There are many political mistakes that the supposedly reformist SPLM-IO party has committed. These mistakes include expansion of the government, the issue of 32 states, transitional security arrangements, failure to address the root causes of the civil war, among others. But the most important strategic blunder made by the SPLM-IO is probably the legislative one. Since early 2014, the armed opposition has consistently claimed that its main goal is to change the political system in the country. The people of South Sudan embrace the idea because they know the only way to reform the current oppressive system is by having a truly an independent legislative body to pass laws that reflect South Sudanese wishes. But the recent pact clearly failed the people. It is baffling to see the leadership of the SPLM-IO abandoning demands of the people by accepting a deal which embraces Salva Kiir’s ruthlessness. If this peace ends the conflict, it will be good for the country. But the irony is that it will still maintain Kiir’s tyranny because the SPLM-IO parliamentarians will have no means to limit his grip on power. In any nation, reforms are done through legislative means, not by wild assumptions. It would be a mistake to think that Kiir will support the armed opposition reform agenda in the parliament. The man still fantasizes about his one-man rule. He likes ruling the country through presidential decrees. So, the notion that reforms will be done after the SPLM-IO rejoined the government is a pure fantasy.
Statistically, Kiir has the number to deny any reform agenda he does not like or want. He can do it by instructing his parliamentarians not to vote for any bill that would limit his powers. The signed document, for example, proposes that the Transitional National Legislative Assembly (TNLA) will have 550 Members of Parliament (MPs). The revitalized text gave the incumbent TGoNU 332 MPs (60.4%), whereas 23.3% (128 MPs) will represent the SPLM-IO, 50 MPs (9.1%) allocated to SSOA, 5.5% (30 MPs to OPP, and 10 MPs (1.8%) are awarded to FDs. In the war of numbers, it is 60.4% vs. 39.6%. Meaning, the government MPs clearly outnumbered all opposition MPs combined. It is strikingly a solemn misjudgment on the SPLM-IO’s part. It is worth noting that the government does not have a two-thirds majority in the TNLA — which would have been 366.7 MPs (66.7% to 33.3%) out of the proposed 550 MPs. This calculation has a +1 margin of error. In a logical sense, Kiir parliamentary bloc needs an additional 34.7 MPs to pass any law it wants. Remember, South Sudan is full of briefcase political parties. Most of these parties are not fighting for the people of South Sudan, they are fighting for themselves. For them, it is a war over positions and Kiir could still bribe 34.7 MPs from these self-serving parties to pass any law he wants. These are Mathematical truths. The SPLM-IO can create its own excuses, but I am certain that any opposing view, denying these facts would be indisputably counterintuitive.
The SPLM-IO’s central argument is that it signed the deal because it wants South Sudanese refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to have a sense of peace and possibly return to their homes, let alone its reform agenda. This is indisputably a good humanitarian gesture. However, signing an agreement simply because you want IDPs and refugees currently under the protection of the United Nations (UN) peacekeepers to come out and go back to their houses is not a plausible idea. The SPLM-IO cannot force civilians it cannot possibly protect to go back to their homes where they will be vulnerable to Juba’s brutality. It would be better for the SPLM-IO to just sign any pact it desires and not allow any provision in any deal that would then force refugees and IDPs to leave UN-run camps for their homes where insecurity is widespread. Calling for innocent civilians to leave their secured places for their homes which are under the control of Juba’s oppressive regime reminds me of Salva Kiir who always wants to grand an amnesty to anyone who opposes his regime so that he can prolong his tyranny without a formidable opposition. I suggest the leadership of the SPLM-IO thinks deeply about this issue.
Why would the SPLM-IO sign a peace which embraces Kiir’s ruthlessness, forget the victims of the SPLM self-made war, and ignore people demands for change? Did the armed opposition forget what it has been fighting for the last four-and-a-half years? What really happens to SPLM-IO’s reform agenda? Is the armed opposition reform agenda dead?
