By Deng Machol
Juba – South Sudanese celebrated a new revitalized peace deal on Wednesday as zealous hopes of an end to a five years old conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced million people from their homes were toughened by all-embracing skepticism that the flimsy deal will hold.
The deal, which is meant to end a civil war that began in mid – December 2013, commits forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, and the rebel groups fighting them, overpower wrangling in the ruling party, SPLM.
Speaking at the peace celebration on Wednesday at Dr. John Garang Mausoleum, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir said the celebration marks the end of civil war in South Sudan.
“Today marks the end of the war in the Republic of South Sudan,” President Kiir told hundreds of the attended crowds. This war has been subjected to many analyses and it has been given many names. For those of us caught in the middle of it, we know it was neither an ethnic nor an economic war but rather a naked struggle for power with a complete disregard for constitutional order. ‘It was a complete betrayal of our people and their liberation struggle and this is what has warranted my apology to people of South Sudan.’ The time for blame, as to who started it, is over, and those of us who consider ourselves leaders must accept the blame collectively and solemnly promise our people never to return them to war again.”
Back from Exile
Dr. Riek Machar, the leader of the country’s biggest coalition of rebel fighters, SPLM-IO returned to Juba for the first time since 2016 to take part in a peace ceremony involving singers, flags and drums staged before regional dignitaries.
The former Vice President had fled to neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo in 2016 under a hail of gunfire when an earlier peace deal collapsed.
Machar and President Salva Kiir signed a new peace agreement last month in the latest attempt to end the five-year war which has claimed thousands of lives.
The new deal reinstates him as the first vice president and he will return to Juba in May next year to assume the position. A similar attempt at forming a transitional government failed in mid-2016 and prompted some of the war’s worst violence. Machar was eventually forced into exile in South Africa.
Machar said his historic return to Juba showed his rebel movement is “for peace.”
“We came … for peace and … to end the suffering of people,” Machar said. He was accompanied by his wife and at least 50 delegations from the SPLM – IO, but none of his troops.
“It is important to note that the signed revitalized peace agreement is to end the suffering of the people of South Sudan so that they can live in peace and harmony, reconcile and heals the wounds inflicted upon them during this traumatic war. We call on our people to support this peace agreement as it will reform the state and its institutions,” Machar said.
According to Dr. Machar, all the soldiers will be brought to work together, adding that all the rebels holding guns should put down the guns and come out for peace.
‘Friends and Foes’
President Kiir further reiterated that the war in South Sudan has come to an end, and we have forgiven each other and we have consciously decided to move this country through a healing process.
He said the personalities who signed the agreement have in the past been former friends and foes, therefore, the big challenge ahead is to build trust and confidence between the parties — and between the parties and the people.
Both government and rebel forces have been accused of atrocities during the conflict that’s driven parts of the nation to the brink of famine. Amnesty International has alleged that pro-government forces rampaged through opposition-controlled areas for more than a month this year, even as peace talks were underway.
President said the time for blame as to who started it is over.
“I urge you to forgive one another, embrace one another and bury all feeling of hatred once and for all,” Kiir told South Sudanese. Adding that ‘all political struggles are temporary, just as leaders are temporary. But a nation endures. Unite and build your country as equal stakeholders and do not allow destructive elements to destroy your social fabric, which has endured since time immemorial.’
President Kiir offered an unprecedented apology for a conflict that “was a complete betrayal to our people and the liberation struggle”.
The president said as a leader, he takes the responsibility, adding that ‘fellow citizens, allow me to personally thank you on behalf of the government and all of the party to the agreement for your patience, perseverance, and resilience.’
“You have endured immense suffering and the weight of responsibility heavily falls on my shoulders as your president and I deeply regret the physical, psychological, and emotional wounds you have undeservedly endured. “As your president, I want to apologize on behalf of all the parties for what we have caused you, our people … I deeply regret the physical and psychological wounds you have had … Today marks the end of the war in the Republic of South Sudan,” he said. President Salva Kiir has apologized to the people of South Sudan on behalf of all warring parties for their suffering.
According to a report conducted the by London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the 5-year conflict has reportedly cost nearly 400,000 lives and displaced millions. It has also caused the economic crisis, with the ordinary citizens suffering the most.
President Kiir calls on the opposition and government-controlled – areas to respect ceasefire agreement to pave way for implementing this peace.
He added that they have a responsibility to tells soldiers to cease fighting and to go back to their barracks or camps.
