On December 13th 2010 i happened to be on a late flight from Windhoek to Johannesburg- where i sat next to the liaison officer for the then semi-autonomous GOSS (Government of South Sudan) resident in Pretoria. Quite a cerebral person with a Ph.D from a top American University, we soon delved into talking shop and naturally politics followed. I told him of my fears for the soon to be independent state and in fact I dared predict that ethnically based internal strive will have broken out in less than 3 years.
I impressed it upon him that gaining independence would be the easier task and that resolving the internal contradictions would be the harder one. He was very enthusiastic about the referendum and certain independence for the South as it would mark a departure from what was perceived as oppression and marginalization from forces in the North. On 16th December 2013 I woke up to the news that there had been clashes between forces loyal to Gen. Salva Kiir Mayardit and those of Dr. Riek Machar Teny. In between are the names of Rebecca Nyadeng widow to the late Dr. John Garang and that of Commander Peter Gatdet Yak a celebrated war general with a penchant for rebellion. As the flurry of accusations and counter accusations continue unabated, the cable services have invoked the words genocide and war crimes. This emerging narrative I shall return to later.
South Sudan is very critical to the stability of all the riparian Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) states as well as the Central African Republic, and the Horn of Africa. The proliferation of small and light weapons that have proven instrumental in intensifying conflict in these countries has been directly linked to break down of the state that makes it impracticable to police movement of illegal arms. This is coupled with the existence of a number of dissident armed groups as well as organizations that have been labeled and/or declared terrorist organizations. The clashes that are now nearly a week old at the time of writing this article have the effect of undermining efforts to stabilize the region for which reason it would be paramount for the United Nations and the African Union to assemble as a matter of urgency a stabilization force akin to that deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The DRC mandate is markedly different from previous approaches to peace keep and that one time was President Museveni’s pet subject when marshalling international support force intervention in Somalia- he talked of peace enforcement rather peace keeping, his argument being there wasn’t peace in the first instance and the reason for a UN mandate to engage with the “enemy” so as to stabilise the country. In the DRC MONUSCO took over from an earlier UN peacekeeping operation – the United Nations Organization Mission in Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) – on 1st July 2010. The original mandate of the mission was established by the Security Council resolution 1925 of 28th May 2010 to reflect the new phase reached in the country. It was authorized to use all necessary means to carry out its mandate relating, among other things, to the protection of civilians, humanitarian personnel and human rights defenders under imminent threat of physical violence and to support the Government of the DRC in its stabilization and peace consolidation efforts.
The Council decided then that MONUSCO would comprise, in addition to the appropriate civilian, judiciary and correction components, a maximum of 19,815 military personnel, 760 military observers, 391 police personnel and 1,050 members of formed police units thereby sealing it as the largest peace keeping operation ever engaged by the UN. This was further buttressed by an intervention brigade whose activities included launching attacks against rebels in Nord Kivu and have yielded some dividend. In South Sudan in operation is the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) UNMISS that was established on 8 July 2011 by United Nations Security Council Resolution 1996 (2011) and comprises 5,884 civilian, 5,508 military and 376 police personnel well far below the capacity required for the enormity of the task at hand as can clearly be seen from the images of the humanitarian crisis in the offing.
The current mandate of the UNMISS is largely to, Support for peace consolidation and thereby fostering longer-term state-building and economic development Support the Government of the Republic of South Sudan in exercising its responsibilities for conflict prevention, mitigation and resolution and protect civilians Support the government of the Republic of South Sudan in developing its capacity to provide security, to establish rule of law, and to strengthen the security and justice sectors.
The earlier the UN and the AU came to terms of the realities on the ground the better for the region or else as seen from earlier conflicts; the same could spell disaster for the region. In the DRC, some 5 million people lost their lives in the conflict there from 1994 upto the time the UN took it upon itself to intervene- must we have the same in South Sudan?
Enter the narrative emerging on war crimes and genocide. The conflict has clearly pitted two ethnic groupings that have historically jostled for control to the exclusion of the other. In here lies trouble for the belligerent protagonists. The script from previous conflicts has been pretty much predictable.
The cables set the agenda and soon the big western powers form a consensus at the security council where resolutions are passed amidst statements like, “the incidents are regrettable”, “there is urgent need to forestall the humanitarian crisis unfolding” etc and before we come to terms with what the western media is feeding us, the International Criminal Court arrives with arrest warrants and we chorus- that the ICC is targeting Africans? As all this so-called targeting is implemented the pillaging of the young nation’s natural resources will continue unabated with newer allies on the ground. Should this be happening to us in the 21st Century and in the week when we laid to rest the world’s icon of forgiveness Nelson Mandela?
The writer is an Advocate practicing with Karuhanga, Tabaro & Associates and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org