By Emmily Koiti
Face-to-face meetings between President Salva Kiir and Dr. Riek Machar, the kind held this week, although important—given the sour relationship between the duo—subtly reconfigure and limit the responsibility for implementing the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) to the two principals.
Dr. Machar arrived in Juba on Monday to meet President Salva and “discuss all the outstanding issues of the peace agreement and the way forward”. This is not the first time that the peace-making process in South Sudan is confined to the two. There have been other meetings in the past. The latest meeting addressed the sticking issues in the agreement, notably, security arrangements, the number of states, and the funding of the peace process. Additionally, the meeting resolved to engage the non-signatories to the R-ARCSS and hold frequent meetings between President Kiir and Machar prior to the formation of a new government of national unity in November.
Overseen by Christian clergy, while excluding other parties to the R-ARCSS, the meeting happened on Tuesday and Wednesday due to the president’s involvement in other events, which include accrediting foreign ambassadors.
The body language between both men was cordial and by the end of the meeting, the two agreed to meet more frequently once the IGAD heads of states finally determine Dr. Machar’s status and reach out to hold-out groups. It remains unclear that they arrived at a decisive agreement on the elephant in the room—the issue of state borders. They discussed the number of states only to resort to what many perceive as a lazy idea; forming another committee to resolve it despite the matter having already gone through a comprehensive albeit inconclusive handling by two similar bodies just months ago.
It is irrefutable that continued dialogue aimed at restoring trust and confidence between President Kiir and Dr. Machar can boost the implementation of the R-ARCSS. Alas, conducting meetings that insidiously restrict the burden of steering implementation progress to only the two leaders is a problematic remedy that may only relieve symptoms without addressing the root causes of South Sudan’s instability that involves all the signatories to the agreement. South Sudan’s problems are complex and require the participation of all relevant stakeholders to find durable solutions. Restricting the process of resolving the hurdles in implementing the agreement to President Kiir and Dr. Machar, reinforces the notion that the most belligerent are ultimately the alpha and omega of making peace. It can also send a signal to all others to consider unleashing more trouble in return for greater recognition.
The R-ARCSS is a responsibility-sharing agreement in letter and spirit, which at no time accords two parties the sole burden of finding solutions while sidelining others. It is a deal that binds five parties; the incumbent Transitional Government of National Unity (ITGoNU), SPLM/A-IO, the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA), SPLM-Former Detainees and Other Political Parties (OPP). It is on this basis that the IGAD Council of Ministers in its communiqué on the consultation meeting of the parties held on 21st August 2019, recommended to the IGAD Heads of State to convene face-to-face meetings of the top leadership of the parties (not just the two) to discuss and resolve outstanding issues.
In order to remain true to the critical principle of inclusivity that has underpinned the negotiations and birth of R-ARCSS, it is imperative that discourse on resolving outstanding issues that are impeding progress, involves all parties to the deal. This will guarantee collective ownership of failures and successes and consequently lay a foundation for sustainable peace. This week’s process that occurred between President Kiir and Dr. Machar opens room for some parties to assign responsibility for failure to others.
Moreover, Dr. Machar is not free and his status remains to be determined by the IGAD heads of state and government. This in itself directly makes the quality of inclusivity at the moment even rustier. The regional leaders should expedite deliberations and decisions on his status lest they too be culpable in stagnating South Sudan’s progress towards peace and stability.
Finally, it is also important to nurture a good relationship, not just between two parties, but all five parties to the R-ARCSS. Therefore confidence and trust-building efforts must involve all. This will greatly enhance the quality of responsibility sharing by suffocating the possibility for malicious exclusion of any party to the peace agreement.
Dr. Emmily Koiti participated in the High Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) process that culminated in the R-ARCSS, as a youth delegate.