“We have done so and we will continue to do so. There may still be rogue elements somewhere in the bush that will continue to cause harm and it will be our responsibility to look for them with a view of bringing them on board to support the implementation of this agreement.” Kiir said. Adding that ‘the ceasefire among Gelweng, White Army and other community-based militias rests with the communities and the government will work collaboratively with them.’ We will pursue nationwide disarmament because guns are very dangerous and pose a direct threat to peace and tranquility.’
President Kiir freed Gatdet, Endley
In his keynotes speech, President Kiir has unexpectedly announced the release James Gatdet and the South African’s national, William Endley as a gesture for a new draw of peace in the country.
James Gatdet Dak was the former spokesman of Dr. Riek Machar. He was sentenced to death in February on charges of treason and incitement against the government.
William Endley, the South African retired army colonel – whom a court sentenced to death by hanging for his alleged role in supporting Opposition, during the civil war.
President Kiir ordered comes after the opposition leader Dr. Machar called on President Kiir to release all political detainees and prisoners of War as the sign of peace.
“We appeal to the president that our prison should be empty so that people start the new life in peace,” Machar said, he further asked Kiir to lift the state of emergency to allow free movement in the country.
“During the war, there is a law called emergency, and in this law of emergency, the army and the security forces dose anything but when there is peace! People go back to the law, police will be responsible and he arrest you when you committed a crime, we need this emergency to be lifted.”
Kiir to the international community
Kiir said the difficult work has begun in earnest and that is for you the people of South Sudan to also make bitter concessions and return to her neighbors and friends and ask to be forgiven for any wrongs you might have committed.
“I am aware of the mood among our friends, particularly the Americans and the Europeans, who feel betrayed and let down by our actions. They have lost trust in us and for that reason, they refused to be witnesses or guarantors to the agreement. They feel that we are genuine or that the agreement we have signed is impractical,” Kiir said. ‘As people who offered us immeasurable assistance and moral support during the struggle for our freedom, they are justified to be angry with us because of our failure to maintain in our country.’ [In spite that Kiir said] ‘But we have also been disappointed with the way individual leaders of those countries have insultingly treated us. Nevertheless, it is incumbent upon us on both sides of the agreement to prove their fears and doubts unfounded by implementing it sincerely, fully and in letter and spirit.’
Kiir further calls on the international community to put aside their disappointment and pick up to support the signed revitalized peace.
“I am calling for a new spirit within the international community to support us in implementing this agreement. I know for a fact that this requires mutual trust but you must be willing to work with us toward building that trust. We need this peace for our people and ourselves more than you. The burden presiding over a country in war weighs heavily on us, the leaders of this country and it is totally untrue and frankly unfair to believe that we don’t care. With your partnership, these issues are history and the future that awaits us together through peace and development is one that will make us all proud as friends and partners,” Kiir said on Wednesday in Juba.
Regional leaders’ remarks call for a total peace
Leaders from around the East Africa sub-region ‘descended’ on the South Sudanese capital, Juba, on Wednesday to join the peace day celebrations.
Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, Somalia’s Mohammed Abdallah, Sudan’s Omar Al-Bashir and Ethiopia’s president Sahle-Work Zewede, were among the dignitaries who joined the event.
Each of the leaders presented a message to the government and people of South Sudan, stressing the need to maintain and work to protect the September 12 peace deal signed in Addis Ababa and further called on South Sudan leaders to commit themselves to implement the agreement for a complete peace in the country
Speaking during the celebration ceremony, Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni said he hopes the celebration will mark the end of the conflict in South Sudan.
President Museveni said the leaders and people should be committed to implementing the agreement.
He said a ‘war is wasteful,’ adding that South Sudan has lost a lot of development time.
“I am sure this will be the end we hear of conflict in South Sudan. I am sure the parties and all the South Sudanese should make a covenant, make an agreement like the one Israel made with God, the covenant, one of the covenant should be…no war to solve the political argument between brothers and sisters, the argument can be solved by discussions political argument, or elections if you don’t agree, it’s wrong to use war to solve political argument among brothers and sisters,” Museveni said. It is ideologically incorrect to use war for an argument and also make sure state institutions are national to build people’s confidence.
Ugandan president further said his country will continue to support South Sudan as they look forward to the concretization of the truly powerful ceremony they have witnessed in Juba.
Museveni warned South Sudan to shunned foreigners who want to establish hegemony over Africa by using weak enemies to divide us. ‘Foreigners wanted South Sudan to become a vacuum like Libya and Somalia,” Museveni said, [but] Somalia is coming up.
