Ramaphosa's inverse logic in South Sudan

2014-04-30

The difficulty of Cyril Ramaphosa’s task in trying to reconcile and pacify the various factions of South Sudan’s ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) party is becoming clearer, after he engaged the SPLM late in April to establish a formal intra-party dialogue.

The most obvious manifestation of the complexities of his mission is that the SPLM in Opposition faction of former vice president Riek Machar is not participating in the dialogue. Only the factions of President Salva Kiir and of the so-called SPLM in Detention – those leaders who were detained by Kiir when the fighting erupted on December 15 – are in the talks.

Since the very nasty civil war is still raging between Kiir and Machar’s factions, the absence of the latter is patently a very serious omission. Of course, Ramaphosa hopes to remedy this as soon as possible.

Ramaphosa, Deputy-President of the ANC, is President Jacob Zuma’s Special Envoy to South Sudan. The South African government is a little ambivalent about his precise status, but he seems to be representing the ANC more than the government in South Sudan.

The ANC has a long and strong relationship with the SPLM, and the South African government had been helping to train South Sudanese civil servants even before the country came into being on 9 July 2011, after seceding from Sudan. And Ramaphosa became involved in the SPLM’s internal friction even before the fighting broke out in December. As he said in an interview this week, the ANC and the SPLM itself had realised that the real conflict was within the party – with leaders, particularly Kiir and Machar, competing for power.

Ramaphosa became involved in the SPLM's internal friction even before the fighting broke out

Kiir had already dismissed Machar and several other members of cabinet in July last year. And so Ramaphosa and other ANC members had met the SPLM to try to help them by basically just sharing the ANC’s own experiences.

‘Following the outbreak of conflict, they asked the ANC and the Ethiopia’s ruling [party], the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front [EPRDF], to assist them in streamlining the functionality and effectiveness of the SPLM, because it was realised that the SPLM had essentially become dysfunctional – and that’s where the root of the problem is.

‘Once you address the root of the problem, and the party begins to function effectively, it becomes a lot easier to address the governance issues.

‘Now, this is a party that started off as a military wing fighting an armed struggle and now it’s a party in government and has to transform itself. It did not start like the ANC, which was a political movement initially and then later formed an armed wing. So it’s the inverse of what the ANC processes have been all about.’

That difference may prove significant.

Ramaphosa considers it a solid achievement already that the SPLM factions have agreed to meet and have agreed on what the root cause of the problem is – and therefore also agreed on an agenda at the formal launch of the intra-party dialogue in Addis Ababa last week. 

‘It’s work in progress,’ he said, adding that he hoped to go back to Addis Ababa after South Africa’s elections on 7 May to begin substantive negotiations. However, it only now seems to be emerging that the Machar faction is absent from the intra-party dialogue.

As Ramaphosa himself acknowledged, the ANC is the 'inverse' of the SPLM

That is obviously a major omission; but Ramaphosa was somewhere between ‘hopeful’ and ‘optimistic’ that they would eventually join. The reason they have not come in yet is that they are focusing more on the prior negotiations with Kiir’s faction, which are being chaired by the Intergovernment Authority on Development (IGAD) and which they are participating in, he said.

But since those negotiations now appear to be on hold, the absence of the Machar faction from the intra-party dialogue becomes even more serious. One might have thought that if the agenda of that dialogue is about dysfunctionality within the SPLM, the Machar faction – being dissidents – would be all the more willing to address it.

Ramaphosa shrugs off that observation, insisting that ‘they will come in.’ The Machar faction’s reservations are not just about giving priority to the IGAD talks, it seems. It is evidently wary of the SPLM in Detention faction (though the detainees have now all been released), which has not taken sides or taken up arms, in the Kiir-Machar dispute.

Machar apparently suspects that the international community plans to make the ex-detainees the core of a government of national unity that would be established to resolve the conflict and get the country back on track. The international community might well be inclined to elevate this faction above the others because its leaders are diplomatically more engaging – and because they do not have blood on their hands, as both the Kiir and Machar factions do.

But the Machar faction leaders rejoin that the detainees would not be involved in talks at all were it not for their ‘armed resistance’ to the alleged excesses of Kiir – by all accounts an extremely authoritarian and brutal leader.

The Kiir and Machar factions have blood not just on their hands – but up to their shoulders. The ceasefire that IGAD mediators had brokered in January is long forgotten, and the killing continues apace and has begun to take on some of the characteristics of the Rwanda genocide. Roadblocks have been set up where Kiir’s Dinka or Machar’s Nuer tribesmen are separated out and murdered by their opposite numbers. They can be identified by the different patterns of ritual facial scarring.

The United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission – the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) – is proving unable to cope with the slaughter, just as Roméo Dallaire’s hopelessly underpowered UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) had been virtually helpless to stop the genocide.

Far from being able to protect civilians, UNMISS peacekeepers are coming under attack in their own bases, where tens of thousands of civilians have fled for protection from marauding soldiers of both warring SPLM factions as well as other militias.

Some observers believe the personal animosity between Kiir and Machar is so great that it is hard to imagine both of them being part of any agreement. Ramaphosa remains steadfastly optimistic. ‘Well, these are people who belong to the same party. They worked together for years. We will work through those issues.’ 

But whether all of this can be resolved by ‘streamlining’ the ‘functionality’ of the SPLM is rather moot. So too is the relevance of the experience that the ANC has to offer. As Ramaphosa himself acknowledged, the ANC is the ‘inverse’ of the SPLM.

He is presumably counting on inverse logic to save the day.

Peter Fabricius, Foreign Editor, Independent Newspapers, South Africa

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