Bribing Kiir and Machar to Misrule South Sudan

BACK TO SQUARE ONE. After 13 months of fighting and six failed ceasefires that cost $22 million, the two warring parties sign another Agreement on the Establishment of the Transitional Government of National Unity with Salva Kiir as president and Machar as vice president. They are not serious, do they?

By Charles Onyango-Obbo,

AFTER 13 months of fighting and six failed ceasefires, diplomats say the latest peace proposal to end the war in South Sudan will, well, return to the status quo that precipitated the carnage in the first place, AFP reported.

The latest peace proposal drafted in Addis Ababa by regional bloc Intergovernmental  Authority on Development (IGAD) leaves the reputedly whisky-loving Salva Kiir as president and re-installs flamboyant and fickle rebel leader Riek Machar as his deputy.

Machar was deputy president until July 2013 when his sacking soured the new nation’s politics, and led to a bloody ethnic-cleansing war that erupted five months later.

“More and more it’s moving towards an elite compromise, but at least that will stop the killing,” an Ethiopia-based diplomat aptly told AFP.

Regional and international peace efforts have repeatedly squeezed out promises of peace from Kiir and Machar, but each one has been broken within days, if not hours.

Hotel Lounge Politicians 

In Addis Ababa, the warring parties were clearly not seen as serious; “Earning a reputation as slow talkers and hard drinkers, the South Sudanese delegations at the European Union-funded talks held in luxury hotels in Ethiopia have already cost at least $22 million,” according to diplomatic sources, AFP reported.

“Talks were first held at the plush Sheraton Hotel… delegates could choose from 11 restaurants and bars, bathe in a pool that plays music underwater, visit the spa or simply enjoy the indoor fountains, decorative ponds and mini-palm trees. Rooms cost around $300 a night.

As the bills piled up as fast as the bodies back home and progress proved glacial, the talks were moved to a nearby hotel where rooms are half the price. Delegates continue to claim a $250 per diem for attending”. Basically they were being bribed to bring peace to the country!

Heavy Toll

The war in South Sudan has displaced at least 1.9 million people, and killed well over 10,000 – at the most conservative.  Some estimates put the dead at between 50,000 and 100,000 by November 2014.

Typifying the horrors of the violence and the targeting of rival ethnic groups, one report noted:

“Witnesses reported soldiers going door-to-door, as members of Mr Kiir’s Dinka tribe hunted down ethnic Nuer, the people of Mr Machar. At night, bodies were discreetly trucked out of the city and burned or buried, witnesses and human rights groups say.

‘We estimate as many as 5,000 people died in Juba during that first week alone. After that, it’s been the same kind of thing over and over again in other towns. In some places, people have been there to count, in others, not at all,’ said one Western aid worker”.

Machar’s Forces Were not to be Outdone

“In Bentiu, the capital of oil-producing Unity state, more than 200 people sheltering inside a mosque were killed last week after rebel [Machar’s] forces seized the key town”, the UN mission said in a statement in April.

“Individuals ‘associated with the opposition’ had used an FM radio station to broadcast hate speech, even urging ‘men from one community [Nuer] to commit vengeful sexual violence against women from another community [Dinka]’…

“At Bentiu hospital, several men, women and children from the Nuer ethnic group were killed after hiding and refusing to join other Nuers who had come out to cheer the rebels as they seized the town.

“Toby Lanzer, the UN’s top humanitarian official in South Sudan, said in Twitter posts on Sunday that there were shocking scenes of atrocities, with “bodies of people executed” lying in the streets of Bentiu.

Now the two men have been rewarded, and diplomats have settled for the deal, as the best bad agreement one can get.

“We have to stop the killing, even if it’s a bad agreement that doesn’t change anything,” a European diplomat told AFP.

Kiir is widely viewed as incompetent, and booze-addled, so he can’t summon the smarts to come up with something that productively works with Machar.

The Gods Can’t Fix This

Machar on the other hand is considered nearly by everyone else outside his merry circle as a power-hungry traitor who will be scheming every second to stick a knife in the back of a soporific Kiir.

It is hard to see how, even if the gods of the River Nile were overseeing the peace deal in South Sudan, the two warriors can work together again, confirming the suspicion by some that the agreement was probably just to buy time for war preparations.

A South Sudan intellectual who has had it up to his nose with both Kiir and Machar summed it up bleakly, telling Mail & Guardian Africa : “South Sudan will not know peace as long as Kiir and Machar are alive….and when die as long as their children and present supporters are alive because they will continue the feud. South Sudan will only settle down when their grandchildren are of age”.  If he is right, we are looking at another 50 years of madness – i.e. until about 2065.

It is too gloomy, so one hopes it wouldn’t come to pass, but it makes the point that regional and international players should have been harder on Kiir and Machar, and forced both of them out of power or thrown them in a dungeon for their sins.

South Sudan, if truth be told, is a straw state, still staggering to its feet.

Barely two years into independence, the political class in Juba is not too entrenched. It is extremely corrupt, yes, but two years weren’t enough for it to have established a vast local network and allied crooked powerful business interests abroad vested in their survival that would pushed back.

The Ethiopians had the right instincts when, at least according to Kiir, they threatened him and Machar with arrest if they didn’t sign the deal mid-last year. A few hours later Kiir landed in Juba and denounced it.

We need to call a spade a spade. If Addis Ababa had thrown Kiir and Machar in prison, instead of letting them return home to wreak more mayhem, the situation in South Sudan would not have got worse. The country would have at least got a new break.