The peace pact is all South Sudan has; it must be saved
From a cursory glance, it would appear that the only constants in South Sudan are conflict, hunger, Salvar Kiir and Riek Machar.
The vicious cycle of pain has taken yet another spin, after Vice President Machar announced that his SPLM/A-IO was pulling out of a tenuous peace agreement that has held the country together for the past three years. The SPLM/A cited unprovoked attacks on its units as the reason for the decision to pull back from the peace arrangement.
In a country where the capital Juba is the only place where a reasonable degree of safety can be guaranteed, Dr Machar should not be surprised that his units in outlying areas are vulnerable. While President Kiir’s wing of the liberation movement is a natural suspect when such events occur, rushing to conclusions could make both parties hostage to a third force.
Until investigations to establish the guilty party are concluded, it would be rash to base a decision as grave as shredding a peace pact based on appearances.
For whatever reason, South Sudan is such a vast and factionalized country that anyone can attack anybody. Rather than being the reason for failure, such incidents only highlight the need for a resolute implementation of the revitalized peace agreement by the parties.
So much effort has gone into crafting and trying to implement the peace agreement that one might be tempted to reduce the recurrent state of affairs to the supposed egos of Kiir and Machar, but removing them is not an option.
However frustrating, it must be appreciated that both men remain pivotal to the peace process, represent huge constituencies and, without them, everything could unravel.
For all their shortcomings Kiir and Machar have at least consolidated the political differences in South Sudan around two major factions. Add another and the region and the international community would be dealing with a much more chaotic, complex and fluid situation.
What needs to be impressed upon all is that the revitalized peace agreement is all that South Sudan has.
If it is allowed to go up in flames, it is not only South Sudan that will suffer but the entire region. With new flareups in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the last thing East Africa needs are fresh clashes in South Sudan. Short of resources, Uganda is already sagging under a new influx of refugees.
To make progress, Kiir and Machar need to agree on a minimum programme that brings accountability into affairs of state, deals with corruption and demonstrates a peace dividend to the citizens. The security blanket also needs to be progressively expanded to cover more parts of the country.
South Sudan’s problems are complex but not intractable. Progress towards resolving them can be achieved if conflict is removed from the matrix. The principals need to rise to the occasion, elevate their ambitions towards seeing South Sudan emerge as a respectable member of the international community.
So far, they appear to have settled for its unenviable status of a basket case, a serial defaulter on contributions to the East African Community and a net contributor of problems.
It is even more tragic that figures such as Kiir and Machar, once national heroes, should now be seen as a necessary evil.