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.
1. On the march on Bor
I’ve lost count of the number of references to the ‘White Army’ in the media reports of recent days. The militia’s name appears to be innocuous:
Some impressions, incomplete, on developments in South Sudan:
1. To talk or not to talk?
Both Salva Kiir and Riek Machar are playing that game beloved of diplomacy: talking about how they might talk if they ever agreed to talk. While Salva Kiir has said he is ready for ‘unconditional’ negotiations, this does appear to be qualified: his proviso is that Riek also not have any preconditions. Salva’s condition is not to have any conditions.
It’s far too easy to say the events of recent days were entirely predictable. And a touch self-serving for those who have. For while the structural issues are well documented, nobody foresaw that a political ‘battle’ (oh, how the language of warfare has been bandied about in civilian politics) would become a tank battle on the streets of Juba.
But now that the initial shock begins to pass, and even if no one really knows what will happen next, that will not stop the usual broad predictions from being made: ‘tribal’ violence; civil war; state failure. And the usual policy prescriptions: send in an external mediator, deploy envoys and foreign ministers, pressure Salva and Riek and their allies to show restraint.
You used to be able to buy James Wani Igga’s book at the Juba airport newspaper kiosk. Perhaps you still can. Southern Sudan: Battles Fought and the Secrecy of Diplomacy is the kind of 400 page war memoir that includes anecdotes of the Third Punic War (p57, 149 – 146 BC, Wani tells us) as well as more contemporary descriptions of Wani’s adventures during the second civil war: Continue reading
Greetings internet! I’ve succumbed to the folly(?) of starting my own blog. I’ll gradually incorporate a back catalogue of articles published elsewhere on the web. And so for an inaugural post, as news breaks of James Wani Igga’s appointment as South Sudan’s new vice-president:
When Salva Kiir dismissed his government in July, there was plenty of speculation that this was a prelude to a formal split of the SPLM, and that as Kiir’s chief challenger, Riek Machar would be the most likely figure to lead a breakaway faction. And while nothing can be ruled out when it comes to the SPLM leadership, and, in time, as with most liberation movements, the party will almost certainly divide and re-configure, there are at least three good reasons why Riek Machar won’t (or shouldn’t, if he’s smart) leave the SPLM any time soon: Continue reading