The South Sudan peace talks which are currently taking place in Addis Ababa under the auspices of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) are inadequate and badly suited to the task at hand. Citizens are completely absent from the process, warring groups feel no pressure to halt the violence and huge sums of money are being wasted. The peace process should be taken back home.
It has been almost eleven months since the South Sudan peace negotiations began in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. So far, huge sums of money amounting to over 17 million dollars (12 million euros)  have been spent on per diem and hotel bills, with little progress made towards ending the ongoing armed conflict. Previous rounds of talks have reached four settlements, including the January 23, 2014 cessation of hostilities agreement, the May 9, 2014 recommitment agreement, the June 10, 2014 agreed road map for Transitional Government of National Unity (TGONU) and the August 25 meeting where no commitments were made.
The South Sudanese people already made extraordinary sacrifices to achieve independence two and a half years ago , only to be paralysed by fighting that started on 15 December 2013 in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. The fighting later spread to three other states, namely, Upper Nile, Jonglei and Unity, with immense consequences for human security. According to the United Nations (UN), thousands of people have been killed, about 1.5 million displaced and at least 1.1 million people are facing emergency food shortages . The UN also estimates that aid agencies will need $1.8bn (£1.08bn) to reach 3.8 million people before the end of this year. So far, they have raised just over half.
This appalling human security situation in South Sudan could get worse if other strategies to get the warring parties to come to an agreement are not proactively sought. It may require a multi-faceted approach that allows for the engagement of a wider spectrum of individuals, groups and communities at national and local levels, so as to exert more pressure on the warring factions to urgently end the conflict. This article seeks to mobilise a national solution to the crisis by drawing the attention of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to the possibility of re-locating the ongoing talks in Addis Ababa back home to South Sudan.
EMERGING THREATS TO STABILITY
With at least four agreements already breached and deadlines passing, the people of South Sudan are increasingly loosing hope in the IGAD-led mediation process unless a new strategy is quickly developed including mandating the IGAD Special Envoys with powers to decide on certain substantive matters . It is also becoming increasingly clear that the IGAD-led mediation process in Addis Ababa will not lead to a definitive resolution to the conflict in South Sudan in the near future . The failure of IGAD to sustain decisions on the South Sudan crisis has been viewed by many as a sign that it is ‘part of the problem rather than part of the solution’ .
There is now a worrying trend of events that it is feared may escalate to yet another form of rebellion in the country. And by the time the two sides finally get to work in Addis Ababa, they may be drafting a solution to a situation over which they no longer have any control , as seen in the statements of Professor David de Chand .
‘Let the world and the IGAD know that because it has failed to address the issues at hand, the Nuer nation and its resilient people shall pretty soon declare war on the Dinka in Bahr-el-Ghazel … Assuredly, nothing would deter us to declare war against the Dinka nationality at any time, at any place and at anywhere until Salva Kiir is be defeated sooner rather than later, whether he likes it or not, he will be defeated’. He continued to say that ‘Unless the IGAD mediators spin or turn the clock backward to adequately and sufficiently address the root causes of genocide against the targeted Nuer nationality or ethnicity, the roadmap to peace and the TGONU would be imperatively impractical, if not impossible, to attain in South Sudan’.
Such messages of frustration should already be a clue for IGAD to change its engagements. Echoing such threats again and again will easily mobilise ethnic nationalism in an already volatile situation if appropriate and fast measures are not employed. It will be the only way those who feel marginalised in the peace and conflict processes are able to find ways of getting involved in addressing their plight.
A CALL FOR A NATIONAL PROCESS: LESSONS FROM OTHER PEACE MEDIATION INITIATIVES IN AFRICA
Societies around the world know intuitively of the role citizens can play in bridging differences, large and small, and harmonising individuals and groups. Yet mediation in national conflicts has tended to be seen as the preserve of external actors. The wisdom of engaging citizens in making decisions affecting their future has long been recognised, but understanding the positive role that Insider Mediators play in reducing tensions and in developing non-violent responses to political crisis is relatively new .
In recent years, peace mediation has become a field where more flexible methods and diverse actors are needed to complement the efforts of official state actors . This is because conflicts have over the years changed in contexts, drivers and actors, and citizens are increasingly the disproportionate victims. The craft and approach to bringing peace must also change to include a broader participation of people, because the agreements reached are repeatedly breached even before the ink dries, giving war a chance instead of peace.
Evidence suggests that successful peace processes in Africa have involved significant levels of public participation and minimal external mediation . For instance, during the 2008 post-election violence (PEV) in Kenya, a peace movement that tried to mobilise Kenya’s citizens for a non-violent peace-process at a time when the public space was highly critical was successful. This created a forum to transform the violent conflict and reconstruct the social fabric that initially held the country together.
Citizens can be a driving force to achieve a desired goal if conditions such as proximity to venues of peace talks and an open platform are set to allow citizen participation in whichever form. For instance, during the Liberia peace talks in the neighbouring Ghana, women were a driving force for peace through their pressure groups and actions. At one point they demanded the doors of the building where the negotiations were taking place be closed until a settlement was made . This created a lot of pressure on the negotiating parties to reach a decision. Such groups and many others who have non-violent capabilities should be encouraged to offer their free time and service to end violence against the people.
RATIONALE FOR ADDIS ABABA PEACE MEDIATION TALKS TO RE-LOCATE TO SOUTH SUDAN
The proposal for a change of venue from Addis Ababa to South Sudan is to allow for broader conversations to take place among the people. For almost eleven months now, the people in South Sudan have been living with anxiety and uncertainty as to when their deteriorating situation will return to normalcy. Re-locating the talks to South Sudan would help provide an avenue for citizens to get their concerns included in the agenda of the negotiations, and influence public support for them. This is because broader participation brings more voices to the negotiations and thus enhances the quality and sustainability of the agreement . It also allows them to closely monitor the implementation of the outcomes and commit to longer term peace process.
