March 25th, 2018 (WEARESOUTHSUDAN)— The High-Level Forum on the Revitalization of the collapsed Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan is probably IGAD’s last attempt to salvage the 2015 Agreement. As IGAD grapples with the challenges of finding an appropriate strategy and formula to sustainable peace, may I add one more item
to the list of challenges – the fact that many of the parties who will be invited may not have the institutional and organizational capacity to give effect to whatever is discussed and agreed during the Forum.
The quality of an institution and organization of a party to an agreement are key determinants of the ability to internally enforce and comply with the provisions of such an agreement. An institution refers to formal and informal rules that inform and influence how people work and the incentives that allow and encourage structured interactions and engagement between and among people. Institutions define and constraint who has the power, how power is used and to what end. In fact, institutions are not only constraints on the behavior of individuals as individuals; institutions also structure the way individuals form beliefs and opinions about how other people, internally or externally, will behave.
Organizations, unlike institutions, refer to partially coordinated behavior of specific groups of individuals to pursue a mix of common and individual goals. In part due to constant contacts and interactions, members of most organizations develop shared beliefs about the behavior of other members and about the norms or rules of their organization. As a result, most organizations have their own internal institutional structure: the rules, norms, and shared beliefs that influence the way people behave within the organization.
This description of and differentiation between what an institution or an organization is meant to underscore the point that, at the minimum, a party to an agreement should, internally, have clear and concrete ‘rules of the game’ and a demonstrable enforcement capacity. This is even more so when talking about a complicated and sophisticated contractual arrangement such as a peace agreement.
My view as an outsider is that many of the parties that IGAD may have to deal with in South Sudan do not have institutions, those who have institutions may not have organizations or have both institutions and organizations only on papers. For the sake of reasonable generalization, assessment and brevity, allow me to classify the possible parties who might attend the Forum, into two categories: the government and the opposition.
I use the term ‘government’ here very loosely. By government, in the context of South Sudan, I mean a semi-structured relationship among powerful individuals who each possesses special privileges and a common determination to protect and preserve those special privileges. It is this convergence of interests and an agreement to respect, reasonably, each other’s privileges that gave the government a semblance of institution and organization.
The President, by his higher position in the political food chain in South Sudan through the political manipulation of the economy, created a privileged interest and through limiting access to these privileges to members who were loyal, the President produced incentives to cooperate rather than fight among his loyalists. Rent was one such privilege which came, among other means, through an exclusive right of forming business enterprises that the state will support. Because these elites knew that the collapse of government will remove access to rents, they had incentives not to allow the government crumble.
The economy has collapsed. The spreading conflict has grossly undermined the ability of government to harness natural resources, which are the main sources of rent. Since the appearance of cohesion depended on the balance of interests created by the rent-creation and distribution processes, the government is as fractured as there are powerful individuals and community warlords that make up this government. Thus, there is no guarantee that the government’s delegation to the Forum will, by any means, be one cohesive delegation or even represent the entire government and consequently whatever discussion and agreements made during the Forum may not be honored by those whose interests may not be represented.
The picture may even be worse within the different opposition groups. At a more fundamental level, some of the opposition groups are not formed based on shared values but on common interests and expectation of access to rent-seeking positions in government. A number of these groups suffer from leadership deficits, they lack functional structures, they may not represent identifiable constituencies beyond themselves and lack meaningful control and influence internally. For some groups, it is poverty, more than grievances, that drives them to coalesce into a rebellion. Faced with no private sector and a collapsed economy, some people have simply turned to rebellion as a viable means of livelihood. Since government portfolios are limited and only few members of these different groups might secure a position, those who fail to secure government jobs, through the Forum, might simply work to sabotage an agreement that offered them nothing.
So, when the Forum is eventually convened, more likely than not, IGAD will be talking to parties with very important personalities, big ideas and eloquence but many of whom, unfortunately, may not be willing or able to translate whatever commitments they undertake into action. First, because they simply do not have the institutional and organizational ability to do so, and second, because the divergent and sometimes conflicting and competing interests within each of these parties will invariably make it difficult for IGAD to satisfy all these parties. Therefore, the disgruntled losers who by their community’s standing and respect might still have the capacity to marshal the threat of violence and able to translate that threat into actual use of violence, could simply return to the trenches.
Many things got us here. Allow me to mention just one. In my opinion, the emphasis by the leaders of these parties as well as by the international community, on finding solutions to the conflict in South Sudan without equally investing time and efforts in the development and strengthening of the institutions and organizations of the different parties, is partly responsible. Institutional and organizational strengthening of the parties who are, in fact, vectors of the solution being searched for, is, therefore, very important.