There is no doubt in my mind that the legislative branch will pose a daunting challenge to the SPLM-IO and other opposition parties. However, this challenge could be minimized or even frustrated if all opposition MPs work together as a united bloc in the parliament. If this happens, then the incumbent government could be forced to collaborate or make deals with opposition MPs which would then allow the SPLM-IO and other political parties to enact some laws. Leaving this obvious political risk aside, I honestly believe that political and economic reforms under this deal will not be feasible given the fact that Kiir still cherishes the idea of appointing and removing people through his dictatorial decrees.
As I have already indicated, the agreement has many pro-Kiir provisions. But ending the suffering of South Sudanese who are now living under dire conditions in refugee camps and foreign countries is the number one priority. If the incumbent TGoNU and the SPLM-IO are serious about peace and fully implement it, then they will be thanked by the people of South Sudan for ending the war. However, the fact that the armed opposition lacks the necessary number of MPs to reform the political system in the country is even worse. It would be a wishful thinking for the SPLM-IO to assume that its transformation agenda will be magically done when it knows the number of its MPs is not enough to execute its policies through parliamentary processes. The Khartoum’s power-sharing deal will not bring the much-needed political reforms in the country. This agreement is merely a classic case of a new political marriage between the government and SPLM-IO. This pact is also a reminder for the people of South Sudan that reforms championed by the armed opposition could be a thing of the past. It is clear, however, that all factions of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) seem to be interested in reuniting themselves under the same old dictatorial umbrella. It is good to remind people that Kiir and Machar have already agreed to cantonments of their troops and deployment of the East African and African Union forces to enforce the cessation of hostilities. However, this is not new since the two leaders had previously signed many agreements before and violated them. One of these violations occurred in July 2016, when Kiir colluded with the current First Vice President Taban Deng to hijack the August 2015 compromise deal.
Kiir is not for a lasting peace in the country. His main concern is not to end the war, rather it is to sign any peace that maintains its ruthlessness, lures leaders of the SPLM-IO to Juba in a pretext of the pact and refuses to implement the agreement. Kiir demonstrated his unwillingness to implement the deal on August 8 at Bilpham military headquarters when he told his troops that they should be prepared to receive and integrate the armed opposition soldiers. This is not what the security arrangements stipulate. The security pact specifies that both incumbent government and rebel forces shall be screened and classified based on established military standards and those who pass such a screening will be combined and given proper training during the Pre-transitional period. This provision was included in the proposal to make sure South Sudan has a professional army after the three transitional periods. Kiir is the one who does not want peace to return to the country. He violated many pacts by refusing to release the armed opposition officials he kidnapped as well as Prisoners of Wars (POWs) even though this demand was clearly stipulated in the previous ceasefire agreements. The people of South Sudan are not interested in this elitist agreement. As you can see, Kiir is trying to deceive people before the deal is even finalized — this is how he operates. The man is a cunning oppressor who cannot be trusted when it comes to peace. The armed opposition should not succumb to this dubious accord — an accord which irrefutably castoffs reforms demanded by the people.
Having a defined and well-developed political doctrine is essential for any political party to succeed. The SPLM-IO is theoretically an opposition party. It will, supposedly, if all things go as planned, have its own political and economic agendas that it would want to be passed by the parliament. The armed opposition knows its success in the TNLA may not be feasible given the fact that it lacks numbers to wage a successful legislative fight. Politics is all about strategies, numbers, games, back-stabbing, making closed-door deals, and selling your policies to the people. If the SPLM-IO wants its reform agenda to survive, it must have specific policies in place and these policies must be staunchly championed and defended by the leadership of the SPLM-IO as well as its proposed parliamentarians. If the armed opposition deserts its reform agenda, then it will be a new chapter for Kiir’s cruelty to continue and the death for a democratic hope for the country — it would be a chapter that the people of South Sudan would not like to see happening. The SPLM-IO must not allow its democratic vision to die; it must continue to use all necessary means to make sure that those who lost their lives in the war did not die in vain. The leadership of the SPLM-IO must rethink its peace strategy or it risks being an extension of Salva Kiir’s tyrannical regime.
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