Have the Opposition’s Reservations been addressed in the revitalized peace agreement? A sober rebuttal of the claims made by Dr Lako Jada Kwajok.
Today, I came across an article written by Dr Lako Jada Kwajok, a man I respect for his objectivity and cool head in discussing serious issues. It is because of this that I am tempted to put pen to paper in response to him in the spirit of healthy debate whichever side of the divide we find ourselves on. The article is titled: “Have the Opposition’s “Reservations” been addressed in the revitalized peace agreement?” It dealt with his group’s rejection of the Revitalized Peace Agreement signed in Addis Ababa on the 12th of September 2018.
One may break down his article into the following elements:
- The people were not all smiles when the Revitalized Agreement was signed in Addis Ababa on 12th September 2018 and that there was skepticism from both the South Sudanese and the international community towards the Agreement,
- The South Sudanese do not deserve leaders like Salva Kiir and Dr Riek Machar who continue to plot against each other, and that violence stoked by their forces is still underway in many parts of the country.
- The Minister of Information in Juba was jubilant because “those who signed the deal have handed the government legitimacy on a silver platter”.
- He gave a list of the organizations that rejected the deal and averred that “SSOA appears to have split up into two groups”,
- He cast doubt on whether SSOA did have any reservations at all. Yet, he went ahead and gave a considerable space to castigate the way those reservations were responded to by the IGAD Summit,
- There was no mention of federalism, and that “they (SSOA leaders) might have foregone federalism”.
To begin with, I do not see myself in much disagreement with the author on the first two points. On the third point, I agree with him partially; that Juba was jubilant that an agreement was signed but I disagree with him on the reason for that ‘glee’. It is the last three points that I find myself in total disagreement with him and most of this response will be devoted to show why the author has missed the mark on these issues.
Disagreement among SSOA members over the Agreement
The agreement signed in Addis Ababa on the 12th of September 2018, did not come out of a blue. It was a result of hard peace negotiations that started in December 2017and concluded that day. The talks went through many phases including shuttle diplomacy and Intensive Interlinked Consultations (IIC). These interactions identified ten (10) key areas of disagreement between the Parties; five each on Governance and Security Arrangements. All along these talks first the whole Opposition and later on SSOA alone had developed a joint 10-point negotiating position which didn’t find favour with the IGAD Mediators who kept reminding us about the “two giants”-meaning SPLM-IG and SPLM-IO. In the IGAD Summit on the 21st of June, the leaders decided to move the talks to Khartoum to continue the face-to-face meetings between Salva Kiir and Dr Riek Machar that started earlier on the 20th of June. From the time the IGAD Council of Ministers decided in May 2018 on a face-to-face meeting between the two, the demand for Salva to step down was rendered out of question, thanks to the region and the SPLM-IO which insisted that he continues as President during the Transitional Period. SSOA knew this and continued negotiating. The issue then was not the position of Salva Kiir or Riek Machar, but how to get a better deal within the given constraints for our suffering people and war torn country. To turn round now and claim that this was a compromise from those who signed the Agreement is turning the facts upside down.
The talks in Khartoum were fraught with many difficulties and challenges for SSOA, but still we persevered. We were able to conclude “Agreement on the Outstanding Issues of Security Arrangements” which all SSOA members without exception- I repeat all- signed on the 6th of July 2018. During the discussions on the issues related to the governance a number of developments took place which need not be narrated here for lack of space. Suffice it to mention that differences of approach developed between those in Khartoum and those outside it on how to proceed with the talks. On the 28th of August, the mediators presented a draft Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) for initialing which SSOA and SPLM-IO rejected because our concerns were not addressed. The Mediators engaged us on those concerns and they promised to raise them with the IGAD Council of Ministers for consideration. SSOA made it abundantly clear that its signature of the Agreement was conditional on addressing those concerns to its satisfaction. Therefore, there is no doubt that SSOA had concerns- later termed reservations. That they were addressed to our satisfaction is also a fact as will be elaborated below under a separate heading.
I turn now to the so-called split within SSOA. The author provided a list of SSOA organizations he claimed are opposed to the Agreement which does not reflect the reality in SSOA. A certain National Resistance Front (NRF) appeared in the list. It was unheard of before least of all being a member of SSOA. UDRA has never been part of the IGAD brokered HLRF peace process and could not possibly break away from SSOA because of a peace agreement it knows little about and contributed nothing to. The FDs, despite an earlier announcement from two of them to join SSOA, have never been part and parcel of SSOA and have been a separate and distinct entity in the peace talks. The person authorized by their leader to act in his place, Deng Alor Kuol, did initial in Khartoum and signed in Addis the Revitalized Agreement. Therefore, any dissatisfied member of the FDs should address his/her grievances to the FDs, not SSOA. This leaves us with only the National Salvation Front (NAS) and the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM). The truth is that these two organizations are now experiencing serious schisms because of the way their leaders handled the peace talks in Khartoum. Maybe because of that they would want to use disgruntled individuals within SSOA organizations resident in Diaspora to lengthen their list of Parties supposedly in opposition to the Agreement, or mislead the public that there was indeed division within SSOA. This is a stab in the back given the efforts we exerted here to discourage the members of NAS who declared breaking away from their organization. But politics being what it is, we do not mind all that and are capable of dealing with the consequences of such actions. Therefore, there is no split in SSOA. Only a small fraction of its members broke away from it for a reason that cannot be cause of division as the statement of SSOA on the 16th sufficiently explained. UDRA did not stop being a member of SSOA when it was not taking part in the peace talks. Hence, disagreement on the peace process and its outcome cannot be a reason for division of SSOA. The Charter articulates very clearly what binds the organizations of SSOA together. I repeat here SSOA’s appeal to our brothers to reconsider the step they have taken and rejoin SSOA mainstream.
