Obstacles and involvement of known spoilers in Rome peace talks
By Chol Duang and Makoi Majak,
The Rome-mediated South Sudan’s peace talks began on 20th November, 2019 — in the Italian City of Rome after a protracted behind-the-scenes diplomacy by the Sant’ Egidio emissaries.
Participants have been the SSOMA (an alliance of the three hold-out opposition groups) and the Revitalized Unity government in Juba.
According to the international community — particularly IGAD, EU, US and some quarters in parts of Africa— the objective was to bring onboard those who did not sign the Khartoum-brokered agreement, which is presently facing insurmountable challenges in implementation, with hope to end the cycle of political conflict and, thereby, prepare grounds for the country’s democratic elections when the transition period comes to an end.
Rome mediators initially reached out to SSUF/A, R-SPLM and SSNDA — three of which form the South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance (SSOMA) — and showed a genuine willingness to engage both sides in a political dialogue. Prior to this initiative, SSUF/A had sought to be included in the then Khartoum peace process, which was led by the deposed Sudanese president Omar-Al Bashir.
The attempt by the SSUF/A Chairman, Gen. Paul Malong, to participate in those talks was vehemently rejected by Salva Kiir Mayardit, who threatened the IGAD mediators to pull out of the talks if Gen. Malong was to take part.
Kiir was of the opinion that the existing feud between him and Gen. Malong is rather personal and not fundamental differences over his style of leadership, ideology or a deviation from the SPLM vision and objectives as we still believe at SSUF/A.
With state resources in their grip, Salva Kiir and Akol Koor Kuc of NSS, in earnest, went on a regional campaign, imploring some IGAD leaders to isolate the SSUF/A Chairman and deter him from conducting any diplomatic interactions. Millions of dollars, which should’ve benefited the ordinary South Sudanese, were unscrupulously poured into what we strongly view as ‘’anti-Malong agenda’’ throughout the region, purposely to depict a fake diplomacy so that they appear as well-intentioned friends in the wider IGAD region and beyond.
Salva Kiir Mayardit, his NSS Director Akol Koor and Tut Kew Gatluak, the architects of the Juba regime, took it upon themselves to fund any effort to block Gen. Paul Malong Awan from returning home or participating in any talks that would ensure his return to the country. These efforts started immediately after Gen. Malong left Juba for Nairobi, in the wake of his politically motivated house arrest and barely days after his expulsion as Chief of General Staff.
Sometime in late 2020, Tut Gatluak told his guests in a Khartoum hotel that President Salva Kiir, Akol Koor and himself feared that Malong’s return to Juba would undoubtedly revive or escalate their rivalry with the latter; something they believe could jeopardize their false peace and may likely put the three of them in an awkward political position. In that conversation with his visitors, Tut Gatluak secretly admitted that Gen. Paul Malong Awan, indeed, still commands unquestionable support from across the country, far ahead of Mr. Kiir.
When asked by his guests what they plan to do with Gen. Paul Malong: He (Tut) tacitly said they intended to delay and prolong the Rome-peace process, continue to buy members of Gen. Malong’s SSUF/A party, embed NSS agents and informants within the SSUF/A structures and mount vicious propaganda for a longer period. This attempt, in their thinking, would frustrate Gen. Malong and cut him off from his supporters in the country — making him irrelevant.
Over the past few years the government has rigorously engaged in sinister agenda to cultivate distrust in SSUF/A and its wider membership. One of the main tools that has guaranteed continued success has been the offering of financial inducements to persuade some members to abandon the cause. Recently, in the middle of Naivasha peace talks and shortly after, few members of the Movement resigned citing infighting. This was not true. The staged “resignation” was timed in an attempt to put the Movement in an embarrassing position as talks progressed.
Most of these defections were designed to appear like ideological differences or lack of agenda when in fact the contrary is true. In these instances the political realignments have not been ideologically informed. The orchestrations are perfectly hatched by Salva Kiir Mayardit, Mr. Akol Koor Kuc and Mr. Tut Gatluak to falsely portray Paul Malong as a poor leader who is on the verge of being isolated politically. Ironically, this practice has created a vicious cycle of animosity between the regime and SSUF/A. For every two members bought, the regime loses twenty or so of its membership defecting to our side; either out of genuine revolutionary ideals or purposely to attract similar economic pleasantries from their desperate regime.
Akol Koor has personally directed, executed and sustained a parallel campaign of intimidating, disappearing and dismembering those he perceives to be SSUF/A supporters, including sending agents to trail, monitor and harm active SSUF/A members in regional cities and towns. South Sudanese may have wondered why negotiations have gone on for such a long time: It should be noted that government resources and intelligence advantage have been mobilized against Gen. Paul Molong and those around him as a strategy to block him from returning to the country, limit or truncate his growing popularity nationally.
It remains undisputed that the regime acolytes have by far tried to achieve their first two objectives of delaying Malong’s homecoming while at the same time buying-off members of his Movement, but have been unable to make him irrelevant or influence the SSUF/A’s support base to dissipate. Instead, Gen. Malong has largely remained prominent and in touch with his people; he has long insisted that political support he receives from the South Sudanese people comes naturally and by doing what citizens expect you to do for them, and that loyalty is not earned through brute force as seen from Salva Kiir and his chief executor, Akol Koor Kuc.
In conclusion, SSUF/A regards these desperate schemes as work of spoilers determined to derail the ongoing dialogue that will benefit our people. We, therefore, produced this comprehensive op-ed for our supporters and South Sudanese in general to know the obstacles the talks have been encountering.
Bottom-line is the peaceful dialogue over fundamental issues of our country, and not merely about political positions.
The authors are the acting spokesman of South Sudan United Front/A and Chairperson of SSUF/A Youth League, respectively.