Power struggles in South Sudan are Beyond Salva Kiir-Riek Machar Rivalry—Experts


As South Sudan searches for solution to its nascent fragile peace that suffered a setback in recent fighting in July, the underlying problems in the oil-rich impoverished country go beyond President Salva Kiir and his erstwhile rival first Vice President Riek Machar.

Analysts interviewed by Xinhua said the problems that threaten to make the country ungovernable emanate from as far as during its struggle for independence from Sudan, and the failure to undertake reforms in the aftermath of signing the comprehensive peace agreement (CPA) in 2005.

This they say has given birth to militia groups, unconstitutionalism and impunity as the then guerrilla Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) disavowed dissent within its ranks, leading to splits that took on ethnic tendencies.

Ideological disagreements within the SPLM/A led to incidents like the 1991 Bor massacre, after Machar and Lam Akol now minister of agriculture in the transitional unity government broke away from the late John Garang and formed the SPLA/ Nasir.

Its failure to build consensus that is an eye opener into the inner workings of the political establishment and recent violence within the more than two years since independence in 2011 from Sudan.

One scholar that captured the underlying fault lines in South Sudan is Professor Mahmood Mamdani, who was part of the African Union five-member investigations panel led by former Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo.

The panel investigated the causes of conflict and human rights violations in the aftermath of the fighting in 2013, between forces loyal to President Kiir and Machar.

Despite the two parties inking the now shaky August peace deal to end more than two years of civil conflict, fresh fighting in July has opened up the complexities pertaining the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)-brokered peace agreement.

But the question is how can the war-torn country get back to order?

“South Sudan needs a second transition, instead of giving political power to those with the gun, this transition will seek to forge a political compact both at the level of society and that of the political class. It will seek to combine political justice with political reform,” Mamdani wrote in an Opinion in the East African Weekly.

He added that the transition that was the CPA failed and that it fed the worst anti-reform tendencies in the SPLA and turned into a breeding ground for the violence that erupted in December 2013.

“The obvious dilemma with this agreement is that those likely to be tried are the same as those who hold power,” he added.

Edmund Yakani, the director of Community Empowerment for Progress organization, a civil society organization, said the country’s problems is divided into three layers that include leadership, structural and identity crisis.

“There is absence of proper governance will among the liberation leaders. So the nation of South Sudan is absent. The ruling party assumes that they liberated the people and the country, and it’s only them to define what the state of this country looks like,” Yakani said.

“Without strong institutional, legislative reforms, forget about South Sudan improving,” he added.

Yakani also explained the need to build a strong army with national character that cuts across the more than 60 ethnic groups in the country.

Economist, Lual Deng of the Ebony Center for Strategic Studies, said the army is predominantly made up of the two largest ethnic groups of Dinka and Nuer which needs to change as requested in the peace agreement.

“South Sudan has more than 60 tribes and yet the army is dominated by Nuer and Dinka. If you want to reform the army and get it out of the ethnic and political maneuvering, co-opt other ethnic groups,” Deng told Xinhua.

He said the signed peace agreement that must first be implemented calls for security, economic and political reforms.

“There is no peace agreement where trust and confidence building is undermined like the South Sudan peace agreement is suffering,” Yakani said on the need to build trust between the two protagonists to the agreement.

Meanwhile, Augustino Ting Mayai of the Juba-based Sudd Institute told Xinhua, that the recent fighting proved IGAD and other peace monitors wrong because it’s very difficult for two rival armies to co-exist within an already tense capital Juba.

“The previous conflict was generated by political disagreement within the party which was mismanaged. What about now having two belligerent armies within one city,” Augustino wondered.

He called for the revisiting of some clauses of the agreement especially on the security sector.

Augustino related the sporadic fighting in Yei and Torit areas as reaction from the July 8 and 10 fighting between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in opposition (SPLA-IO) and the South Sudan army (SPLA) which left about 300 people killed.

“There cases of violence taking place in Torit, Yei due to what happened in Juba. They are basically interlinked,” he observed.

He disclosed that in case the two parties refused to adhere to the peace agreement, the government would be starved of badly needed finances from the international community.

The transitional unity government is faced with financial difficulty and it has not even elected its speaker and parliamentarians needed to undertake reforms enshrined in the peace agreement.

“Without streamlining the security sector due to its hugeness, we won’t have a national army and there is need to strengthen accountability and justice sector,” he noted.