In the international legal prism, precisely under the declaratory theory, a state is an independent, political, and socio-economic entity, with a definite boundary, a permanent population, and a government. The most striking attribute as per the international law, however, is the ability of the state to enter into relations with other sovereign states. The question of recognition depends on the theory of the international law one employs. For example, under the constitutive theory, the case of Israel, the Somaliland, and the Palestine would remind one that states do not have to pass the declaratory test so as to exist. A sovereign state loses its sovereign being where so it cannot manage its affairs in an effective way. Oxford Dictionary describes a failed state as a state whose political or economic system has become so weak that the government is no longer in control. The political, social and geographical structures of the state cease their independence if more than one actor plays within the sovereignty. New, artificial boundaries, imagined at best, and real at worst become the new features of the failed state.
In South Sudan, that threshold has been passed. Economists struggle to find the perfect term for South Sudan’s economic quagmire. The New York Times of January 20, 2017, reported that the country’s inflation rate reached triple digits. For the layman, triple-digit inflation occurs at the rate of 200-900% in which case the local currency becomes virtually worthless. Prices of goods and services skyrocket. The poor encounters slow but painful economic death. Beyond this rate, is the so-called hyperinflation where the rate goes up to 1000%. It was first witnessed in Germany’s Weimar Republic during the First World War. Some economists however, have argued that South Sudan might have well reached that level at some points. With more than 20 small rebel groups in the country, each claiming some sort of independence, the government would be lying for any claim of control in the internal political affairs of the young state. Disorganized as they look, these groups are not so disorganized that they cannot inflict a reasonable harm to the state. They remain both a political and defense threat to Juba. Of these groups however, lies an organized revolutionary movement. One of the internationally recognized political, military oppositions, the Sudan People Liberation Army in Opposition known better as SPLA/IO has, in the process of persistent resistance, created artificial boundaries. The territories they control are a no-go zone. Humanitarian missions operating in those areas do not take their orders from Juba. The permanent population in such areas works as per their instructions. It has its own political and socio-economic independence from the state. Following the recognition of its activities, and subsequent political engagements in the region and beyond, the IO does enter into relations with other sovereign states. In a nutshell, it is indeed a state by every sense of the word. Juba is not happy. It does not have to be because the IO does not actually care. The IO, in fact, works hard to rob the regime off of her comfort.
The results have been a frustrated regime that continues to code name the opposition as a negative force, a terrorist organization, a power-hungry movement. However, all these have gone to the waste. For almost half a decade, South Sudan has been at a crisis with itself. Conventional military warfare proves the undesirable truth that none always wins in a military standoff. Colombia, a fragile sovereignty in the western hemisphere had been at civil-military conflict for over fifty years until late last year when a peace deal finally shed some light. The Marxist-inspired FARC Rebel group, one of the most organized, intractable resistant forces of the contemporary times had been challenging the government’s ability to rule in that country. The two parties had to leave behind their differences and put Colombia ahead. The Washington Post on August 27, 2016, calls it a, “Rare Victory for US Diplomacy” in the 21st century. In Kenya, the events following 2007/2008 electoral crisis had the capability to change the region’s only democratic and economic breadbasket for the worst. A keen observer would agree that had it not been Koffi Anan’s tested diplomatic clout, and the international community’s measured response, Kenya would never have collected itself in such a speed. In the spring of 1994, a human catastrophe, the cruellest in the memory of mankind since the Nazi Germany began in the small East African country of Rwanda. A brutal tribal conflict pitting Hutus against the Tutsis stole the international headlines. About 800,000 souls would perish in a space of a week. How did it end? The list of countries that have gone this way is virtually countless. The above examples are, however, very important in this case. South Sudan’s continued political stalemate requires what I call, “a tripartite approach” to resolve the mess. As a nation collected out of ashes of war, the political and socio-cultural events must never be a secondary objective while framing a lasting solution. They have to occupy the center if not the primary stage. Tripartite in a sense that there are three fundamental issues which the stakeholders must consider if a durable political solution was to be found.