Meanwhile, the Sudanese President, Omar Al-Bashir told the peace signatories to make sure that guns should not be any more in civilian hands.
“We will not rest until guns fall silent in South Sudan until we ensure that guns are only in the hands of the organized force, such as the police and the security personnel.”
President Bashir also calls the parties for the conducive environment to allow Refugees and the IDPs returned to their home.
“We thank the leaders of South Sudan for restoring their trust upon us to allow us to be the guarantors of this agreement. We will not rest until the displaced persons return to their homes.”
He said his government will still continue to maintain its position in implementing peace in South Sudan.
“I assure you that we will stand with you for the implementation of the peace agreement, and we will monitor its implementation,” Bashir, broker this peace deal.
For her part, the Ethiopian first female President, Sahle-Work Zewde has called for an end to the conflict to allow people who fled the country to return home.
“Allow the refugees and IDPs to come back home, disband the protection of civilian sites, release all political and security detainees,” Zewde said.
She urges all parties to cease hostility and to fully implement the recently signed peace deal in Addis Ababa.
“I want to appeal to all the parties particularly the armed groups of all sides to completely silence the guns, no matter how long the intensity of fighting is,” she said, adding that the Transitional Government of National Unity and the opposition parties need to show stronger commitment and build trust during the pre-transitional period to achieve a lasting peace.
Furthermore, the President of Somalia said the real test for South Sudanese leaders is making concessions to put the country and its people first.
“Even as we celebrate this remarkable agreement of peace, let’s all remember that no deal is always perfect, no arrangement is without flaws, no negotiation is perfectly balanced. The real test of a leader is to have the ability to make concessions and put this country and its people first.”
Abdallah explained that after his country witnessed nearly two decades of civil war, he knows firsthand that the conflict in South Sudan was the worst thing to happen to the young nation.
“In Somalia, it took us nearly two generations to put our house in order. In our period of chaos, the world did not wait for us, countries prospered, multi-literalism expanded and neighbors developed,” Abdallah said. He further told the gathering that up to date, Somalia is still dealing with the costs and consequences of prolonged conflict – something he doesn’t wish for any country.
“Now we have realized that we need to double efforts and speed up development efforts to make up for all the years that we lost during the civil war. I will not wish the same for our brothers and sisters in South Sudan,” President Abdallah said, further encouraged the parties to come together and thrill the world youngest country towards the path of peace and development.
“You have shown a great statesmanship in coming together to end the protracted conflict. I urge you to join hands to stir your country into the right path towards peace and development,” the president said.
Somalia is a signatory to the recently signed revitalized peace agreement, said a peaceful and prosperous South Sudan means progress for the entire region, adding that Somalia is committed to South Sudan’s peace process and promoting a complete economic integration in the region to end poverty and conflict in Africa.
President Abdalla urged all regional leaders present at the occasion, to consolidate their efforts towards broadening economic cooperation, peace, and security in the region.
However, the war in the oil-producing country has prompted a regional refugee crisis and brought near-economic collapse since it began in December 2013. Under deals signed with Kiir this year, Machar — a former vice president — will return in that new role, while other rebel groups will be included in an expanded cabinet and parliament, due to take shape in about May 2019.
More so, president Kiir concluded by reiterated the fact that ‘rebuilding our country from the ashes of this five-years-old bitter conflict is our collective responsibility, my fellow compatriots, moving forward requires us all to forgive each other for wrongs done as well as embracing ourselves in order to chart a dignified course towards full recovery.’
The peace agreement was signed in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa in September. However, though it has regional support, there has been little backing from major international powers. The new deal has only got the backing of Uganda and Sudan, who have long been the puppet-string pullers, and that is some reason for optimism
The deal to be workable will require significant external funding for monitoring and investment, and so that powerbrokers can be given incentives to lay down arms.
South Sudan gained its independence with significant support from the United States and other Troika countries, but the US president Trump administration has shown little interest in the country’s worsening plight.
The fighting and atrocities have exacerbated ethnic divisions and caused one of the world’s deepest humanitarian crises. So far the conflict has now relapsed into chaos, with different factions, militia and self-defense groups battling for a share of what is left of South Sudan’s resources.
According to the UN, a third of the country’s population has been displaced and two-and-a-half million people forced into exile as refugees. While those remaining have endured repeated sessions of lethal famine.