It is more or less a symbolic gesture that most likely is not going to make much difference. The reference is to the scheduled June 17 meeting between Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, which will be hosted by Khartoum. Without reading much in the venue, the meeting is being held at the request of IGAD that is mediating in the South Sudan infight. Khartoum meeting is part of an effort leading to the African Union summit to be hosted by Mauritania on July 1.
Though it will be the first face to face meeting between Kiir and Machar in two years, yet there is slim chance that the meeting and the one to follow in less than two weeks will really provide a base for a sustained settlement.
Simply put the government led by Kiir feel that it is in a strong position militarily speaking and supported by strong allies namely Uganda and Egypt, so it does not have to compromise. The opposition on the other hand feel it is not that weak to surrender. For both the regional players supported by the international community led by the United States seem to have run out of ideas on how to settle this dispute. And that is why there is continuous repeat of the same recipe of power and wealth sharing that failed to take off despite time and resources spent.
This futile exercise brings to memory a similar failure of the regional and international mediation in the crisis of the mother country Sudan that lasted for quarter a century. Though it was culminated by signing the CPA in 2005, but that agreement failed to achieve any of its declared goals: ending the war, achieving peace, unity and democratic transformation. Following the separation of South Sudan, the AUHIP added the new goal of having the two countries live in peace with each other and within each other.
None of these goals have been achieved. And despite that, the same approach is being applied in endless attempts, meetings and conference trying to put South Sudan dispute to rest. And to no avail so far.
The gist of the problem lies in the approach that restricts the solution to the elites club and not opening the gates for the people at large in whose names the fighting is carried out and they are most affected by its continuation. Because the emphasis is on the elites, the talk about power and wealth sharing is seen as a zero sum game. The gain of one party is regarded as a loss for the other party. And that is why the so many agreements concluded were doomed to fail. It happened in the case of Sudan’s CPA and that failure is being repeated over the period of more than four years in the case of South Sudan.
The Khartoum meeting may produce some sort of a deal that will be endorsed by the forthcoming AU summit, but will it have a sustainable impact and bring peace to the troubled country where hunger is threatening seven million of its people?
The situation does not augur well for the immediate future. First it is not clear what options the regional mediators supported by the international community will have as Plan (B). The US threat to impose sanctions on leaders and activate an arms embargo will have little effect, if any, in case it is not supported regionally.
To complicate more an already complicated situation, the opposition led by Machar is seeing more fragmentation and more armed groups are operating outside his control. Moreover, Kiir may decide to create new facts on ground by extending the life span of his government, a step if it is to take place, no one, regionally or internationally, is sure how to deal with it. And that reflects one of the main flaws of the mediation efforts so far. That it does not stem from and agreed upon strategy on how to achieve peace.
What has been happening so far is intermittent steps taken to share power between the war lords that fail to address the root causes of the problem and more seriously blocking itself into an approach that embraces and highlights only the elites. It is high time to break up that approach in favor of a wider one that brings people at large and the society into the equation.
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