Kiir surprises allies, puts off 2015 poll as crisis deepens

Unilateral action by South Sudan President Salva Kiir is testing the patience of key parties in the region, who have stood between him and a rebel aance on his crumbling regime.

The EastAfrican has learnt that his decision to unilaterally postpone next year’s General Election and disregard some aspects of the agreement signed with rebel leader Riek Machar in Addis Ababa last week and counsel from regional leaders have not gone down well in Kampala and Nairobi.

President Kiir announced the postponement just a day after a May 11 meeting in Nairobi, where EAC heads of state took him to task over the violation of the Addis Ababa truce, just hours after the two principals had signed the ceasefire agreement.

READ: South Sudan’s Kiir blames the West for election delay

According to sources who attended the meeting, President Kiir blamed Dr Machar’s side for the violations of the May 9 ceasefire. He reportedly told the leaders that Dr Machar was “not in control” of the White Army, despite his claims that the rebels are under his command.

The two principals who signed the peace accord have accused each side of failing to exert full control on their respective armies, hardly a week after they signed a cessation of hostilities agreement to end the country’s six-month-old conflict.

READ: President Kiir and rebel leader Machar sign peace dealThe Sunday meeting that lasted just under an hour was meant for Kiir to brief the heads of state on the direct talks and how he plans to implement aspects of the deal that was agreed upon.

Kiir insists on leading the interim government, and he told the EAC leaders that as the sitting president of the war-torn country, he was best suited to lead it. He also informed the meeting that he plans to appoint the majority of people in the interim government.

Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni expressed concern over Kiir’s intention to single-handedly steer the interim government and warned that this risked sending the country down the path of self-destruction.

“Kiir argued that he needed to control the process, because it’s the only way he would be able to run the government and avoid hitches and sabotage that could be caused by the opposition,” said the source.

Kenya and Uganda have played a pivotal role in trying to end the conflict in South Sudan, with one leading the diplomatic push while the other backed it with force.

According to Kiir, Dr Machar should not be rewarded for rebelling. “Dr Machar cannot be entitled to appoint a higher or even equal number of officials to the interim government,” Kiir reportedly said.

The regional heads of state suggested that Kiir consult widely on the composition of the interim government. They also warned against the plan to postpone the 2015 elections

The meeting however ended without any agreement. President Uhuru Kenyatta was tasked to fix a date for another meeting and continue with the diplomatic push.

In the agreement signed last week, the parties had agreed that a transitional government of national unity would offer the best chance for the people of South Sudan to take the country forward and that such a government would oversee government functions during a transitional period, implement critical reforms, as negotiated through the peace process, a permanent constitutional process and guide the country to a new election.

It was also agreed to ensure the inclusion of all South Sudanese stakeholders in the peace process and the negotiation of a transitional government of national unity, in order to ensure broad ownership of the agreed outcomes.

Stakeholders include the president, Dr Machar, the SPLM leaders, former detainees, political parties, civil society and faith-based leaders.

While South Sudan government officials have outrightly violated the peace process, little has been done by the regional leaders to ensure that the warring parties respect the truce.

Observers note that President Kiir and Dr Machar are taking aantage of the slow response from the regional leaders and the absence of peace enforcement troops.

“Where are the troops? The Igad or UN troops need be on the ground by now if the Addis Ababa peace deal is to hold minus boots on the ground, the fighting will continue,” said David Pulkol, Uganda’s former external security organisation boss.

READ: Igad peacekeepers on the way as Uganda ready to withdrawA week after the deal was signed and two weeks after a meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and foreign affairs ministers of Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda, not much has been achieved.

What next?

The Igad Monitoring and Verification Mechanism (MVM) is yet to confirm if there was a violation and the nature of the fighting that has occurred since the truce was signed on Friday, though UN officials confirm heavy fighting around Bentiu.

“It was clear to all that the first day or two would be the most dangerous for the cease-fire: Why weren’t preparations for deployment made even before the signing of the ceasefire? Why was the MVM not fully ready to begin actual deployment the moment the agreement was signed, or first thing Saturday (May 10) morning?” asked Eric Reeves US-based researcher on Sudan and South Sudan.

Despite promises to provide critical logistical support to the proposed 5000-strong Igad force, the Troika of the US, Norway and UK, are yet to make good their promises.

Uganda’s International Affairs Minister Okello Oryem said the region is waiting for approval from the UN, which is not forthcoming.

The regional leaders are facing the dilemma of whether to use force or continue with the peace initiatives that have failed over the months.

While Kenya focuses on diplomatic means to end the war, Uganda, which took the military approach to the war has opted to stay away from the peacemaking-process.

Last week’s meeting left the responsibility to resolve the impasse in the hands of Kenya.

SOURCE: The East African