Perspectives on Opposition Unity and the Path to Peace

South Sudan, the Big Questions: Opposition Unity? Talk Peace? Or Fight?

4 May 2017

Opposition to Jubahas grown from individual mutterings, to public dissents by journalists, and now, to armed resistance. The incremental opposition to Kiir’s regime should come as no surprise as this government has shown no appetite for criticism from any quarters, and worse, no intention to change its ways. What might be a surprise to South Sudanese and the world is the ruthless manner the Kiir regime has dealt with critics of all types. As the case of Isaiah Abraham and others show, it will not hesitate to silence critics by use of powers it has assumed upon itself: from threats, to destruction of property, and finally murder. It has reached unmeasured proportions, i.e. murders are carried out without any pretence of judicial procedures as well as used as the easiest deterrent to opponents. The alarming rate of recent murders, burning and looting by government militias mimics ancient brutalities of tribes that brought the Dark Ages to Europe; perhaps even worse!

What does Opposition to the Kiir Regime mean?

It is doubtful that there is a single soul in South Sudan or abroad who has not dissented in silence – essentially assuming bystander postures. The problem with this approach is that no one notices, and it does not jump-start any corrective measures in the governance of South. Braver citizens have expressed their dissent by writing, or speaking out. Depending on one’s location or past association with the state, such dissent may either be tolerated or met with outright ruthlessness expressed through kidnappings, murder and dumping of corpses on town outskirts wherever convenient – ditches or into the Nile. “Civil disobedience” is unknown in South Sudan and would most likely be turned into a slaughter-fest by the trigger-happy forces of the state. Increasingly, dissent has been expressed by “running away” – either into the bushes as IDPs, or into exile.

This phenomenon has become dominant as pockets of villagers began to resist invading cattle herders, backed by armed government militias supporting their tribesmen. Clashes with government militias that result in any defeat for them are inevitably followed by invasions of the villages in question by troops who, upon arrival, simply shoot anyone on sight, rape, loot, and burn! Cases in point: all villages along Juba-Nimule Road, Bungu, Rokon, Lanya, Katigiri, Mundri, Lobonok, Kajo-keji and incrementally, Parajok in Eastern Equatoria as well as parts of Western Equatoria and Western Bahr el Ghazal – not to speak of the brutalities in the main SPLM-IG vs. SPLM-IO theatres in Greater Upper Nile. Thus, by default, the ultimate opposition to Kiir has come to mean taking up arms individually, or at best, as groups!

Organized opposition

Village self-defence forces, rather than being hailed by government, are taken to mean rebellion against government – and more likely, as hostility towards the Dinka! Thus, villagers in almost all non-Dinka areas find themselves in a typical Catch-22 situation: if they defend themselves they are butchered as rebels, and if they do not, they are at the mercy of government forces who loot, ransack, rape, and murder in a day’s work. These widespread phenomena have sown the seeds of proper organized rebellions with varying capacities. The SPLM-IO, treated as a Riak Machar property, and by extension a Nuer outfit, has borne the brunt of this brutality while the world watched or participated as in the case of Uganda! The SPLM-FDs are the monkey wrench in the works – with some considered opposition, others have become part of government, a few others retreating into private life, leaving only a few giving weight to the muted idea of turning South Sudan into a “UN Trusteeship!” an idea detested by most South Sudanese. Notable among individuals who have declared movements seeking the removal of the Kiir regime are Dr. Lam Akol (The National Democratic Movement, NDM), and ex-governor Joseph Bakasoro (The South Sudan National Movement for Change, SSNMC). Others are at best brief-case outfits that may, in time, become entities to reckon with.

The National Salvation Front: Then, of course, there is the National Salvation Front (NSF) which prefers the acronym “NAS” as this suggests a “people-orientation” in Juba Arabic! Perhaps quite distinguishable is the founder of NAS, a highly trained and self-disciplined military officer, Lt. General Thomas Cirillo Swaka. He brings to play the substantive issues which disqualify the Kiir regime from continuing to rule South Sudan: tribal militias instead of a national army – complete strangers to the rule of law; personalization of national wealth; worthlessness of human life; and the withering away of national governance institutions! Remarkable among the strengths of Thomas Cirillo Swaka is a demonstrated outright rejection of sectarian interests, especially in building a national military; and, a keen distinction between the Kiir-JCE Jieng regime, from the innocent bulk rank-and-file Jieng, who may even suffer more – besides having their noble traditional cultures negatively portrayed by Kiir’s militias!

How the Kiir regime should be opposed: peacefully, or forcefully? For victims of the regime who have experienced brutality through the lenses of burnt huts and charred human bodies, including those of their own family-members, the unanimous response is the application of Hammurabi’s Laws (eye/eye, etc)! For those more conscious of international politics: “by any means necessary”! For yet others more, including international bystanders expressing an abhorrence of war, peace should be attained by “peaceful negotiations”! Ironically, the Kiir regime determines, through its actions, the method of choice for solution of this national tragedy. In the final analysis, it is the calibre of domestic, regional, and international leadership which will give shape to the preferred method of addressing South Sudan’s hideous civil war.

