SOUTH SUDAN: TRANSITIONAL GOV’T HANGS IN BALANCE AS KIIR, MACHAR FIGHT OVER OIL STATES, MILITARY, POSITIONS AGAIN
By Mulengera Reporter
Even before President Salva Kiir and Dr Riek Machar, his former deputy, agreed to form a Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity, fault lines had emerged, threatening the implementation of the latest deal that comes on the heels of two failed ones.
In fact, it has now emerged, had it not been for increased pressure from the international community and the African Union, sources close to the negotiations say it would have been impossible for Machar and Kiir to agree to the deal.
Reluctant to find a middle ground on issues they have discussed for years, Kiir and Machar could have easily negotiated another extension but about a fortnight before the deadline, donors, particularly those from the UK, US and Norway, and continental groups such as Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) as well as the African Union Peace and Security Council stuck to their guns and told the two principals it was now or never.
The two principals had the February 2020 deadline to beat after failing to resolve their disagreements in two extensions. Signed in September 2018, the peace deal was supposed to be implemented in May 2019, after eight months of the pre-transition period. But the two parties asked for an extension of six months, and later 100 days to sort out matters to do with administration and security in the transitional government.
Particularly tough on Kiir and Machar was Tibor Nagy, the US assistant secretary of state for the bureau of African affairs who told the two leaders: “Refusing to compromise undermines peace and risks the ceasefire.”
Assured of IGAD’s disdain at the calls for another extension, Nagy further warned donor countries would withhold funding and announce more sanctions on the principals’ allies.
The two heads would later agree on forming government but the duo was aware of the cracks that could sink the unity government.
In the negotiations that led to the transitional government, both Machar and Kiir disagreed on the number of states that should form the union. The former had proposed 23 while the latter 32. Donors, IGAD and other mediators had insisted on the 10 states South Sudan had at independence in July 2011.
More states would help the principals win allies from among the governors and other leaders that administer states, and more positions meant consolidation of power among their political organisations – SPLM and SPLM-IO. Alliances with state principals is vital since the first general elections in the world’s youngest nation will happen three years later in 2023.
So important was the issue of the number of states to Kiir’s quest to extend his rule that he asked for some time to consult. He would later agree to the 10 states but apologized to governors, assuring them more states would be considered with time.
But some SPLM officials could not buy into the future promises; so, they crossed to other factions such as the South Sudan United Front commanded by former army commander Paul Malong.
Kiir and Machar are also yet to agree on who administers three controversial areas of Pibor, Ruweng and Abyei created by the president of the country ravaged by war since 2013. Dr Machar said, by clinging onto these administrative areas, Kiir was opening a “Pandora’s box.”
Of the three administrative areas, Ruweng is the most contested due to the large amounts of oil revenue streaming from there every year. There are four oil fields in the area, and these produce over 70 per cent of the oil produced by South Sudan.
There also remains disagreement on who controls governors of oil-rich states of Upper Nile, Jonglei and Unity. The other state the two principals are jostling for is Eastern Equatoria, a strategic area bordering with Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda.
The two principals are also divided over whose allies take up the juicy governorship positions in Upper Nile, Jonglei, Unity and Eastern Equatoria. Other positions under dispute are the ministries of Petroleum, Mining, Internal Affairs and Cabinet Matters.
Apparently, these appointments have been deferred to the council of ministers for resolution. But Kiir is already worried of internal wrangles from dropped governors and ministers.
By telling Machar and Kiir to get “inside” the government and resolve pending issues as they emerge was tantamount to advising them to cross the bridge when they reach it. The trouble with this is that they might choose to throw the government under the bridge instead of crossing with it.
It should be remembered that the issue of security was one of the thorniest reasons why the two principals asked for an extension in November 2019. Then, there was no agreed procedure on the retraining and merger of forces from the groups that have agreed to form a joint government. There remains no clear policy on the handling of this matter.
The African Union Peace and Security Council advised Machar, who had appealed to the UN and AU for a protection force, to keep the conversation going once he gets into the transitional government.
Machar’s allies insist the VIP Protection Unit remains too weak to guarantee the security of the new government and its people.
Kiir has decided he will handle all security matters.
“I have taken this responsibility as the President. My forces will be responsible for security in Juba until the training of the unified forces is completed,” Kiir told his country people on Thursday. “If there are still pending issues, we will continue with discussions until we reach an agreement.”
For now, the hopes for millions living in refugee camps returning home since the war broke out in 2013 hang on a thread the two principals, who seem to hold the past, present and future of the nascent nation, are walking on.
What the ordinary South Sudanese hope to see soon is the reunion of the over four million nationals in Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camps and other refugee centers with surviving members of their families. They also want to see schools reopen, hospitals functioning and development projects in progress. They also look forward to an atmosphere that will allow them return to their farms.
But most importantly, they will continue praying that God softens the hearts of the two principals and their allies to put the destiny of the nation above their interests, and that the guns fall silent.