Thank you very much Mr. President for the opportunity to brief the Council on the situation in South Sudan. My remarks build on the briefing provided by Assistant Secretary General Wane and cover the developments relating to a resumption of a political process in South Sudan.
Since my last briefing two months ago, the five internal and regional initiatives to address the crisis in one form or another indicate continuing concern over the trajectory and depth of the conflict, without any of them so far presenting a definite breakthrough in the political impasses. However, I remain hopeful that some or a combination of them, may have the potential to positively impact the situation.
As we have heard from ASG Wane, there is sporadic fighting and widespread insecurity across the country. Our engagements with South Sudanese interlocutors, including the opposition, suggest that battlefield fortunes continue to inform the calculus of both the Government and its opponents. Alongside its military pacification efforts, the Government has created an appearance of reconciliation efforts, inter alia through the limited release of political prisoners.
The Government has further linked these efforts to the National Dialogue initiative, and to lay the ground to calls on political actors to prepare for elections in 2018. We have made clear to all external and internal stakeholders our view that the prevailing insecurity, (internal and external) population displacement, the lack of appropriate institutions or a reasonably level political playing field, in an increasingly divided ethnic environment, militate against organizing credible elections within a year, indeed it may well contribute to deepening and extending the conflict.
ASG Wane has dealt with some of the challenges facing the National Dialogue and its potential contribution to long-term sustainable peace. I would simply draw attention, in the context of various current regional initiatives, to the possibility of the National Dialogue initiative being played off against other initiatives directly related to securing an immediate Cessation of Hostilities.
Among the regional efforts, the Ugandan initiative has focused on the reunification of certain factions of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). This initiative led in late July to President Kiir, Madame Rebecca Garang of the Former Detainees group, and First Vice President Taban Deng committing to expediting the implementation of the Arusha Agreement of January 2015. This agreement concerned a resolution of SPLM intra-party problems. With the continued absence of Machar’s opposition faction, and some among the Former Detainees reluctant to reconcile with President Kiir in such a manner, the Ugandan initiative continues to fall short of achieving its goal. It may even be divisive amongst and between opposition groups. President Museveni has also begun to engage groups outside the SPLM core, inter alia encouraging preparations for elections.
Another regional initiative, the meeting of opposition parties that was to be hosted in Kenya by President Kenyatta, has not gained much traction. With the Kenyan Government focused on the outcome of recent elections, and the Former Detainees – who were the driving force behind the initiative – preoccupied with the Kampala discussions, the initiative appears to be stalled. The apparent advantage to any peace process of dealing with a coherent opposition, and the rising competition and conflicts between opposition groupings, have led stakeholders to explore alternatives. A meeting between Opposition parties, possibly outside Kenya, could be reinstated as part of preparations for the IGAD Revitalization Forum.
The decision of the IGAD Heads of State summit of 12 June to convene a High-Level Revitalization Forum in respect of the 2015 IGAD sponsored peace agreement has begun to gain some momentum. It aims to include Government and Opposition groups in a dialogue to consider how to implement the Peace Agreement, and IGAD has appointed Special Envoy, Ambassador Ismail Wais, to follow through on its decisions. Recognizing the importance of securing President Kiir’s buy-in, the IGAD Council of Foreign Ministers met in Juba on 24-25 July. Following that, IGAD, with help from JMEC, UNMISS, and my office, carried out a mapping exercise on the relevant opposition actors to be included in the Revitalization Forum.
In mid-August, I attended an IGAD-hosted meeting of independent South Sudanese experts in Ethiopia. The discussions were frank, and generated a number of recommendations for IGAD, including on which opposition parties to engage, and on how the Peace Agreement should be adjusted to reflect the new realities in South Sudan.
While the IGAD initiative continues to have potential, a main concern, which I have conveyed to IGAD, is its cautious preparation for engagement with the opposition actors. While these engagements are delicate, the danger is that the more they consult with IGAD capitals, including Juba, the more suspicious the opposition will become that its agenda is partisan.
Crucially, and irrespective of his declared commitment made to the IGAD Council of Ministers during their Juba visit to implement the IGAD summit decisions, President Kiir continues to prioritize the National Dialogue and the reunification of the SPLM, which he recently stressed would bring peace, with the revitalization process playing only a “supplementary role”.
As IGAD grapples with these challenges it has already warned that the indicative timeline for holding the Revitalization Forum at the end of September will necessarily slip.
Meanwhile, in regard to the AU’s engagement, the AU High Representative, President Alpha Oumar Konaré is awaiting the internal adoption of a broad AU engagement strategy on South Sudan before taking matters further. Previously, President Konare has emphasized speaking with one voice, the primacy of internal support for any solutions to the conflict, and a full and robust presence of the Regional Protection Force. President Konare is visiting Addis Ababa this week, providing my office an opportunity to engage and take stock on the current tracks of engagement, and the respective steps to be taken by the AU, IGAD and the UN. We will be concerned to establish mutual complementarity between IGAD and AU initiatives. This will be crucial as we enter a period of a more intensive public engagement by, respectively, your Council, the AU Peace and Security Council, and forums on the margins of the UN General Assembly.
Given the motives and underlying logics that drive the National Dialogue, the SPLM reunification process, the IGAD’s Peace Agreement Revitalization forum, and even the AU plan of action, it would at first instance appear that these initiatives will clash or undermine each other. On the other hand, they could harness the potential complementarity. And such an outcome would require a clear commitment to an inclusive and credible peace process. We have underlined to the IGAD Secretariat the importance of distinguishing the particular goals of each initiative and to focus on how they can work to the greater good. The Revitalization Forum, the National Dialogue or the other initiatives should neither adopt the agenda of the other nor overload the agenda of competing initiatives with their own goals.
In the quest for a more coherent approach therefore, my office will continue to work closely with IGAD, JMEC, the AU and UNMISS to support initiatives towards a sustainable peace. I will also continue to engage South Sudanese stakeholders so as to open lines to all sides of the conflict.