S. Sudan Peace Talks: tracing the genesis of ‘peace jokes’ in the Great Lakes region


ALL SMILES: S. Sudan leader Gen. Kiir and rebel commander Machar shaking hands after signing the peace deal

The hostilities in South Sudan have resumed barely a month after the warring parties put pen to paper to sign a peace agreement aimed at forging unity in the troubled world’s newest state.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) government led by General Salva Kiir Mayardit and the breakaway faction led by Riek Machar Teny have been at each other’s throat since war broke out in the world’s newest state in December 2013.

One year later, there are over 100.000 people dead, while nearly two million South Sudan citizens have been displaced by the deadly war.


WHEN (TWO) ELEPHANTS FIGHT?….: South Sudanese fleeing the conflict

It now seems that the peace talks signed recently at Africa Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia are just a replica of the earlier ones in the East and Central African (Great Lakes) region, which did nothing to bring about peace even after so many resources, both human and financial, being expended.

About a week ago in South Sudan, as it turned out, the government claimed the rebels had split, prompting the SPLM-in-government to call for delayed enforcement of the final peace deal slated for before March 5. The government side maintained the delay would give it time to identify the ‘legitimate representative of the rebels to continue talks with’.

The negative development came in the wake of an ultimatum on coalition governance issued by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and follows the ‘defection’ of Lul Raui Koang, a former spokesperson of the Machar-led group. This group also boasts of other notables like the Garangs; Rebecca Nyandeng, the widow of fallen SPLM leader General John Garang De Mabior, and his son De Mabior Garang, both fierce critics of their husband/father’s successor Gen Salva Kiir.

However, to understand and appreciate the history of high-level failed talks in the region one needs to look no further than Sudan’s neighbours; so far there have been about a dozen failed ‘peace talks’ across the East and Central African region, the most prominent involving Uganda (twice), Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In 1985, the then government of General Tito Okello Lutwa engaged the National Resistance Movement/Army (NRM/A) guerillas led by Yoweri Museveni, the current President of Uganda.

The talks held in the Kenyan Capital Nairobi under the chairmanship of then President Daniel Arap Moi dragged on for some time culminating in the signing of ‘peace talks’ in December of the same year.

But, the talks were never to hold as both warring parties threw barbs at each other, with General Lutwa famously claiming Museveni was a snake that had been ‘defanged’.  Peace came about after Museveni and his guerillas shoot themselves into power in 1986 as Lutwa fled into exile.

Then in July 1992, the Rwandan government under General Juvenal Habyarimana  and then rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front/Army, led by Colonel Alexis Kanyarengwe and Major General Paul Kagame began talks aimed at forging a peace deal in the then ethnically-troubled country that had witnessed a pogrom and genocide over 30 years earlier.

But as had been widely expected, the talks code-named the Arusha Peace Accords (signed in August 1993) brokered by the then Tanzanian government under the leadership of Ali Hassan Mwinyi did not provide a lasting solution to the hostilities.

The Rwandan government team including President Habyarimana and his Burundi counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira perished in April 1994 when their plane was blown up by a missile, leading to the eruption of the genocide

In Burundi several attempts at finding a lasting solution to the ethnic crises had always failed to bear fruit, until the final talks, also brokered by Tanzania provided a form of reprieve that saw President Pierre Nkurunziza lead the country through a non-tumultuous five-year first term.

Similarly, in the DRC, several ‘peace talks’ had earlier collapsed, only for the facilitators to realize that another approach would provide the necessary ground for success.

It must be appreciated that most talks held in the Great Lakes region are not aimed at establishing good governance and accountability, but on the contrary have a tinge of tribal supremacy, the reason they fail.

For instance in the case of South Sudan, there are persistent denials that the current standoff is not a supremacy battle between Kiir’s tribal group, the Dinka, and Machar’s group, the Luo Nuer. But this is far from the truth as an incisive interrogation will prove the contrary.

So what needs to be done?

It is important to understand that the only successful peace initiatives so far have been reinforced by the threat of sanctions, or better still, the use of force.

For example, in 2013 in the DRC the ‘March 23’ (M23) rebel group ceased hostilities carried out over a two-year period, after regional peace facilitators and the United Nations used force to upstage the ever-resurging group that comprised mostly the ethnic Banyamulenge, a tribe closely related to the Tutsi of Rwanda and Burundi.

Likewise, in the Central African Republic, it took the intervention of French troops for the warring factions, the Seleka rebels and the anti-Balaka group to disarm.

Indeed, even for the reclusive Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), of Joseph Kony, which engaged the Uganda government in a ping-pong game of ‘peace jokes’, it has taken the efforts of the US government and an African Union intervention force, to subdue the self-styled rebel General, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, for War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity. He has a $5 million bounty on his head thanks to the US.

Ironically, the failed Uganda-LRA talks were chaired by Riek Machar, the then vice –President of South Sudan, who is embroiled in the current stand-off and seems to have learnt a thing or two about failing to dialogue in pursuit of peace.