Peace deal. This week’s summit evoked both optimism and pessimism. To many people, it marked a new dawn while to others it doesn’t really matter since it has been done before but achieved nothing, writes Frederic Musisi.
South Sudan president Salva Kiir and his arch-rival Dr Riek Machar held back-to-back meetings on Monday and Tuesday in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, and eventually inked a deal agreeing mainly on a permanent ceasefire within 72 hours, a raft of reforms in the country’s security set up, and a 120 days pre-transition and 36 months transition period in which they will share power, pending elections.
The deal dubbed the Khartoum declaration of agreement between parties of the conflict of South Sudan, was guaranteed by Sudan president Omar-al-Bashir and also signed by other warring groups – South Sudan Opposition Alliance, other political parties and former detainees – and witnessed by the Inter-Government Authority on Development (Igad) Special Envoy Ismail Wais and representatives of the United States, UK and Norway.
President Museveni, a critical force to the peace talks but mainly as president Kiir’s intercessor, attended the Monday summit where the talking points were mainly security.
Reports, however, emerged shortly afterwards that both Dr Machar, chairman of the main rebel/opposition side and the government had rejected some terms including having three capital cities as one way of sharing/redistributing power between the two sides.
The rebel spokesperson Mabior Garang Mabior was quoted also saying they rejected the resumption of oil production prior to a comprehensive negotiated settlement.
Dr Machar also said in Khartoum that he had asked to be given two more days for consultations within their party and with other opposition factions before signing the deal.
The outcomes of the Khartoum summit are expected to feed into the next round of face-to-face discussions convened by Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta to mainly discuss the revitalisation of the last two rounds of peace talks and a report of outcomes presented at the next Igad Heads of State Assembly.
Igad is a seven-member regional bloc comprising of Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia, Djibouti, Sudan, South Sudan and Kenya, and has been overseeing the South Sudan peace process since 2013.
Been there before
What is known though is the two principals have been here before.
In August 2015, following the December 2013 crisis that claimed lives of at least 50,000 and displaced more than one million others, a similar peace deal facilitated by Igad was reached between the two warring parties.
As part of the agreement, president Kiir was to remain head of state and Dr Machar was to return to Juba to resume his post as the country’s first vice president. That didn’t really play out well, and a bitter inside power struggle ensued between several camps and eventually spilled out into fresh fighting.
“There are some positives to take from the deal,” London-based Chatham House research associate for Africa, Mr Ahmed Soliman, told the German public broadcaster DW.
“It is a framework that is providing [a way] to implement again a comprehensive and hopefully lasting ceasefire.”
The UN secretary general António Guterres described the Khartoum deal “as a step towards ending the war which has caused so much suffering to so many”.
Some analysts are likewise optimistic in light of the new Dr Abiy Ahmed administration in Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian prime minister was in Uganda early in June from where he left for Cairo for talks with Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. President Museveni had been in Egypt earlier in May for talks with president El-Sisi during which they discussed South Sudan.
“I came here with an open mind and I hope my brother Riek Machar has also come to do the same in order to stop the suffering of our people,” president Kiir noted.
The Khartoum deal calls on the AU and Igad to provide forces to oversee implementation of a ceasefire, which has already sparked jitters. The government says such a force undermines national sovereignty while the rebels believe the force will be a cloak and dagger to work with government to neutralise them.
In 2017, Igad member states directed army chiefs of Rwanda, Ethiopia and Kenya to fast-track an earlier proposed plan of deploying a neutral force to South Sudan to reinforce the United Nations Peace Keeping Mission.
Uganda and Sudan excused themselves from contributing troops to the protection force on grounds governments of the two countries. President Museveni is believed to be in bed with Mr Kiir while president Bashir reportedly supports rebels led by Dr Machar.
How far can the new peace deal go?
Makerere University don Mwambutsya Ndebesa speaking on Thursday night on NTV’s On the Spot show suggested that the “international community needs to place incentives in place for the people of South Sudan and leaders so that they can respect the peace deal”.
A Norway-based South Sudanese scholar, Dr Luka Biong Deng, in an opinion article circulated to the media called for mass protests against the Khartoum deal, describing it as weak and would end up in the dustbin just like the 1997 pact signed by ‘weak and fragile’ southern Sudanese armed groups.
“All the signatories to this 2018 Khartoum Agreement have not only accepted their inability to govern, but they have also surrendered the sovereignty of South Sudan to one of the most fragile, repressive, corrupt and failing governments in the world, the government of (Sudan),” he said.
The “inability to govern” as a result of machinations by Khartoum or other external forces put aside, there is a long standing issue of power sharing which failed the 2015 agreement and has been twice advanced by Igad during the High Level Revitalisation Forums (HLRF) held in Addis Ababa.
The second phase of the HLRF in May initiated a blue print for Igad titled “A Revised Bridging Proposal” reinforces a transitional government led by the president (in this case Kiir) assisted by first vice president nominated by the opposition, two vice presidents, 42 minister and 15 deputies.
“Pursuant to the mandate of the HLRF, the imperative to achieve genuine inclusivity in the composition of the revitalised transitional government, and thereby to enhance the visible representation of the regions (i.e. former South Sudan Provinces of Bar el Ghazal, Upper Nile and Equatorial) and communities of South Sudan, the parties shall make necessary adjustments to the power-sharing formula adopted in (2015), to better reflect the new realities in South Sudan and, in particular, to ensure the inclusivity,” the document reads in part.
The HLRF proposal also allocates the government/SPLM 55 per cent of all positions, the opposition 25 per cent, and the other ambivalent groups 20 per cent of all positions, applying to governorships, the executive councils of the states, and, the legislative assemblies of the States.
The document spells out several mechanisms for power sharing but it is plausible to say another fallout is not far from reach.
Meeting: The Khartoum meeting was arranged three days earlier by the Igad heads of state assembly chaired by the new Ethiopian Premier Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa. In attendance were president Bashir, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, Djibouti’s Ismail Omar Guelleh and Somalia’s Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed while Uganda’s Foreign Affairs minister Sam Kutesa represented President Museveni.