Experience has shown that local resources, if properly mobilised, do improve the overall peacebuilding efforts . Of course the question of venue and safety of mediators may arise in this case, considering that the country is still at war. But the talks can be organised in one of the other states in the country that is relatively peaceful. Of the ten states in South Sudan, the conflict is visible in four states, including part of Central Equatoria State where Juba is located, the Jonglei State, the Unity State and the Uppernile State. This offers an opportunity for community leaders in relatively safer states to mobilise their people to lay down arms as a call for peace and give feedback to their warring allies. For example, as far as I know, it is only these community leaders who can avert threats such as Prof. Chand’s.
In the past, community leaders such as chiefs and religious leaders have played vital roles as intermediaries in South Sudan. For instance during the Wunlit peace process in 1999, the chiefs led a series of community meetings to mobilise support for a wider peace process, culminating in the construction of a temporary village to house over 1,200 participants at Wunlit . On the other hand, the New Sudan Council of Churches (NSCC) facilitated peace and reconciliation, and provided logistical and financial support for people-to-people dialogue  . This has been said to be one of the most successful talks in the history of the country.
Historically, ethnic, religious and women’s groups have been excluded from offering their efforts towards negotiated conflict resolution, despite being experts in mediation among their communities and homes. In South Sudan for instance, one of the functions and duties of the traditional authorities as provided for in Section 121(1) (c) of the Local Government Act, 2009 is to foster peace building and resolution of conflicts through mediation and other conciliatory mechanisms, as noted by Juliana Bol. Dialogues involving such people, as opposed to military interventions, improve political power negotiations with political commitments.
It would therefore be imperative to make use of such statutory bodies to arrest the situation in South Sudan. The challenge in this case is that there is little or no tolerance for open political debate, thus the use of Insider Mediators such as traditional authorities will be less useful . Further, if peace talks are brokered in locations that are tens and thousand kilo meters away, only accessible by air, how can the capabilities of such people be utilised? Peace does not come by plane or car; peace is rather in the hearts and hands of the people affected. If round table talks to broker peace were initiated in South Sudan, ordinary citizens would participate, the negotiators would become messengers of the people, costs of hotels and other facilities would be minimal, there would be immense pressure on warring parties by the citizens to cease hostilities and begin meaningful dialogue . IFurthermore,, the brokers and representatives of both parties would be in a position to feel what it means to be at the actual scene of the conflict, thereby encouraging them to reach durable peace agreements and also enforce them. This would make negotiations achieve more.
Addressing the grievances of communities who are for the most part excluded from the process is an incomplete process. People who are affected by the conditions of violence should be allowed to tell their stories and name their perpetrators. Meeting of minds as opposed to meeting of weapons should be a strategy employed to resolve issues. This is the road map to achieve sustainable peace. This can only be viable such agendas are devolved to the people as soon as they materialise.
Well aware that foreign countries offer neutral, quiet and peaceful grounds for peace talks, there is usually a total disconnect between foreign venues with what exactly happens on ground in conflict affected spaces. Agreements may happen with limited contextualisation of situations. It also limits participation of other stakeholders who have a say in the matter. It further complicates consultations with the people. A peace agreement would require mediators to convince combatants to sacrifice the luxuries associated with the negotiation process provided by international actors, free of charge . Instead of foreign countries offering comfort zones, displaying traits of people on holiday , they should instead offer influence and support in other ways such as supporting national initiatives and hosting refugees, among others.
Of course the neutral role of the external mediators during peace talks cannot be ignored. External mediators have played significant roles in brokering peace between warring parties in many parts of Africa. In the case of South Sudan, it will take a lot of courage and sacrifice to volunteer to broker peace if the talks re-locate to the conflict zone. The government on its part should be able to offer a secure ground to ensure deliberate safety of its external actors/friends. However, experience has also shown that a neutral mediator is not the only precondition for a successful mediation. It is the acceptance of the parties concerned, rather than neutrality, that matters.
Considering the worrying trends outlined above, IGAD should consider the said option of relocating the peace talks to South Sudan so as to encourage full participation and monitoring of the implementation of the agreements. This would also minimise costs and guarantee its presence in South Sudan for a longer period, ensuring conscious implementation and making it easier to hold accountable those who fault their own agreements, including issuance of sanctions and enforcing the same. At the same time, the more communities participate in the mediation, the more pressure is exerted on the warring parties to end the conflict and create a safe space for all citizens. As it is currently, the representatives from both sides seem not to be in a hurry. After all, the costs are not on them.
Creation of an opportunity to re-build relations between citizens and their governments can only be achieved by opening spaces that are accessible to the citizens. This makes citizens have confidence in their leaders, attracts those in the diaspora to return, and allows external actors to faithfully contribute to positive state building and peace building. It makes leaders exchange influence with the citizens. It makes people negotiate what is best for them. The leaders cannot do it alone. Negotiations held at home are national projects. Homemade decisions end up building institutions that are internal as opposed to external. These projects such as agreements reached can be reviewed periodically depending on the availability of resources. The periodic reviews should bring people together to affirm their commitments and discuss emerging issues, and draw the arts and science towards lasting peace. Let IGAD give peace a real chance by allowing peace talks to re-locate to South Sudan.
* Josephine Chandiru Drama is a Women Fellow at the African Leadership Centre/Kings College London. She is currently a Peace and Security Intern at the African Union, Addis Ababa. An earlier version of this paper is available on http://strifeblog.org/2014/06/20/south-sudan-peace-talks-need-to-return-home/
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