By The Nile Explorer
The High-Level Revitalization Forum for Agreement on Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS) shall resume in Addis Ababa in February, 2018 after taking a break in December 2017. Peace talks on South Sudan are not new rather have become part of South Sudan`s political culture to wage war and seek peace dividends from members of the global community. Unlike in the past, the February peace talks will determine whether South Sudan recaptures the lost initiative or disintegrates further into conflict with the global community watching as it was the case with Rwanda genocide in 1994. The peace negotiators and supporting actors need to prepare all the parties to the conflict by doing things differently and thinking out of the box for the sake of peace.
Firstly, there is an urgent need for the parties to come up with action point’s framework that address the ceasefire and violations of the same right before the beginning of the talks. This is the only way that will allow the peace process to proceed.
Secondly, the number of strategic partners and guarantors of the peace agreement need to be expanded to prevent conflict of interest and strategic sabotage of both the process and the outcome. The Troika needs to be expanded to include other resourceful partners. Asian countries and even the Latin American nations need to be brought on board to enhance the peace talks or even provide resources.
Central to the talks is the framework agenda and what the talks should focus on. In the past, the talks were centered on the interests of the strategic elites within South Sudan, regional partners and countries that have invested in the larger South Sudan since the war began.
The talks should now focus on the future stability of South Sudan, nation and state building, political participation, and transitional justice. Confidence building measures will determine the nature of ground work that would be laid for the peace building phase. It should therefore be clear that the peace talks would not guarantee peace rather would lay the ground work for security, state institutions and peace making and peace building measures to be pursued.
The starting point is for the parties to carefully prepare for the talks through strategic diplomacy, persuasion, and good faith negotiations. Furthermore, all parties in the negotiations must be fully aware that the past is messy with gross human rights violations, crimes against humanity and other indescribable atrocities have and continue to happen, many of them unreported. As such, they should approach the talks with the view of starting afresh, acknowledging the ugly past, and making necessary sacrifices including relinquishing state power by the traditional political elites. The role of refugees and internally displaced persons should be a core issue in the peace talks.
The actual talks should be knowledge based and future oriented but not informed by immediate interests of the traditional power players. As such, each of the parties need to engage in exploratory talks to discuss operational rules, intellectual abilities of the delegates, procedural matters and what is it that they are seeking from the talks. The primary aim of the talks should be to secure end to armed conflicts across the country without selling the peace narrative to the public as it has been the case before.
There are however bitter truths that cannot be ignored. As the saying goes, fish begins to rot from the head. That head is President Salva Kiir who historically has carried the political mantle of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and Army. His acts of commission and omission since 1983 suggests that he is not capable or he cannot afford peace at the moment. His decisions are erratic and have reached beyond sell by date. Clearly, he should be prepared to hand over power to the party and retire from active politics.
The other painful truth is that liberation movements by their very nature are poor in creating political institutions and environment conducive for democracy to thrive without being coerced from outside or within. SPLM/A does not have a history of civility and political persuasions and that is why there are so many war lords or potential war lords waiting in the wings to be incorporated into government through war. Finally, South Sudan need to be reconfigured into three regions during transition period with each region placed under agreed authority.
The prolonged war since 2011 has created different centers of power and entrenched a culture of war and militarism. The central focus is now to create a viable nation state. There is however a price to pay for realization of peace in the long term. Whereas justice is important in realizing political stability, conditional immunity for the sake of peace would be the reasonable price to pay. It should be clear by now that many people in South Sudan are worse off than they were during the war and economic revamps or Economic transformation should be a standalone item during the talks just like security.
At the public relations level, it should be clear that South Sudan is facing deeper and serious governance crises that should be addressed beyond the liberal dogma. In any case, the previous efforts failed because they surrendered the power of original thinking with case study approach that is associated with the mess the country is experiencing at the moment. International donors, even as they continue to support the ongoing talks must acknowledge their role in creating incentives for state failure from 2005 and beyond. Original thinking should guide the talks so that we have a different outcome.