The international community will be confronted with hard choices: do we move ahead with the deployment of a force that will not make a difference, that will not have the capability to defend itself and that carries the risk of humiliation of the Security Council and the United Nations and tragic failure for the people…
These words could easily have been said about the anticipated Regional Protection Force (RPF), now the international community’s primary policy prescription to address the crisis in South Sudan. Instead, they date from 2007 and Jean-Marie Guéhenno, then head of the United Nations Department for Peacekeeping Operations, describing the challenges of what would become the United Nations – African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).
There are at least three important parallels between the experiences of UNAMID and the RPF. First, as in Darfur, the RPF is intended to enhance the capacity of an existing, under-performing and repeatedly outmanoeuvred peacekeeping operation. Second, the host government opposed, and then accepted with conditions, the RPF, and has and will continue to shift the goal posts on the composition and operational parameters of the force. Third, the RPF will take months to fully deploy, if indeed it ever does. Most crucially, even if this force deploys, it will not address the most crucial security and political problems in South Sudan. The greatest security risk to civilians in the city of Juba today comes from the government’s armed forces; the RPF will be outnumbered and outgunned by those same forces the government refuses to withdraw. With the bulk of SPLM/A (IO) forces having now fled Juba, the argument that the RPF is there to interposition between rival forces no longer holds; the moment at which a third party security force would have been of greatest benefit has been missed.
Salva Kiir’s recent verbal attack on the United Nations was not merely anger at the incident at the gates of the UNMISS camp in Bor. While strains in relations with the UN have been building over the course of the crisis, the fury of information minister Michael Makuei, the official denied access in Bor (VOA; Radio Bakhita; Sudan Tribune) helped bring relations to breaking point. Makuei’s influence has risen during the crisis. He has been louder, more aggressive and more uncompromising compared to his predecessor, current minister of foreign affairs Barnaba Marial Benjamin.
But the government of South Sudan has been unhappy with UNMISS for some time. Continue reading
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.