The Nairobi Round of the South Sudan peace talks has been pushed forward, as mediators try to thrash out a consensus document on the outstanding issue of governance.
The talks, to be chaired by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, will focus on power-sharing in the national and state governments, composition of parliament, reforms in the judiciary and the number of states South Sudan should have.
Since the second face-to-face meeting between President Salva Kiir and Dr Riek Machar in Khartoum — under the chairmanship of President Omar Al Bashir — in early July, the negotiating parties have agreed only on the rehabilitation of the oil fields and the resumption of oil production, plus security arrangements.
However, the one-day negotiations in Entebbe last weekend under the chairmanship of Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni, to try to break the deadlock over governance, failed to reach consensus after the proposals were rejected by the opposition.
The meeting, held on July 8 and attended by Presidents Museveni, Al Bashir and Kiir, and rebel leader Dr Machar, proposed the creation of the post of four vice-presidents, increasing government ministries to 45 from 30, and parliamentary seats to 550, and retaining the 32 states. The 32 states would be in place until the boundaries committee decides otherwise.
Dr Remember Miamingi the co-convener of the South Sudan Human Rights Observatory said that this deal cannot hold as the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) ignored the fact that the two presidents who brokered it have vested interests and are therefore unlikely to be fair arbiters.
President Museveni is believed to back President Kiir’s stay in power. This has been backed by different policies including lending money to South Sudan and the deployment of Ugandan soldiers to shower up President Kiir’s power just after the war broke out again in 2013.
The South Sudan Opposition Alliance spokesperson Kwaje Lasu said in a statement that their group and other political parties were invited to Entebbe but were kept out for eight hours and were only invited into the meeting to be briefed about what had been agreed upon by the government and Dr Machar’s group. Dr Machar also disowned the Entebbe proposal a day later.
Dr Miamingi said that the interest in oil for Sudan versus President Museveni’s need to keep Mr Kiir in power suggest that Igad decided to allow Khartoum and Kampala to secure what they see as their national interest, as this would give South Sudan a chance at peace.
“What I see is that not only are the interests of Khartoum and Kampala in conflict, but that the interests of countries are uncomfortable with durable peace in South Sudan,” he said.
On the other hand, President Al Bashir did not hide his eagerness for an agreement to enable the resumption of oil production in South Sudan to help his country’s ailing economy.
Stakeholders are now hoping that Kenya could guide the peace process to a conclusion acceptable to all parties.
Principal Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Macharia Kamau said that Kenya will not allow its interests to interfere with the South Sudan peace talks.
“Everybody, including Kenya wants peace in South Sudan and we hope that we will finally come to a conclusion when the talks come to Nairobi,” said Mr Kamau.
Roger Yoron Modi, a former Managing Editor of Juba Monitor, said that hopes for the Nairobi talks are raised by the fact that Kenya, unlike other countries in the region, has not directly taken part in the armed conflict and has tried to remain neutral. However, Nairobi’s decision to deport some of Dr Machar’s movement officials is the blot in Kenya’s struggle to remain neutral.
“Kenya has a special place in the history of South Sudan, especially with respect to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement upon which our independence was founded, and we hope Nairobi will build on this goodwill most South Sudanese have towards the country,” said Mr Modi.
On his part, President Kenyatta, in a meeting with United States-Africa Command Commander, Gen Thomas Waldhauser on July 11, said that Kenya will give the South Sudan peace process everything it can, but it is not going to be easy.
However, Kenya has remained careful not to put pressure on President Kiir that could scuttle the talks or jeopardise the country’s economic interests in South Sudan.
For example Kenya has been resisting pressure from the US to implement its sanctions that and travel bans, on grounds that such measures could not only scuttle the peace talks, but also muddy its bilateral relations with Juba.
Besides being a destination for Kenya’s manufactured goods, the country’s banking, aviation, insurance and transport sectors have high stakes in South Sudan and have been feeling the pinch since the war begun. Kenya remains the first destination for millions of dollars shipped out by the South Sudan political and business elite.
However, the chairman of former detainees, Pagan Amum, said that the talks left in the hands of regional countries now lack transparency and inclusivity, and that the African Union should take over the process from Igad.
“The peace process is facing serious challenges as the regional bloc has delegated the mediation to members states that have competing interests and have come with divergent and contradicting proposals,” said Mr Amum.