South Sudan’s opposition rejected a power-sharing proposal by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) at a meeting in Ethiopia on Tuesday.
Its position, spearheaded by the Riek Machar-led armed group Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO), puts the peace talks in jeopardy as the nation sinks deeper into crisis.
SPLM-IO envoy to Tanzania Peter Kleto said in a statement on Wednesday that the proposal gives more power to the Juba government.
The Igad proposal, Mr Kleto said, excludes key reforms in the governance system, does not reflect inclusivity, and does not take into account the local government.
“It fails to address the issues of accountability, and attempts to usurp the powers of accountability. It is one-sided and cannot claim to be a bridging proposal,” he said.
Igad presented the formula in Addis on Tuesday, allocating the presidency and second vice president to President Salva Kiir’s faction, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement — In Government (SPLM-IG).
The SPLM-IO was given the post of first vice-president, with the third vice-president going to the other political parties.
“On the presidency, I don’t think it is necessary to create a third vice-president position because the presidency and the first and second vice president positions will represent the three regions of Equatoria, Upper Nile and Bahr el-Ghazal regions,” Mr Kleto said.
The creation of the third vice-president position would allow the Juba regime to influence and dominate decision making in the presidency, he said.
The envoy also objected to the expansion of the Cabinet to 42 members in the face of the current biting economic crisis.
“We are not negotiating for positions, but, in good governance, this must be made clear. The entire government must be dissolved and reconstituted because its mandate has expired,” he said.
No end to civil war
Igad’s ability to end the five-year South Sudan civil war has now come into question.
The chairperson of the Igad Council of Ministers, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu, said the mediators had failed to bridge the rift between the warring parties despite five months of consultations prior to the talks. He said the council will submit a report to the Heads of State Summit and await further direction.
However, James Morgan, South Sudan’s ambassador to the AU, said there are some gains from the recent talks, but the proposal should be firm enough to deal with the SPLM-IO group that has been derailing the talks with their unrealistic demands.
According to the AU rapid response arrangements, regional economic blocs are supposed to be the first responders to solve conflicts in their respective regions with the support of the AU headquarters.
However, after presiding over the 2015 agreement, Igad has failed to ensure its implementation and lacks the mechanism to punish those who violate ceasefire agreement. The 2015 pact was supposed to be the final peace agreement on the resolution of the conflict, and was signed in August that year.
The UN and the United States have also cited vested economic and political interests among some Igad countries as impediments to the peace process.
Kenya and Uganda have been fingered by the UN for allowing weapons to pass through their countries to South Sudan.
The latest talks, which ran from May 17 to 23, adjourned with few gains as the delegates agreed on some aspects of security arrangements but could not agree on a power sharing formula.
The delegates agreed on the cantonment of the armed groups to their specific areas as part of the ceasefire arrangement, and for the formation of a national army that takes into account ethnic balance.
However, the Igad proposal for a new power-sharing formula was rejected by all the political players — the government, the armed groups and the opposition alliance — putting Igad on the spot.
The biggest criticism, especially from the opposition, is that Igad has been concentrating on power sharing and expanding the transitional government to include new players, instead of interrogating why the 2015 peace agreement failed and designing new mechanisms for a lasting solution.
Dr Remember Miamingi, a co-convener of the South Sudan Human Rights Observatory, said that Igad is trying to address the conflict that erupted in 2013 and not the on-going complex and multi-faced conflicts that go beyond power sharing.
“These proposals are outdated for the current situation that no longer revolves around power sharing among elites, but returning power back to the people through addressing root causes of the conflicts and the new state and political design,” said Dr Miamingi.
On May 22, Igad had proposed a new power sharing formula offering President Kiir’s government 55 per cent of the Cabinet positions, up from 53 per cent in the 2015 agreement, while Dr Machar’s SPLM-IO had its share reduced from 33 to 25 per cent to give room to new players.
Igad has also proposed an increase in Cabinet positions from 30 in the 2015 agreement to 42 ministries and 15 deputy ministers, and increased the number of MPs in the transitional government from the current 400 to 440.
Other proposals included three vice-presidents in which Dr Machar was to return as the first vice-president, which could have forced President Kiir to choose between the current first vice-president, Taban Deng Gai — who had defected from the rebels to the government — and the second vice-president, James Wani Igga, who had vacated the seat to Dr Machar in 2015.
These proposals were rejected by the government, as it does not want Mr Gai to be moved, the SPLM-IO, that termed the new formula as a “reward” to Juba for failing to implement the 2015 agreement, and the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA) that has been advocating for a lean government.
Dr Machar’s deputy, Henry Odwar, who headed the SPLM-IO delegation to Addis Ababa, said his organisation is committed to the notion of a lean government by instituting a federal system of government where more responsibilities are taken care of at lower levels.
“Expansion of government does not necessarily mean inclusivity. The idea of accommodation creates more problems and undermines the need to address principle and structural matters of government that have contributed to the current crisis,” said Mr Odwar.
According to Kwaje Lasu, the SSOA Interim Secretary General and spokesperson, the legality of the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) which Igad used to formulate the new power-sharing formula, was never incorporated into the Constitution as stipulated in Article 2 of Chapter 8.
“After the July 2016 hostilities, when Dr Machar was ousted by the armed forces of the president, the TGoNU ceased to exist as a legal entity and is currently representing only one original stakeholder, the government side,” said Mr Lasu.