Negotiating the release of eleven men held in Juba has consumed a great deal of the time and focus of mediators. Despite the entreaties of diplomats shuttling between Addis, Juba and Jonglei, the detention of the Eleven remains a sticking point between Riek Machar and Salva Kiir. But a successful negotiation to secure their release will not solve the crisis, and it will not return the peace. The danger now is that too much of the mediators’ political capital is expended on a goal that is only a means to further negotiations, rather than an end in itself, and work towards a lasting settlement remains a lesser priority.
Khartoum may have once backed Riek, but Riek also once betrayed Khartoum. Interests are not fixed over time. Today’s paradox is that while Khartoum has enjoyed and encouraged some instability in South Sudan, even after independence, too much instability in South Sudan hurts Khartoum’s interests. An existential threat to the government in Juba (much like an existential threat to the government in Khartoum) brings for the other side destabilising uncertainty, the possible retraction of existing commitments on oil, trade and cooperation, and security complications in the borderlands.
Originally published by African Arguments on July 29, 2013.
Given rumours in Juba about the authenticity of Salva Kiir’s signature on earlier presidential decrees, I couldn’t help but be curious about the five examples on the latest batch of presidential stationery. I’m happy to report that each of the chief executive’s signatures seems to have authentic, natural variation.
Other questions are less easy to answer. Is Kiir’s move really a clean sweep of old and tired faces, or will most, excepting the president’s chief irritants Riek Machar and Pagan Amum, return with new titles? (So far, the announced appointment of Barnaba Marial Benjamin as Minister of Foreign Affairs would suggest the latter.) Is the appointment of speaker of parliament James Wani Igga as chair of the committee in order to investigate Pagan’s recognition of parliamentary sovereignty or something more: a hint of a grand alliance between Kiir and Wani for 2015? Continue reading