamed of Somalia left for Addis upon the conclusion of the AU summit held on 30 and 31 January. IGAD was not lucky again and the summit was again pushed for 1st February until it was finally abandoned altogether.

AU PSC Summit – end of the Commission of Inquiry’s report?  

On 29 January the summit level meeting of the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC), expected to consider the report of the Commission of Inquiry, opted for deferring its consideration of the report at some unspecified time in the future. Despite the fact that the AU Commission formally notified member states of the PSC that the report would be considered and shared with member states, signs emerged very early in the week for putting the report on hold. Within the AU Commission, the Commissioner for Peace and Security and the office of the Chairperson started to advance the view that the adoption of the report in its existing format would completely derail the peace process. On 27 January, Dr Dlamini Zuma, AU Commission Chair held a meeting with the Chair of the Commission of Inquiry, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo which ended with no understanding over the report. Ahead of the PSC summit, back stage consultations were also held with ministers of member states of the PSC to create consensus.

By the time the PSC summit was held in the evening of 29 January, consensus was reached for not considering the report. When the summit started, South Sudan was the first agenda item. IGAD Chair, PM Hailemariam made a statement on the peace process. Indicating the lack of coordination and clarity, President Conde of Guinea, who was chairing the session, gave the floor to President Obasanjo. Before Obasanjo made his remarks, Ethiopia’s PM Hailemariam proposed a motion to defer consideration and release of the report until ongoing peace talks were concluded. With the motion seconded by South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma followed by Uganda’s Museveni, it was the end of any discussion on report.

The decision adopted does not specify any time line for the consideration of the report. While the apparent determination of President Obasanjo for the adoption of the report offers a guarantee that the report will not be shelved indefinitely, when the report will see the light of day remains unknown. This is in part to be blamed on the lack of a well thought through strategy on how to ensure the buy-in of member states of the PSC and the full support of the AU Commission on the timeline and processes for the adoption and release of the report. It is true that the mandate of the Obasanjo panel is limited to the production of the report. But the objective of the Commission will not be achieved with the simple production of the report. It requires further political work of mobilizing political will for the adoption and release of the report. Such a plan is urgently needed if the value of the report is not to be reduced or lost.

Final outcome of the talks: no power sharing deal, but a deal for making a deal

During the final sessions of the talks Ethiopia’s PM Hailemariam and Kenya’s president Kenyatta joined Kiir and Machar to help them bridge their differences. None of the last minute efforts yielded the break through that IGAD and the region sought after.

But late at night on 1st February, the two sides agreed to sign a document on the issues that they have agreed to and making a commitment to continue talks after consultations with their respective constituencies on the outstanding issues on which they did not reach agreement.

The agreement envisages that a transitional government of national unity will be established no later than 9 July 2015. This is the time when Kiir’s current presidential term will run out.

On the question of division of power between the two sides, the agreement signed on 1st January only states that ‘ministerial portfolios shall be allocated amongst the parties to this agreement according to percentages to be negotiated’. With respect to decision-making, while it stipulates that decisions on procedural issues will be made by simple majority, it is silent on the formula decision-making for substantive issues.

There are a number of headings that don’t have content. One of such heading was on federalism.

The provisions on Justice, Accountability, Reconciliation and Healing were not also the same as those contained in the protocol of principles considered during the talks in August 2014. Unlike the protocol, this agreement does not make any reference to the AU Commission of Inquiry Report. But going further from the protocol, this agreement specifically outlined the mechanisms to be used for justice, accountability, reconciliation and dealing. It envisaged the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission and an independent hybrid criminal court for investigating and prosecuting individuals carrying greatest responsibilities for violations of ‘international humanitarian law, and or applicable South Sudanese law, committed since December 15, 2013’.

What all this means

It emerges from the foregoing that the two sides showed little compromise but successfully played regional and international actors. In coming to Addis Ababa and holding for the first time direct negotiations between the leaders of the warring parties, they gave the impression of a determination to make a deal and thereby prompting regional powers to have the AU Commission of Inquiry report indefinitely put aside. No IGAD summit took place in the end.

There are reversals and very little gains. The momentum for making a deal is certainly gone down, if not totally lost. The role that the report of the AU Commission of Inquiry could play has been made uncertain. With its cancellation, the IGAD summit is made to continue to lose its force and authority and IGAD’s leverage further eroded.

After all that was said and done, there was no power-sharing deal. In the absence of such a deal, there is very little chance of the silencing of the guns.

Despite expectations, there is very little change in the peace process and in the South Sudan crisis before and after this last round of talks.

For sure, they have once again committed to the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) of 23 January 2014 and going even further they also agreed to actions to be taken against any party that breached the CoHA including at the level of the AU and the UN Security Council. Perhaps, fears of a full blow war that many continue to express with the end of the rainy season may not materialize. But as long as the parties feel that they are better off with the status quo and have nothing to lose and as long as the region remains indecisive and divided to change course and adopt punitive measures, there will be little surprise if it becomes deja vu all over again.

The IGAD peace process is clearly at the very end of its course. In recognition of this, the Chief Mediator Ambassador Seyoum Mesfin sated that the talks that the two sides agreed to have on 20 February would be final. It is IGAD’s expectation that the two sides will conclude negotiation and sign a deal by 5 March 2015 leading to the establishment of the transitional national unity government.

I wonder if anyone is holding his/her breath. As with many things in life, it is good to hope for the best and ( is even better to) prepare for the worst.