Where the “reservations” of SSOA Addressed?
I have shown above that SSOA did indeed have concerns- call them reservations if you like. The author went into details as to why he thinks the reservations were not sufficiently addressed. In refuting that, I will follow his sequencing.
- The Number and Boundaries of States.
The author devoted a lot of space to talking about the danger of addressing the tribal boundaries calling it a “Pandora’s box”. Maybe he has been out of the country for too long and out of touch with the background to and consequences of the division of the country into 28 States and later 32. The Order that effected the division was detested most not because of the number of States –although this was illegal- but because it grabbed tribal lands and gave them to a particular one tribe. In fact, this was the only consistent aspect of the Order dividing the country into those mini-States or Bantustans. It is logical and just to return the grabbed lands to the rightful owners before discussing the number and boundaries of States which is the work of the Independent Boundaries Commission (IBC). The task of demarcating tribal boundaries was given to the Technical Boundaries Committee (TBC). Although the tribal and the administrative boundaries are related – as the author should know how our districts came into being- nowhere did SSOA suggest tribal States.
We believe that the concerns we raised on the matter have been addressed to our satisfaction and the 32 States cannot be assumed to be the final outcome of the work of the two committees.
- Quorum in the Council of Ministers
The author mixes between quorum and decision-making. The reason why SSOA raised the matter was that the quorum of (23) in ARCSS which was maintained in the R-ARCSS can be attained by members of the current government alone (20 Ministers + President + two VPs). Meaning that they alone can hold a quorate and legal meeting. For sure, the decision of IGAD Summit takes care of this anomaly by including a given number of Opposition members in the quorum requirement.
The disagreement on the matter was reflected in two views: that of the government aiming at Constitutional Review and SSOA’s that insists on a people-centred Constitution-making process as stipulated in ARCSS. The workshop was necessary to agree on the procedure to be followed in our constitution making process. I suppose that the author is familiar with workshops dealing with Security Arrangements as part of the peace talks.
The TCRSS 2011 which the author mentioned came as a result of a constitutional review enshrined in the Interim Constitution of Southern Sudan 2005. There was no quarrel about that.
- The Guarantors
The matter was raised because it was a point of contention within IGAD itself. We didn’t want to get into a peace agreement guaranteed by a body divided over an important issue such as the Security Arrangements. In fact, the way it was resolved ensured IGAD unity and it agreed that it will handle the matter with the UN Security Council (see the Final Communique of the 33rd IGAD Summit dated 12 September 2018).
Whether some countries violate a resolution of the UN Security Council does not render their actions legal. It is a matter between them and the UN Security Council. We must protect our back.
Some people seem to use federalism as a slogan rather than a system of government that needs to be implemented on the ground. Far from saying nothing about federalism, the Agreement on the behest of SSOA was clear on how to effect federalism during and after the Transitional Period. I refer the readers to the following provisions in the Agreement: Para 5 of the Preamble, Articles 18.104.22.168, 1.4.11, 4.11.4, 4.11.5 and 4.11.6. All of them are about division of power and resources among the various levels of government during the Transitional Period. In fact, Article 1.4.11 commits the Parties a priori to adopt federalism at the Constitution making process. If this is not federalism we stand ready to be educated.
The legitimacy of the regime
The IGAD sponsored peace talks were not about the legitimacy of the regime. The talks were about saving the lives of the South Sudanese and stopping the country from sliding into an abyss. The regime in Juba derived its legitimacy from the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS) 2015. It has lost its legitimacy since July 2016 when the President abrogated the ARCSS. The regime is de facto and was not in need of others to confer on it legitimacy. The regime extended its life for three more years in August and nothing happened to stop that. Therefore, the assertion that Juba was jubilant because “those who signed the deal have handed the government legitimacy on a silver platter” does not hold water. We have been negotiating with Juba all this time as de facto, not de jure. Nothing has changed. If the Agreement works there will be a new government in Juba, if it doesn’t it goes on with its business as usual unless challenged in the field. No cries, however loud and strident they could be, will on their own bring about change in Juba.
All successful negotiations are about making compromises in the spirit of give-and-take. It is foolhardy to think that one can get all his demands on a negotiating table. SSOA is conscious of the fact that it did not get all it asked for since the beginning of the peace talks. But, as responsible leaders we have evaluated the gains we made in agreement very carefully and concluded that in the light of the prevailing circumstances it is an agreement we can live with. Hence, we did not hesitate to append our signatures to it. Other people may have a different view. That is fine. Let us agree to disagree and continue discussing the matter maturely and intellectually. Name calling and questioning the patriotism of each other will not help. I congratulate Dr Lako Jada Kwajok for an objective approach to this important matter.
By Dr Lam Akol,
SSOA Focal Point on Governance.
18 September 2018.
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