First, the social and cultural structure of the South Sudanese society needs a keen attention. Analyzing the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCISS, 2015), one finds that political structural issues have been placed on top. That is disastrous. The politics could have been the trigger of the war. However, most conflict resolution experts do not treat the trigger as the main issue. The social and cultural structures of a country do matter a lot. In South Sudan, the social structure does not only encourage war but it also celebrates its progress. For example, the two main fighting groups have their background in societies that value physical courage better than any other human ability. Courage, as defined by the Nuer, for instance, is not a man who stands up against the rapists of a ten years old girl. It is a 15 years old boy who defeats his enemy in a gunfight. The Dinka Bor of South Sudan’s Jonglei state sees bravery when a young man wrestles down another age mate or brings home cattle in a raid from the nearby clan. Those are just a glimpse of our social structure. When the mediators sat down at Addis Ababa’s Sheraton Hotel, very few considered these structures. The political elites on both sides of the divide did not have the time, or bluntly, interest to reflect on the past. Their main issue was politics gone wrong at J1, and they agreed unanimously that unless the root causes of the political mistake were resolved, South Sudan would remain in a limbo. To some extent, they were right. South Sudan, a population largely illiterate does not know what it wants. In fact, very few citizens understand their rights, duties, and responsibilities. The political elites know what they want and they always get it. For a durable and honest peace brokerage, however, our culture needs attention. Any peace deal without putting the socio-cultural imperatives would be a salt on the wound. Using the example of Kenya, Anan’s diplomacy asked serious questions such as, ‘why are we here ladies and gentlemen. What could have been done differently to avoid this situation? What are the social and cultural structures surrounding the electoral politics of Kenya?’ And so on. Those questions revealed the hidden society of a nation that did not give attention to the social and cultural structures of its institutions. There might not be Anan in South Sudan. But his diplomacy had set a precedent on which we can build.
Secondly, political and legal structures of South Sudan, to be very frank do not exist. They never have. Legal experts and law students, for example, could land one in a competent court of law if one were to use the South Sudanese jungle constitution as a legal precedent. That constitution, others nicknamed as “John Luk Constitution” referring to the constitutional affairs minister at the time of its passage, contributed to the nation’s sorry state in a very significant way. The President, for example, can appoint, and dismiss constitutional post holders such as the state governors at will. He has done that several times citing the law. The absence of robust constitutional guidelines has encouraged political impunity. The 2013 crisis was a result of political actions without legal constraints. Peace negotiators and other stakeholders must check the constitution of South Sudan, its political makeup, and forge some serious remedies. The peace document as found in the ARCISS proposes a constitutional committee, though now looks defunct is a right move. Stakeholders must encourage the implementation of that clause, and where there are inconsistencies, some fixes have to be made. Constitutional rule was what saved Kenya from collapse. It could work wonders in South Sudan. The political question that no one seems to answer at the moment became more complicated than ever when the IO split following the politics gone wrong for the second time on July 8, 2016. President Kiir became a smiling man again when finally, his bad politics succeeded. He met a disgruntled IO politician, and a bush diplomat, General Taban Deng, now the nation’s most controversial First Vice President since 1956. Their marriage was a cakewalk. The honeymoon has continued to progress quite impressively at least, from their perspectives. Dr Riek Machar, the man whose leadership IO is attributed has remained in a political detention South of the continent. “His presence in the country amounts to the betrayal of peace, and stability. He must denounce violence first.” The duo argues. Conventional wisdom dictates that “if you are part of the problem, you must be part of the solution.” The Kiir-Tabanist regime does not attend to tested pearls of wisdom or practices. They are interested in their own small inventions. For better or worse, any political solution that is durable, sensible, and honest in making must include all the stakeholders. Wishing Dr. Riek away at this moment in time only confirms the evil political saying, “power corrupts, and it corrupts absolutely.” South Sudanese of sound minds should understand this simple fact. If Kiir-Taban was anything to celebrate, we would not continue to write these articles. South Sudan could by now taste the fruits of peace. At the time of this writing, not a single aroma of peace could be smelt. Expert opinions in a stark contrast to Juba’s naked claims show that their marriage had plunged the nation into more hostilities than ever before.
