Most prominent of the international players involved in the affairs of South Sudan has been President Museveni who has played the role of mentor to South Sudan president Salva Kiir and guarantor of the country’s numerous peace agreements. The other players with big roles are AU, IGAD and the UN and other regional countries like Kenya.
Kiir’s close association with Museveni has also been an unsettling factor to the country’s fledgling political experiment. Some voices in South Sudan say Museveni is way too involved with Kiir to be the mediator of warring factions in the country. In 2013, Museveni deployed UPDF troops in Juba after war broke out between forces loyal to Kiir and those loyal to his fired vice president Riek Machar.
The deployment of Ugandan troops is said to have handed Kiir a lifeline because the UPDF troops are what stood between him and an annihilation by forces loyal to Machar. Other accounts however say that Kiir does not have the complete command over all forces in the country which is cited as another source of the sporadic cycles of violence in the country. Integration of a national army was the other component of the 2018 Revitalised Peace Agreement.
According to sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations to bring peace to the country, Museveni directed that Rebecca Nyandeng De Mabior, widow of former leader John Garang, hold one of the five slots of Vice Presidents of South Sudan. These slots were created by the September 2018 Revitalised Agreement for the Resolution of the Conflict of South Sudan (RARCSS) signed in Addis Ababa.
Nyandeng is an ally of Machar who heads the Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement In Opposition (SPLM-IO). There is also concern about whether the extra vice president positions would not create more centres of power and thus ground for conflict. The mistrust between Kiir and Machar has held the country hostage for as long as it has existed. Machar is now in government as the First Vice President as part of the country’s precarious peace process.
The accusations levelled at Museveni have also been thrown at IGAD which comprises Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda. According to research carried out by IRRI, an organisation formed to inform and improve responses to cycles of violence and human rights violations, South Sudanese citizens lost trust in IGAD. South Sudanese accuse IGAD of bias towards the government of Salva Kiir and a failure to apply pressure on parties to adhere to the 2018 peace agreement.
The research titled “Dialogue and Peace Agreements in South Sudan” says IGAD did nothing when Machar was detained in South Africa in 2017. The study says IGAD did not follow up on other provisions in the 2015 agreement.
The research published in November 2018 says some members of IGAD particularly Uganda and Kenya were impartial- they were on the side of Kiir’s government because of business interests. Ugandan and Kenyan traders have opened up businesses in South Sudan ranging from construction firms, transport companies, hotels, restaurants, and lots of other merchandise. Ugandans also work there as teachers and staff in various civilian organisations.
South Sudan has latched from one peace agreement to another in its ten year journey as a poignant symbol of its tenous ability to hold at the centre. In 2014, then Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn threatened to arrest both Kiir and Machar if they did not sign a peace agreement in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. Desalegn was said to be at the end of his tether with the two leaders. Museveni known for his patience was in a similar mood in October 2019 while attending the launch of a round of peace talks in Juba. Using a mixture of Arabic, he lambasted both Kiir and Machar for priding in their status as tribal chiefs.
“It is absolute rubbish to waste even one afternoon to talk about hawiya (identity). I tell you to go to hell. These mistakes that have been going on because of this rubbish hawiya of tribe, religion etc. and we have killed each other,” he added, “When you want to bring prosperity to the people yet you front identity then what are you going to do?” Museveni asked.
Steve Eliaz, a politically conscious youth watching events of his country remains hopeful. “The constitution of the Republic of South Sudan has created space for the young people to exercise their potential by allocating some percentage to the young people,” he says when The Independent asks him about whether his country has some promise for his ilk.
He adds that young people are represented in the final constitution making process and more is in stock for them. “The youth are aligned to several political parties that are signatories to the revitalized agreement and the revitalized government of national unity.”