By Professor Peter Anyang Nyong’o…
A few weeks ago I wrote calling the world’s attention to what is currently happening in South Sudan. People are being killed without rhyme or reason; homes have been destroyed almost everywhere; gang raping of women by undisciplined soldiers goes on unabated; and hunger looms large in every village or in the forests where people are hiding. All this happens when there is a government in Juba claiming to be in charge and to rule the country legitimately. Nothing could be further from the truth.
While this tragic drama is unfolding, countries within the region under the framework of the Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) comprising Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and Djibouti recently met in Addis Ababa and called for peace and political stability in this beleaguered nation, “working closely with the the Interim Government of National Unity led by Salva Kirr.” The preambles to the resolution were the usual solemnities that such meetings are good at. The suggested solutions to the South Sudan crisis were self serving homilies meant to save face of the regional actors for not taking the radical actions that will end the violence and save human lives. In any case, it was ironic that President Salva Kirr was allowed to sit in judgment of his own case, completely oblivious of the need for IGAD to be objective and to seek to serve as a neutral referee in the tragic situation.
The UN Secretary General, Banki-Moon, has correctly pointed out that the world has abandoned South Sudan. Accepted that some member states have sent peace keeping forces to South Sudan, the reality is that the numbers are too few to make a difference and the mandates too narrow to deal with the real issues. The ill fated decision by some member states to shelve the Arusha Accords and the Addis Ababa Agreement and seek to stabilize the current government in Juba in exclusion of Riek Machar will not lead to the peace and stability being sought. It is not the person of Riek Machar which matters; it is the social forces and interests he represents, or such interests which see him as “their leader”. This may be unpalatable to some people inside and outside South Sudan, but ignoring it in working out a peace formula is an exercise in futility.
As usual in such situations many people are forced to leave the country and to take refuge in neighboring countries or much further afield. Most of these people are well meaning to their countries while some may be the usual hoodlums and political opportunists. But let us talk of the members of the SPLA-IO (SPLA In Opposition), a dozen or so released detainees following the 2013 crisis, the professionals and intellectuals who make the powers that be insecure when they point out the wrongs in society and some run-away politicians and soldiers. These are the people deeply concerned about their country but cannot go back given the current situation. Recently President Salva Kirr called for a national dialogue to seek for peace in his country. He said he would lead the dialogue. What about these groups I am talking about: in all fairness, is it really possible that they can pick up their bags and fly to Juba to join the so-called “national dialogue”? The IGAD meeting in Addis Ababa apparently called for and supported such an initiative by President Salva Kirr. Unfortunately, this initiative is not likely to yield much. Previous dialogues in Arusha and Addis Ababa have yielded much more useful frameworks for governing South Sudan which have failed. One initiated entirely by Salva Kirr is unlikely to provide anything new.
The dry season has started in South Sudan and the media has been predicting the renewal and escalation of fighting between the government and rebel forces almost everywhere in the country. Ethnic cleansing is a reality. The predicted genocide is in the offing. This is the issue that the United Nations and IGAD should face squarely and stop shadow boxing either in the General Assembly or the Security Council. The following points must be taken into consideration.
First, there are too many arms in the hands of too many people in South Sudan. There are too many armed militias and gangs roaming around the country. These people are dangerous. They need to be disarmed and brought under the rule of law. They get their arms from the soldiers they kill, or soldiers who sell arms to them or the “merchants of death” busy smuggling arms into South Sudan from outside in exchange for money.
Second, there are the armed rebel forces who feel threatened by the politics of ethnic exclusion typical of the regimes in Juba. The conflict between Riek Machar and Salva Kirr has simply made the situation worse. The militarization of tribe to underpin the politics of ethnic exclusion cannot be done away with without demilitarizing both the incumbent government and its rivals.
Third, it is a fallacy to send in UN Peace Keeping Forces into South Sudan if such forces do not have the powers or the means to intervene in any conflict by disarming the parties to the conflict. It is only when such conflicting forces lose the means to fight that they can observe peace.
Professor Mahmood Mamdani proposed not too long ago that the solution to the South Sudan problem lies in putting South Sudan under the UN Trusteeship. I support Mahmood one hundred and one percent. Many other South Sudanese intellectuals, including Dr. Lako Jada Kwajok, have called for trusteeship in South Sudan. This proposal has increasingly gained support the more the conflicting forces become intolerant and the more lives are lost. It would be foolhardy for the UN not to discuss it seriously and make a decision that will help the people of South Sudan.
In essence, the UN would begin by disarming all the armed forces, including the government, and ensuring that the UN Protection Force takes charge of maintaining security in the country. Once disarmament is complete, then a Trusteeship Government would be established in Juba with the mandate of putting in place governing institutions and creating a climate in which real dialogue can take place for a new constitution. It is only under such a set up that all the South Sudan people currently in exile outside the country, or in exile hiding in the bushes, can go to Juba and other towns to begin discussing the future of their nation and how to build it under a legitimate government.
In the immediate an argument will be advanced that the UN may not afford to run a Trust Territory in Africa at this time. The issue, however, is the following. What is more expensive: to pay for Peace Keeping forces for a long time into the future (remember Cyprus) or to take a surgical operation which will get rid of the problem within 5 years and avoid paying for Peace Keeping Forces in perpetuity? I guess the answer is obvious. I am afraid, however, that there may be a mentality among some members in the Security Council who only look at their own national interest, and do not think that losing lives in Africa is that important. I hope such people can be reasoned with to know that if South Sudan continues as it is, it may be a breeding ground for problems that may escalate into the rest of the world in future. Who knows how such devastating diseases like HIV/AIDS and many others of their kind may arise in the future? Let us wake up to the problem in South Sudan and act expeditiously to deal with it thoroughly.
Professor Anyang Nyong’o is a law maker in Kenya’s upper house and also the Secretary General of Opposition Orange for Democratic Movement (ODM)
The article was first Published by The Star Newspaper