Warlords Unfit to Mediate in South Sudan
The International Community must appoint honest brokers
South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, lies in a dangerous neighbourhood. It is surrounded by countries with leaders who are warlords, dictators and/or indicted for war crimes by the ICC. These leaders have regrouped under the regional body IGAD. They blindly support President Kiir without first examining the root causes of the conflict and determining which party is at fault. South Sudan needs honest brokers from amongst past and present leaders with high moral standing who respect human values—not the current tainted IGAD leaders. The international community must not allow leaders investigated by the ICC for violations of serious international crimes to pretend to act like peace brokers. The people of South Sudan deserve better.
South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, lies in a dangerous neighbourhood. The ‘old’ Sudan, its most important and strategic neighbour, is headed by General Omar al-Bashir, an indicted war criminal at the International Criminal Court (ICC). He is busy pursuing his brand of peace with President Salva Kiir Mayardit.
South Sudan is one of the few countries he can visit without fear of arrest and transfer to the ICC. The Darfur conflict remains unresolved as women and children continue to be killed by his army and proxy militias.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is another unstable neighbour. The state is kept afloat by the United Nations peace-keeping force.
President Kabila faces a plethora of armed opposition groups; he used the ICC to get rid of his political opponents while protecting his soldiers and political allies from investigations and prosecutions. Since 1996, over five millions Congolese are believed killed by his army and by proxy militias of the governments of neighbouring Uganda and Rwanda.
The ICC is currently investigating situations in the DRC. Only a few weeks ago, one of the armed militias attempted, without success, to seize power by force in Kinshasa. In the process, many civilians were killed.
President Museveni, who seized political power in Uganda in 1986, has supervised the slaughter of more than 500,000 civilians in the various wars he has fought from Luwero, through eastern to northern Uganda. Outside Uganda, commanding the Uganda Peoples Defence Force (UPDF), President Museveni is responsible for many more civilians murders carried out by his soldiers and proxy militias in the DRC, South Sudan and the CAR.
Like General Kabila of DRC, General Museveni has also used the ICC to solve some of his political problems while fiercely defending members of the UPDF from investigation and prosecution by the ICC.
South Sudan’s other neighbour, the Central African Republic (CAR), is currently being ‘ruled’ by a war lord who cannot provide security even in the country’s capital, Bangui. The French and AU soldiers are responsible for keeping him in power.
Ethiopia, like Uganda and the CAR, has a government that came to power through the use of military force. For over twenty years Ethiopia’s ruling party has used the army to suppress the political opposition while periodically rigging elections to remain in power.
Like South Sudan, the so-called ‘liberation armies’ in Uganda, DRC and Ethiopia have transformed into ruling political parties without discarding their undemocratic and dictatorial tendencies.
The Kenyan situation is different from the traditional military regimes, but their leaders are currently facing charges of crimes against humanity at the ICC for the mass murders that took place after the 2007 presidential elections.
These leaders have regrouped under the Inter-Government Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional body in Eastern Africa. On 27 December 2013, at a meeting in Nairobi, primarily because of their track record, the IGAD leaders squandered an opportunity to demonstrate neutrality when they blindly supported President Kiir against Dr Riech Machar without first examining the root causes of the conflict and determining which party is at fault.
By issuing threats and taking sides with the principal antagonists, the IGAD leaders demonstrated their common dictatorial credentials and democratic deficit.
There is still a way out of the South Sudan political crisis which unfortunately is being addressed by military means. For a credible and lasting peace in South Sudan, individuals with high moral standing who respect human values from amongst past and present leaders need to be considered for appointment as mediators by the AU or the UN. South Sudan needs honest brokers and not the current tainted IGAD leaders.
One of the persons who enjoys respect from the antagonists is Kenya’s former foreign minister Mr Kilonzo Musyoka. He was a key player in the negotiations leading to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CAP) that led to the creation of the Republic of South Sudan. Similarly, General Daniel Opande, another impartial participant at the negotiations leading to the CAP, is neutral and generally respected by the antagonists.
Former OAU Secretary General, Salim A Salim is another suitable candidate He has an excellent track record for tackling difficult problems during his tenure. Ghana’s former President Kuffor is yet another candidate with respectable democratic credentials.
Africa is not short of talented mediators. It is unreasonable for the AU to send war mongers to negotiate peace. What the AU and the UN can do for South Sudan is to look at stable countries with democratic credentials like Botswana, Ghana, Namibia, Senegal or Tanzania and tap mediators from any of those countries.
On the other hand, it is neither shameful nor un-African to go outside the African continent and seek the best peace mediators from any part of the world. There are many competent and credible mediators in the Nordic region with excellent track record. They can provide the much needed neutrality in the Great Lakes Region in peace-making.
Occasionally mistakes are made and it is only natural to correct past mistakes. It was, for example, an error for the UN to request President Museveni to mediate in the South Sudan conflict. Uganda is already too involved in South Sudan going back to the mysterious death of John Garang. Uganda should be kept out of the South Sudan conflict.
President Museveni is neither an honest broker nor does he have democratic credentials. He is simply one of the many war lords on the Africa continent who has used force to achieve and retain political power. Over the years, he has tried to re-brand himself as a statesman but deep down, he remains a war lord.
Both his NRM and the SPLM are ‘liberation’ armies that failed to successfully transition to multi-party politics which accepts the separation of party and state. The NRM and the SPLM have remained undemocratic, dictatorial and has continued to use force, rig elections and retain power.
What Dr Machar demands in South Sudan is similar to demands made by Dr Kizza Besigye in Uganda: seeking reform of the electoral commission, an establishment of an impartial police force and an army with a national outlook. Instead, President Museveni has consistently threatened, arrested, tortured and detained Dr Besigye and other national politicians opposed to his regime. President Kiir is following his many bad examples.
President Museveni and the IGAD leaders are not only supporting President Kiir, they are supporting themselves. The undemocratic way in which President Kiir runs the state and the SPLM is no different from how President Omar al Bashir runs Sudan, President Museveni rules Uganda, President Kabila stumbles along in the DRC and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn controls Ethiopia. They are not the right people to act as mediators.
The international community must not allow leaders from the ‘ICC states’ that is, Uganda, Kenya, DRC, CAR, Sudan—countries that are currently being investigated by the ICC for violations of serious international crimes—to pretend to act like peaceful leaders seeking peace in that troubled country. The people of South Sudan deserve better.
Alex Obote-Odora, Consultant in International Criminal Law and Policy, Stockholm.