Regional and international governments including the United States have been greatly concerned about the conflict in South Sudan and have taken immediate steps to halt the fighting by urging a cease-fire and supporting negotiations.
However missing in the debate about “what to do” in South Sudan are the voices of citizens, civil society leaders, women, youth and academics directly affected by the crisis.
We believe these voices are equally critical in contributing meaningful guidance for building a lasting solution and we will be featuring a series of blogs to highlight their voices.
–The Staff of United to End Genocide
For the past month, South Sudan has been embroiled in a violent conflict of tragic proportions that erupted just before Christmas 2013, denying South Sudan’s citizens the opportunity to peacefully and joyously celebrate Christmas and the New Year. While there are many underlying causes, the immediate trigger of the violence was a political power struggle within the country’s ruling party (the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the “SPLM”).
The internal struggle, sadly, erupted onto the populace and thousands of innocent civilians — mostly from the Nuer and Dinka ethnic groups — have perished and many more have been displaced from their homes. Underlying the conflict are also deeper structural issues, such as poor governance, corruption, nepotism and tribalism.
Current negotiations must take both short- and long-term approaches to end the crisis in South Sudan. Most obviously, in the short-term, the carnage of innocent civilians must end. The warring leaders of South Sudan must enter into immediate and unconditional ceasefire arrangements.
In the longer term, the deeper underlying issues must be addressed or any cessation of hostilities is likely to be short-lived. In our view, any long term solution to South Sudan’s crisis must include the following elements, among others.
Restructuring of the Army, Sudan People’s Liberation Army (the “SPLA”). Currently, the two major ethnic communities — the Nuer and the Dinka — constitute more than two-thirds of the army. Any of the two can hold the country at ransom, as recent events have demonstrated. In the interest of long-term stability, therefore, members of the three greater regions of Equatoria, Upper Nile and Bahr el Gazhal should be equally represented in the armed forces. It is a formula that has worked well in the past. In addition, the army must be professionalized and de-politicized with the aim to create a national military that is loyal to South Sudan and her citizens, not to particular parties, individuals or ethnic groups.
National Dialogue. It is critical that the present discussions in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia are followed by a National Conference where representatives of all stakeholders would be invited, since the problems facing South Sudan are national, requiring a comprehensive approach. Relevant stakeholders include all the South Sudanese political parties, church leaders, youth and women’s organisations, veterans groups and other civil society groups.
South African Type of Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The institution of such a commission would help to heal the deep wounds of hurt following the unspeakable violence and destruction and help to restore a sense of trust between the various nationalities in South Sudan. The details of such a process, whether legal or extra-legal, could be sorted out in the proposed national conference.
Constitutional Review. The current Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan needs to be thoroughly revised with the aim of reigning in the excess powers given to the President, which includes wide discretion to fire elected governors. A fixed term of office for the President must be enshrined in the constitution. Additional constitutional measures should include, but not be limited to, strengthening individual rights, enacting greater separation of powers than now exists among the branches of government in South Sudan and empowering the judicial and legislative branches.
Investigation into the Killings. A thorough investigation into the reports of ethnically motivated killings of people of any national origin in all the theatres of war — Juba, Jonglei, Unity State, Upper Nile and any other areas — must ultimately be undertaken and the perpetrators brought to justice. For, without justice, there can be no lasting peace in South Sudan.
Dr Mairi Blackings was educated at Gulu High School, Uganda, the University of Juba, Sudan, the University of Leeds, and the University of Strathclyde, UK, where he is currently a Post Doctoral Fellow.
Laura Nyantung Beny is a Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School. She is co-editor with Sondra Hale of the forthcoming book Sudan’s Killing Fields: Political Violence and Fragmentation.