In the next few days IGAD and the African Union are preparing to hold their conference on the “revitalization” of the South Sudan Peace Process . Whether such a damaged framework can be repaired is dubious but let’s be generous and vote that the ragged torn up unrespected document can still be readable . Miracles can happen after all . But not when you tip the scales against their occurring . And that is the case when the “international community” (or at least that part represented by the two African organizations) decides to stake the cards against its own sought after outcome . Any kind of peace process , short of total crushing military victory 1945 style , is supposed to allow enemies to talk to each other . And the more representative and most opposed the better. The Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs said so himself when he declared recently that the mediation should “prioritize the organizations with presence inside the country over those based abroad”. Excellent choice . But then what about SPLM/IO , the largest , best organized and strongest of armed opposition movements ? Could the mediation actually think of trying to have the Taban Deng Gaï small group of government collaborators take the seat of SPLM/IO ? It seems possible and would indeed be ridiculous . We would end up with an internationally-backed version of Salva Kiir’s “National Dialogue” where the President’s right hand cheerfully shakes his left hand . And yet this seems to be a distinct possibility when the same Ethiopian Foreign Minister said that Riak could be met by the High Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) “in another location” . Riak seems to be more and more looking not like a political figure but like an Ebola patient. And the same Ethiopian Minister adds the warning that the Nuer leader would “compromise his political future if he refused to cooperate with IGAD . What political future ? It is hard to fathom in such a toxic environment . And “cooperate” with what purpose and for what expected results ? Let us be realistic : can an effective peace process be the result of a “revitalization” from which one of the strongest actors is excluded ? Can the mute talk to the deaf ? Does the international community really expects such a lopsided process to arrive at a believable result ? The question is not whether Mr Machar is “good” or “bad”. He exists and , whether IGAD and teh AU likes him he has started the war with a large tribally-based army (Nuer) but when the conflict widened his support broadened from his tribe to a mosaic of diverse ethnic groups where Equatorians were increasingly represented . Was it because his leadership was momentous , popular and unifying everybody ? Not even . Many of those who joined the fight in the name of SPLM/IO knew him by name only and had no tribal links with him . But he was the only nationally (and internationnally) known leader who could carry the banner of change and reform in this suffering land . Whether bystanders approved or disapproved of him is irrelevant . He is part of the problem and therefore he has to be part of the solution . Keeping him in seclusion invalidates the “revitalization process” even before the door of the oven is opened .
On August 3rd the National Salvation Front (NSF) , the paper-thin rebellion led by General Thomas Cirillo , issued an angry communique reproaching SPLM/IO for “attacking its forces under Lt. Gen. John Kenyi Lo Buron ………which was triggered by Lt. Gen . Lo Buron’s exercise of his inalienbale right to choose to join NSF”. This is typical of the growing confusion affecting teh South Sudan rebellion . Kenyi Lo Buron was the key commander of SPLM/IO in Central Equatoria ; he is a Pojulu by tribe but the vast majority (in fact the quasi totality) of SPLM/IO forces in Central Equatoria are Kakwa . At the beginning of the month , from his place of house arrest in South Africa , Riak carried out a re-shuffling of his forces in the Equatorias and he bypassed Lo Buron in favour of a Kakwa . Lo Buron then tried to uplift the armament under his control . But his own soldiers mutinied against him and took back the equipment from their “leader” who then promptly defected to NSF , in the hope he could use that switch to keep control of his guns . This failed and he had to run away northwards towards Moru territory . This fighting is typical of the continued disagregation of forces in the opposition . When the Juba troops took Maiwut and later Pagak , it marked new bouts of fighting between pro and anti government Nuer . The same splits marked the rebel counter-attacks on the same sites . These rebels splits do not mean that the government is more united : many of the Matyang Anyoor militias deserted the government troops and returned to Bahr-el-Ghazal when General Paul Malong was recently arrested and detained . Actually the military situation in South Sudan is progressively growing as intricate as the political one.
The past three weeks have seen an interesting amount of activity on the question of peace in South Sudan . It all started with the meeetings organized by President Museveni in Kampala to try to reconcile/reunite the various strands of the SPLM. Everybody agreed that it would be a good idea but the enthusiasm was limited particularly when on July 21st the Troïka countries (the US , Great Britain and Norway) decided to suspend their financial help for the implementation (which implementation ?) of the August 27th 2015 Peace Agreement . On that same day , the same Troïka countries warned the South sudanese government that blocking information news website did not seem very coherent with trying to achieve National Dialogue , Peace & Reconciliation . These were the last dying gasps of the official , traditional , diplomatic peace process . After two years of agony , nobody was taking it very seriously any more . And among those who did not , was President Museveni himself . He had just welcomed in Kampala a vital delegation consisting of Kuol Manyang Juuk (Defense) , Speical Envoy Nhial Deng Nhial , Mrs Rebecca Nyandeng , widow of JohnGarang , former Chief of Staff Oyai Deng Ajak , Former minister Kosti Manibe , John Luk and SPLM Acting Secretary General Jemma Nunu Kumba . Coming from Juba full of his own importance and quite ready for extreme measures , the President Himself , who had the day before proclaimed a state of Emergency over lage parts of South Sudanese territory . There the scenario was not any more trying to “revive” or “revitalize” the dead body of the Peace Agreement . Museveni had a much bolder idea : organize elections , gently accompany Salva Kiir to the exit door and promote Mrs Garang as a unity candidate for the Presidency . She has all what is needed : she is a Dinka , a respected person , the widow of the Great Man , she strongly dislikes Salva Kiir , her own son is in SPLA-IO , seriously so , not Quisling-like in the mode of Taban Deng Gai and she could drag behind her Deng Oyai Ajak as SPLA (Sorry : SSDF) Chief-of Staff . Such a unity candidate would blind some of the fears of the ordinary population . Of course there are many obstacles :
- How convinced is Salva Kiir that being showed the door is the best strategy ?
- What is going to be left of the government’s army after it knocks over the Maiwut/Pagak defensive area ? Victory could be more destructive than defeat since the Army will be the roayal path to power for whoever can get control of it . Could an M7/Rebecca team actually succeed to do it ?
- The Troïka and international community in general will be a bit shocked by such cavalier lack of principles
But nothing succeeds like success . Right now the IGAD/AU mediation has produced absolutely nothing . The question will be how does the Ugandan president’s bright new idea takes off the ground ? The first few metres of the taking off will be the hardest and it might all end up there and then . But if the ungainly thing actually starts moving , the international community , which is brain dead on South Sudan , might be seduced into such a scheme which has at least one advantage : it exists . Now , whether it will succeed, that is quite a different cup of tea .