Manage Your Expectations of JMEC

H.E. Mr. Festus Mogae, Former President of the Republic of Botswana
H.E. Mr. Festus Mogae, Former President of the Republic of Botswana

JMEC has made some recent decisions that have baffled many observers. So, just why are they so quick to drop key principles of the CPA?

At independence we collectively decided to ignore all the warning signs and were swept up in the excitement of it all. We let our imagination get the better of us. We told ourselves it was a new start. It would all sort itself out. We were wrong. The deep divisions in our society caught up with us.

Now once again, we’ve let our imagination get the better of us. The last couple of weeks have been a wakeup call. It’s time to get real.

Our Wakeup Call

It started with the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC), chaired by Festus Mogae, the former President of Botswana, agreeing to a negotiated settlement for ministerial portfolios instead of using the lottery system required by the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan, more commonly known as the Compromise Peace Agreement (CPA). Now JMEC seems happy with the controversial 28 states issue being dealt with ‘politically’ among the competing parties instead of throwing it out as inconsistent with the CPA.

Many are left wondering why JMEC is so quick to drop key principles of the CPA. How many more provisions will they concede to the parties involved? What about the difficult areas of political reform, accountability, justice and reparations?

The answer is simple. JMEC, and its backers in Africa and beyond, are more concerned with maintaining the fragile peace than restructuring South Sudan’s delinquent political system. Peace is the central principle behind power sharing. Its focus is on consolidating peace and preventing a return to war.

Sharing Has Problems

Despite its popularity in resolving many of Africa’s conflicts, the power sharing approach to conflict resolution has many problems. A major problem is that power sharing often shuts out all but the violent parties and locks in war-time power balances. It is usually only partially implemented and is lightly enforced. It re-enforces ethnic division and allows almost any issue to be ethnicized for political gain. More worrying is that power sharing often fails to recognise Africa’s enduring patrimonialism, where power flows directly from a leader and is rarely held in check by strong institutions such as the legislature or the judiciary.

Studies have also shown whenever a civil war ends with no clear victory for one side or the other, power sharing is usually much more fragile and the likelihood of a return to war is greatly increased. Instead of providing a framework for conflict resolution, power sharing structures become tools to weaken the other side. This should be especially alarming for South Sudanese considering the Presidents allegations of an imposed peace. Without a meaningful commitment, power sharing all too easily becomes the continuation of the war by other means.

Only two cases of power sharing had commonly been referred to by academics as successful: South Africa and Burundi. With Burundi relapsing into conflict, the odds for success in South Sudan are unfavourable to say the least.

JMEC’s burden

JMEC is very aware of all these issues. Faced with what many think are unrealistic time-frames, it is already battling to prevent the prospect of the failure of the power sharing agreement. JMEC has likely concluded that, despite the well-meaning provisions of the CPA, a complete resolution of the conflict in South Sudan is out of its reach. That would need big changes to South Sudanese society, politics and wealth distribution and would take a decade or more to achieve.

JMEC’s narrower objectives are three peaceful years topped off with violence-free elections at their end. To achieve this, it needs to keep the peace between SPLM in Government and SPLM in Opposition going for just long enough to make a return to war increasingly undesirable for the leadership of the competing parties. To do this, JMEC has quickly demonstrated that it is willing to bend the rules to keep the show running smoothly.

It wouldn’t be the first time that a power sharing agreement is loosely implemented. Increasing free-wheeling concessions by ‘pragmatic’ power sharing monitors in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) ended up in provisions for accountability and justice, included in the Global Accord (2002) that ended the war, being side-lined and quietly forgotten. The DRC has not returned to the same level of violence, but then neither has it achieved meaningful reform.

Managing Expectations

JMEC is not a Protectorate Government and Festus Mogae is no Governor-General. South Sudan’s politicians and generals are still firmly in charge of South Sudan’s reform agenda. It is their commitment or lack of commitment to meaningful reform that will define the direction of travel for our country over the next three years. JMEC will do what it can to prevent a return to war and to limit the abuse of the power sharing agreement as a tool for consolidating power.

Ultimately, that means playing for time and hoping that having gained important positions in national and local government, rebel leaders may once again socialise and reintegrate within the political elite of the country. It will hold the stick of international sanction for those from either side who don’t play well with the others and offer the carrot of concessions to those that do.

“The greatest gift that could be presented to the people of South Sudan by its leaders is the gift of peace and the promise of reconciliation and healing.” – Festus Mogae, Chair of JMEC

Where does that leave us citizens? Exactly where we were before this terrible conflict erupted. We shall continue to heroically carry the burden of a dysfunctional political elite who ‘kill us when they’re divided and loot us when they’re united’. This is the price of peace we are constantly told we must pay…