A good way to judge anything is by its history and assuming that is the case, the recently signed Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan will fail. President Kiir was under intense pressure to sign the compromise accord amid the US threats of imposing sanctions if he failed to do so. This agreement, the seventh since war erupted, was mediated by Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Already there are complaints by the South Sudan’s Armed Opposition Faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM-IO) that the government of President Salva Kiir has violated the ceasefire by attacking them in oil rich states of Upper Nile and Unity. It is clear that the Government of South Sudan lacks political will of commitment to respecting the ceasefire agreement and implementing the peace deal they signed on August 26.
The 21 month conflict in South Sudan broke out in December 2013, when a split within the security forces in Juba escalated into a violent rebellion led by Dr. Riek Machar, who commands the loyalty of SPLM-IO. Although the dispute that led to the civil war was primarily political, ethnic targeting, communal mobilization and spiraling violence quickly led to horrid levels of brutality against civilians. President Kiir’s ethnic Dinka people are pitted against Machar’s Nuer. Various reports indicate that over ten thousand South Sudanese people have been killed in the fighting and more than 2 million people have been displaced. Serious human rights violations have occurred in which children have been raped and burned alive.
As the International community deliberates on last week’s move by Russia and Angola’s to delay the imposition of targeted United Nations sanctions on key South Sudan government and rebel leaders obstructing peace in South Sudan, one wonders what happened to this once considered major U.S foreign policy success story. Three US presidents, Clinton, Bush and Obama, worked to birth this new state in the world. But now the collapse of this world’s new nation might end up being a case study in the limits of American power as the U.S government’s state-building efforts hasn’t yielded sustainable peace. In the absence of substantial national interests, the US has not been at the forefront in bringing peace to South Sudan. It is then less surprising that the US government ignored the mutual enmity that was boiling within the ethnically polarized South Sudan.
At the beginning of violence, the US government made it clear that they will not support the overthrow of a democratically elected government, however, it remained reluctant in supporting the very democratic government against the rebels. This ‘do no harm’ attitude and the lack of assertiveness may have fueled the violence.. Worse, it weakened the US ability to influence events.
To say that the US has lost leverage in South Sudan is an understatement, the reality is that IGAD and the US supported peace agreement that was signed last month by rebel leader Dr. Riek Machar and President Kiir amid US threats may not lead to sustainable peace. Every conflict in South Sudan has in the past approached in the same way with the same solution, which is usually twofold: share power and integrate militias. Justice is sacrificed for the sake of short-term “peace”. From the start South Sudan was set for failure. At independence the country had virtually nothing save for oil, which is also a major cause of conflicts.
The US may have succeeded in bringing the government and rebels on the negotiating table and leading them to sign the peace agreement, albeit through threats of sanctions, there is little hope that continued sanction threats will be fruitful given the fact that both Sudan and South Sudan government have demonstrated that they can lobby some UN security council members to veto such efforts. Indeed relying on sanctions is problematic, first, by their very nature, sanctions are perceived negatively, hence difficult to implement. Second, convincing all permanent members of UN Security Council to endorse sanctions is not easy. The process is usually politicized.
This peace agreement is not even a perfect solution for the conflict, but it is the best shot the South Sudanese government and the international community have to build sustainable peace. The agreement proposes a start of new constitutional process, formation of various commissions and most importantly a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission to help address historical grievances like the bitter history between the Dinka and Nuer which continues to influence conflicts. Though the US ability to influence events in South Sudan has dwindled, a fact that has been explained in Foreign Affairs magazine by Cameron Hudson, who worked on South Sudan Policy in both Bush and Obama administration.
Despite these drawbacks, the US is the only one that can pressure South Sudan leaders to implement the peace agreement. Unfortunately, the US has anchored its foreign policy on South Sudan on humanitarian terms, which in itself in insufficient in strategic peacebuilding.
Last year during a Foreign Relations Senate Committee hearing, Mr. Booth, the former US envoy to South Sudan, highlighted that US will create a mechanism to monitor and verify compliance with the peace agreement. Any such mechanism should go beyond imposing sanctions and practicing coercive diplomacy. These tools are not sufficient either in achieving sustainable peace in South Sudan.
The US should push for a wider mandate to United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNAMISS). Currently, its mandate places it second to SPLA, which limits their capability to protect civilians. In addition, rather than working through proxies or military contractors, the US government should consider beefing up its presence in South Sudan perhaps deploying military advisers to work alongside South Sudan’s military and to help integrate rebel and government soldiers. While it is understandable that military advisers may not do much in transforming the ethnic identities of various soldiers, they can help them embrace discipline and respect for human rights.
Neighboring nations taking sides in this conflict should be held accountable by the international community. There should be monitoring of the movement of weapons in South Sudan. As the UN Security Council discusses imposing an arms embargo on South Sudan, they should consider doing the same to countries fueling conflicts in South Sudan.
The International Criminal Court should work with the African Union Commission of inquiry to begin investigations on individuals who have committed crimes against humanity. Involving ICC will curb further violations of human rights.
South Sudan is a major beneficiary of the US Foreign Aid, hence, the US government can use the opportunity this aid provides to advocate for strong institutions of governance in South Sudan. They should also seek to empower ordinary citizens economically. The people of South Sudan have been on the run close to a century, first with Khartoum and now the civil war. It is time the international community helped them settle down in the place they call home.