Thirdly, borrowing the leaf from Colombia, intense diplomatic engagement is a necessary evil in this case. It is true that home-baked solutions are better than externally imposed solutions. However, in an intimately interconnected world, South Sudan can never be an island. In fact, our humble political and diplomatic history tells the picture. If President Bush Junior, the United Nations, President Moi, and Dr. John Garang, and President Bashir, on the other hand, did not take the IGAD and the TROIKA route, South Sudan, arguably would never have been born. The CPA, for example, was a product of a two-decade-long diplomatic process. At the moment, South Sudan standoff requires an international response, and diplomatic engagement more than ever. The split within the IO family, the continued Kiir’s policy of eliminating political dissents even within his inner circle, their combined intransigence against the international community, and the unfortunate path the conflict has taken since the July 8 are some reasons why the international conflicts brokers should place South Sudan on their top list of concerns. This diplomatic journey should not be a matter of speculation.
It must be led by specific players both within and outside the region. Since the events following the Cold War world, the United States of America has remained an unrivalled global hegemon. The US has engaged nations in diplomatic mediations on matters that threat or perceive to threaten the world peace and security. Interests and foreign policy might come along the way, but the fact remains that there has not been an alternative go-to in matters of world concern than the US. The United States and the Republic of South Sudan have long-standing relations since the 70’s. Many international relation scholars and practised diplomats argue that without the United States, South Sudan’s long struggle would never have picked fruits. The United States, using this history of friendship, and her superpower status remains the only international friend of the Republic of South Sudan. The United States’ Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley said in one of her remarks during her recent visit to the continent, “The United States of America will not stop sending aid to the people of South Sudan. We will continue our humanitarian aid because we are aware that President Kiir does not care about the welfare of his citizens.” While in Juba, she sounded more practical, and remarked, “The time for action is now.”
The past administration led by Barrack Obama, and his John Kerry, to this writer, had failed the people of South Sudan in a profound way. It was Kerry’s diplomacy that approved of Taban Deng’s political conspiracy. It was his diplomacy that changed the region’s perception on one of the most organized political movements in South Sudan since 2011. The Trump administration could be very slow in response but its responses are quite measured. If Ambassador Haley’s critical messages were anything to go by, Juba has every reason to worry. The United States should do three things in order to distinguish itself from the previous diplomatic empty rhetoric.
First, the US should pursue a policy of de-recognition of the regime in Juba. Continued recognition of Kiir-Taban government sends a false message that all is well. The United States remains the world’s global human rights and democratic police. Sharing a table with the government of South Sudan when it goes on a killing spree of both the fundamental human rights and the human dignity of its citizens would betray that noble character. The United States has talked for long on this matter, and Ambassador Haley should support her words with tangible action plans. One of them, de-recognition policy. The government of South Sudan, domestically speaking, has lost both the sovereign and people legitimacy. They only need an honest international friend to break the ice. The United States is.
Second, using her diplomatic muscle at the United Nations, the US needs to continue the sanctions language it had undertaken against the South Sudanese elites. Economic sanctions, arms embargoes, and individual sanctions really work wonders in this scenario. To avoid a veto power at the Security Council, the United States must face her traditional ideological enemies such as the Russian Federation, and China with a resolve. If they could agree on sanctions targeting North Korea, Israel, and Zimbabwe, why not? Individual sanctions should not only target the junior officers or other political elites but also the main protagonists. Effective sanctions must be broader than previously thought. They must take effect at the regional and international level. If the United States takes that lead, the rest shall follow suit.
Third, the United States, with the inputs of the concerned civil society, and the population at large should push robustly for a revitalization forum as proposed by the IGAD. That forum must be inclusive, and citizens led discussion forum. It must revisit the ARCISS and prepare the nation for a fresh transition. If this does not seem possible, the US should use her mediation policy it had once employed at the Camp David talks where Israeli and Palestinian intellectuals were used to prepare a peace talk agenda. Political elites sometimes have to be sidelined if the outcomes support the sovereign being of the state. The ARCISS (2015) remains one of the best conflict resolution mechanisms since 1972. What it does lack, however, is the material and human commitment by the parties. The United States can salvage it. The United States injects millions of dollars into the IGAD mediation, and another into humanitarian mission. That money has not provided the much-expected results. If it takes a measured, but a cautious approach, the US can save that taxpayers’ money. The status quo cannot work. South Sudan is a crippled soldier. If the international friends such as the United States do not come for her, the enemies of sovereignty can well send their last bullet, and she dies a complete death. Let it not reach that level. Act now.
By Matai M. Muon
Matai M. Muon is a student at the Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies (IDIS), University of Nairobi, Kenya, a human rights activist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.