Peaceful Negotiations: Common sense demands that forcefully removing Kiir from office and establishing a more humane regime requires cooperation, at the least, and unity at best – historically a rare commodity among South Sudanese opposition factions. Change through peaceful negotiations, on the other hand, the internationally preferred method of settling the South Sudanese war, is popular and generally lacks the muscle to ensure compliance with what has been agreed upon. The ARCSS is an excellent illustration of this lack of political will, even among its international sponsors, to hold parties to the agreement accountable, especially for non-compliance. Kiir and his mega-watt speakers Michael Makwei and Paul Malong, among others, made it very clear that they opposed the ARCSS. Kiir has been reliably reported as telling his military High Command that he had no intention of honouring the ARCSS, advising them on procedures they could use to make Juba town appear demilitarized as per the ARCSS. Thus, with the help of the international community, Riak Machar was lured into Juba town without adequate security procedures as per the ARCSS. Consequently, the events of July 2016 were used to disregard his place in the ARCSS, and without any qualms, replaced with a more malleable partner in the person of one Taban Deng Gai. To add salt to injury, Kiir proceeded to make constitutional changes at will – such as the creation of more states in addition to the constitutional 10. The big question this leaves in the minds of many a would-be party to negotiations with the government is: What use is it wrangling over numerous issues, reaching consensus with difficulty, and then ending up with unilateral non-compliance without as much as a sound of dissent and disincentives?

Partners to Peace Talks and What Principles: As acknowledged above, the international community prefers, as Kiir goes on murdering innocent citizens that resolution should be sought through peaceful negotiations. A question that immediately arises has to do with the number of parties to any new agreement! Would they all agree on the principle objectives for any peace-talks and above all, agree on the final governance outcomes after such talks. As hinted earlier, a post-Kiir government must, at a minimum, be able to fulfil a range of quite ambitions principles and undertakings above and beyond those suggested by the ARCSS. The following are key (but not exhaustive) to any unity of the opposition:

  1. Establishing security of every person and property across the entire nation – breaking down myths about historical hostilities such as in cattle-rustling! 
  2. Ensuring adherence to the rule-of-law for the all, high or low!
  3. Establishment of a highly trained and disciplined national citizens’ defence force that reflects the face of every South Sudanese.
  4. Enacting a federal, democratic constitution anchored on the equality of every nationality regardless of numbers.
  5. Constitutional de-horning the executive in such a manner as to establish a balance of power, through checks and balances, of the Legislature, the Executive, and the Judiciary.
  6. Guarding public resources, in cash or in kind, with a hawk’s eye and ensuring accountability without regard to social, political or economic stature.
  7. Upholding the human and legal obligations to citizens, especially with regards to their basic rights and basic needs through deliver of services. 
  8. Holding all, without exception to anyone, to being accountable for any new, present or past acts of abuse of human rights, fraud against the nation or against individuals or groups through appropriate legal procedures – thus returning all assets thus far unlawfully acquired; this being a conditionality for holding public office. 
  9. Ensuring that appropriate public institutions, standing or ad hoc, are established to return the Republic of South Sudan to the path of sanity and development.

For emphasis, setting the nation on a healthy path of human development will entail detailed well-crafted plans, implementation and review, where necessary – constantly on guard to ensure that the nation is never again derailed from the path of international decency for all its citizens. Any individual or group that does not agree to such a minimum range of principles raise questions about its validity as legitimate partners and guardians of the public interest.

Leadership:Regardless of what path is followed to bring peace to South Sudan and place it on a solid path to a productive and contented life for all its citizens, this will not be easy without an equally dedicated, disciplined, conscientious, and scrupulously service-oriented leadership. Thus, regardless of the non-military quest for peace, South Sudan needs a future leader that is not greedy and material-accumulation oriented; a leader that unites all the tribes through highly transparent and democratic laws and procedures that bind all citizens. Prominently, a leader is needed that will not be deluded into acampaign of revenge against those supposedly associated with the illegitimate Kiir regimeupon its becoming defunct. NAS believes it has such a leader, proven by his actions in the military, and in theatres from Kapoeta, to Morobo, Yei, and the NDA front. Anything else risks new blood-thirsty tyrants who may adopt a revenge agenda that is pre-fixed by a term that has gained wide political popularity: “it is our turn!”

It behoves the neighbours of South Sudan, IGAD, the AU, the Troika, the EU and the UN to look outside the box as they pursue solutions through the niceties of diplomacy. The relevant and lasting solutions for South Sudan maybe found outside the box! Foremost, the best solutions are those that are rigorously implemented, with clear consequences for truancy!

By Alfred Sebit Lokuji, May 4th2017.