By AGGREY MUTAMBO
Kenya and its peers in the eastern Africa region are resisting imposing sanctions on South Sudan because it could damage the legitimacy of mediators involved.
This week, President Uhuru Kenyatta, meeting with Ethiopia and Djibouti leaders, publicly voiced his disappointment with the way South Sudan President Salva Kiir and his nemesis Riek Machar have dragged on with talks as violence persists.
But Nairobi wants to stick with the circuitous talks led by regional bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), supported by the US, UK and Norway (Troika).
“Obviously, the President is disappointed at the slow pace of progress in the peace process in South Sudan.
“But the President pronounces himself through the framework of Igad and so we have to wait for direction from the regional body,” State House Spokesman Manoah Esipisu told the media.
The Igad mediation produced a deal in August 2015, known as the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS), that was meant to establish a transitional government for Kiir and Machar.
Its original structure collapsed in July 2016 and Machar fled.
Subsequent efforts to provide an alternative deal have been hampered by splintering of groups and parties refusing to compromise.
Sources told the media the US and the UK, some of the main financiers of the Igad mission, are pushing for a total regime change in South Sudan as well as targeted sanctions on alleged spoilers.
But South Sudan’s neighbours, which the US wants to implement the sanctions that include freezing of assets and travel bans, have indicated such a move could spoil any remaining legitimacy of Igad in the talks as it prepares another session in Addis Ababa this weekend.
“We assess that the Transitional Government of National Unity in South Sudan is no longer inclusive.
“The forced exile of key leadership representatives who signed the ARCSS further demonstrates the Kiir regime’s cynical repudiation of the peace process,” the White House said on Wednesday.
“The promotion of UN-sanctioned individuals to senior government positions, such as Jok Riak to Chief of Defence Forces, demonstrates the South Sudanese Government’s disdain for international norms.
“To that end, the United States will condemn any unilateral effort of the current Government of South Sudan to extend its power through sham elections, the legislature, or continued military offensives.”
This week, President Kenyatta, Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Djibouti President Ismael Guelleh said in two separate communiques that they were frustrated with the violence in South Sudan.
But they fell short of pronouncing their preferred solution to the impasse.
In addition to regime change, the US has pushed the region to implement sanctions similar to those imposed on Zimbabwe, where certain leaders were barred from travelling or their assets frozen.
During a series of shuttle diplomacy meetings last week, Igad ministers told the Troika they were willing to punish spoilers who violate cessation of hostilities, unimpeded movement for humanitarian workers and total long-term peace.
But the bloc said it was giving South Sudanese leaders a chance to leader their country out of violence.
“Enforcement of the 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARSS) and the December 2017 deal for cessation of hostilities are key beacons in the journey to lasting peace, security and stability in South Sudan,” Mr Ababu Namwamba, the Foreign Affairs Cabinet Administrative Secretary told the Media.
Probed on the sanctions matter, Mr Namwamba, who attended the meetings on behalf of Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma in Juba and Addis Ababa, said Igad is capable and “prepared to impose stern sanctions on individual violators”, but he admitted that the focus of the bloc is to first address the mistrust between parties.
“We need to urgently close the trust deficit between the protagonists and move swiftly towards a firm deal for peace and stability in South Sudan underwritten by genuine inclusivity.
“The Igad-led peace process is pursuing consensus amongst all parties to the conflict for an inclusive government and an integrated national security force.
“This would bridge the current trust deficit, build confidence amongst the protagonists and provide a stable platform for elections.”
The trust deficit played out this week, just a day after the UK and the US issued statements criticising President Kiir for ignoring calls for a government of national unity and promoting peace violators.
“As no party has yet been held to account for violating the cessation of hostilities agreement, the perpetrators continue to act with impunity.
“Those who have violated the cessation of hostilities agreement must face consequences for their actions,” UK Minister for Africa Harriett Baldwin said in a statement on Tuesday.
“We urge the Igad to take immediate action in this regard, to leave the parties in no doubt of the region’s commitment to peace.”
Mr Kiir responded by accusing the donors of frustrating his country’s peace bid, arguing his own ruling party had reunified with the opposition just this week.
“The delay in peace process should and must be blamed squarely on the oppositions (Sic). They have been putting forward impractical proposals,” his office said in a statement.
“Part of the blame goes to the United States, which has actually been quite a real obstacle towards achieving a peaceful settlement in South Sudan.”
Kiir accused the US of fixing their mind on one solution and disregarding all other proposals.
But the opposition alliance (SSOA), a different faction from the SPLM-In Opposition led by Machar, argued donors should in fact stop funding the mediation until Kiir stops violence and includes everyone else.
The group accused Igad of fronting proposals that protect their member state interests and trashed the ARCSS as a deal that no longer needs implementation.
Meanwhile, Igad said it is taking a new approach to negotiations by first meeting stakeholders, before encouraging separate interparty discussions.
First Published by the Nation