With some of IGAD states party to the South Sudan conflict, summit’s decision on troops deployment raises genuine concerns

17 Mar

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory

By mid-April, it is expected that Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda would deploy troops to South Sudan, in line with the March 13, 2014 IGAD summit decision.

South Sudan’s Minister of Information Michael Makuei Lueth already Friday indicated that Juba has accepted “this regional initiative” and was ready to receive the force. He pointed out that what remained was discussions about the size of the force and its mandate.

The minister was right that, when reading the communiqué, I was also surprised not seeing any reference to the overall mandate of the force, other than a menition of it being part of the IGAD Monitoring and Verification Mechanism already in that country – presumably under the command of TPLF Major General (rtd) Gebreegzabher Mebrahtu.

Nevertheless, Thursday’s decision by the six IGAD leaders of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda in what the six-page summit communiqué refers to as “a protection and deterrence force” (PDF), is facing severe criticisms likening it to unchewed idea by some and sort of a trojan horse by others.

Its severest critics understandably are the SPLM/A rebels, who question IGAD nations’ motives. For instance, South Sudanese rebels chief negotiator Taban Deng Gai described it as “ill-advised.” He did not see any need for IGAD’s PDF, since the United Nations, which through UNMISS has force presence of over 12,000, is fully mandated to protect civilians.

The leader of the opposition forces Riek Machar already Thursday told the Sudan Tribune, “This is an unfortunate decision by IGAD to interfere in the internal conflict. We reject it and condemn it in the strongest terms. It is an attempt to regionalise the internal conflict”. The problem is that in this situation peace talks are in jeopardy now, since Machar has warned, “If IGAD member states who mediate the peace talks want to interfere militarily in the conflict, we may rethink our participation in the talks.”

Alas, IGAD seems to have taken a decision without benefits, that may even foreclose the door for any negotiated settlement in the South Sudan conflict.

There is already the recognition by the international community that IGAD states are all meandering to ensure their interests at the expense of the young nation.

For that matter this is not lost on Washington. On February 26, 2014, President Obama’s Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan Ambassador Donald Booth warned Congress in his testimony, “With the interests of other regional neighbors so heavily in play [in South Sudan], any increase in tensions has the potential to foment broader regional instability.”

Who knows if the latest decision by the IGAD six is not the road in that direction?

IGAD leaders during last week's  Addis Abeba summit, with the chairman barely finding room for the photo (Credit: MFA Ethiopia)

IGAD leaders during last week’s Addis Abeba summit, with the camera, unlike others, barely capturing the chairman’s half shoulder in the photo (Credit: MFA Ethiopia)


Why is this being allowed to come to pass?

Why is it that, at least, the IGAD Partners Forum (IPF) and/or the troika (Norway, UK and US) have been gingerly in sharing some of their ideas and experiences in this regard? In fact, in briefing to journalists, the US State Department only remarked on March 14: “In general, we’ve been very supportive of the IGAD process, right, because we want to continue working with our partners in the international community to make progress in South Sudan, to work with both sides to bring them back from the brink of the situation that they’ve found themselves in.”

The bemusement about the whole thing begins with IGAD leaders’ gratitude in paragraph 4 of the March 13 communiqué, praising Uganda for sending its forces on the side of the Juba government. The communiqué stated, “The Summit Commends the efforts of the Republic of Uganda in securing vital installations in South Sudan.”

This anomalous expression of gratitude has come notwithstanding the reality of civilian massacres by Uganda’s forces and of their own significant losses. This came to light first in President Museveni’s announcement of the news. Apparently, that also became the official confirmation of the presence in South Sudan of Ugandan forces, which Kampala had initially denied.

Surely, politics is the art of the possible, but this has gone too far, bordering lawlessness, if not an open ridicule to the calls by IGAD itself, Ethiopia and the United States requesting for immediate withdrawal of the forces.

Never mind that, the IGAD’s chief negotiator Seyoum Mesfin is now telling the world that IGAD’s decision envisages the troops “to be on the ground by no later than mid-April”. More ridiculous is his rationale of claiming that this to give effect to the decision of 25th Extra-Ordinary Summit of the IGAD Heads of State.

Neither the communiqué nor IGAD’s chief negotiator have directly responded to critics. The tragedy is that IGAD is trying to become peacemaker, when the interests of its members are openly becoming obstacle to peace in South Sudan.

After all, IGAD has been trying to reinvent the wheel, unsuccessfully for that matter, by taking this decision without even going through a quarter of the brainstorming the United Nations had done over 58 years ago on the eve of the invasion of the Suez Canal by France, Israel and the United Kingdom.

To my mind, there is no credibility for IGAD’s search for peace in South Sudan. Some of its members have knuckles aiming at one party or the other in the negotiations.

The world cannot close its ears to what the rebels chief negotiator requested of the East and Horn of Africa states: “IGAD should either be sincere in its mediation efforts or tell us in no uncertain terms that it is with the government of General Salva Kiir”.

Come to think of it. Didn,t Museveni get that praise in the IGAD communiqué for two reasons?: (a) to get him off any possible international investigation in future, implicated in crimes against humanity in South Sudan; and, (b) to get him to withdraw his forces from that country as soon as possible! This way IGAD heads of states tried to shelter themselves from the unguided missile! Who knows what else is there under the table?

Recall that the summit in paragraph 9 of the communiqué called for the “progressive withdrawal of all armed groups and all allied forces invited by either side”, which is a reference to Ugandan troops and the other invisible hands, possibly including Sudan and Eritrea.

Uganda is in South Sudan not to protect the SPLM government, but its own economic interests. The Daily Maverick reports, in 2012 Ugandan exports to South Sudan had reached $1.3 billion, beating tourism by far. The paper concludes, Uganda has “a lucrative asset to protect. And when that asset threatened to implode, it wasted no time in stepping in to protect it.”

Ethiopia’s interests in South Sudan have varied security dimensions as economic, although all the same it is driven by self-interests. To start with there are peoples on both sides of the border of the two countries that are of the same ethnic origin. Recall also that the lesson has been deep for Ethiopia that, if did not dig deep in the 1980s in South Sudan, fostering and nurturing the rebellion against the north, possibly the reality in western Ethiopia would have been different today, as it has been in the north since over two decades ago.

TPLF has aöways viewed South Sudan leaders with suspicion, so do analysts say, due to its fear that the badly governed young nation could become source of its nightmare. Therefore, it appears that for over a decade and a half it has been cementing its relations with the SPLM heavily involved in the economy.

To that end, the TPLF has encouraged many Ethiopian investments, as well as the members of party to start businesses in the country. The Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) is also one of the eleven banks in that country, while Ethiopian airlines has also been in service.

This same approach is also employed by Eritrea, although less in significance and visibility. It has mostly encouraged many of its nationals to run some businesses, for which their presence has become not negligible.

As far as Ethiopia is concerned, there are recurring claims that Ethiopia’s calculation in Juba aims at keeping Eritrea at bay.

How visionary that William Shakespeare was. Wasn’t he the one who wrote in Julius Ceasar – “Cry ‘Havoc’!, and let slip the dogs of war”?

*Analysis based on reporting by news agencies.

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