South Sudan : the Nairobi IGAD meeting turns complicated matters into more complicated ones

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Many turned to be hopeless observers. This leaves only one serious player at the centre of the ring : President Museveni of Uganda . And the whole thing was indeed an almost pure piece of Ugandan diplomacy . How successful in the long run , this remains to be seen . But in the short run , it was masterful . Riak Machar , who is a pet peeve of the Ugandan President , was “dealt with” , Ugandan troops have already been spotted in the fighting for Malakal , others are up in Wau , preparing for an attack on Bentiu…

Something Went Wrong in Nairobi 

What happened on Friday December 27th in Nairobi is an astonishing spectacle . The whole show was supposed to enable ex-Vice-President’s Riak Machar’s “rebels” and President Salva Kiir’s “legitimate government” to open a dialogue in a proper environment . But things started pretty badly from the word “go” . First of all , none of the political detainees from South Sudan were there , in spite of the preparatory visit to Juba the previous day by Ethiopian Prime Minister Haile Mariam Dessalegn and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta . The vague promises made to them did not materialize and none of the imprisoned ministers/politicians had been freed and allowed to travel to Nairobi . Riak Machar was not there either and there was nobody representing him . Mrs Rebecca Nyandeng , John Garang’s widow , who had been released from house arrest three days before , was in Nairobi but was not allowed  to take part. As for Salva Kiir , he was the only absent head of state (even Hassan Sheikh Mahmood  the President of the shadowy Somali “government” , was present) , as if the fate of his own country was of no concern to him . He was represented by his Minister of Foreign Affairs , Barnaba Marial Benjamin , a Nuer , probably to give an impression of ethnic balance. And , more ominously , the North Sudanese delegation was headed by Bakri Hassan Saleh who , since the last reshuffle in Khartoum , is emerging more and more as the real boss of what is left of the Sudan.

As a result the “dialogue of the stakeholders” mooted by the final Communiqué was in fact basically a monologue , with the IGAD heads of State talking to themselves . But if there was no dialogue , even in spite of the announcement  that the absent South Sudanese government “was ready for immediately beginning unconditional dialogue with the stakeholders” , what then did happen ? Well , basically a reading of the riot act : “if hostilities do not cease within four days of this communiqué , the Summit will consider taking further measures”. Which obviously means : “Mr Riak Machar , you’d better fold in immediately or else ( according to President Museveni’s favourite formula) “you will be dealt with”. Does this mean that in four days , a variety of IGAD troops are going to start pouring on South Sudanese soil to restore the physical control of President Salva Kiir’s government over the whole national territory ? Probably not , since among the various actors present very few were in any position to do anything .

Kenya is involved in Somalia and not doing very well on that front . Somalia itself is not even capable of taking care of its own security . Djibouti only cares about Somalia . Ethiopia is plunged in a deep anguish of uncertainty since the death of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi eighteen months ago and in no mood for foreign adventures . And Northern Sudan is , for the time being , no more than an attentive survivor in the dangerous Sudanese arena . This leaves only one serious player at the centre of the ring : President Museveni of Uganda . And the whole thing was indeed an almost pure piece of Ugandan diplomacy . How successful in the long run , this remains to be seen . But in the short run , it was masterful . Riak Machar , who is a pet peeve of the Ugandan President , was “dealt with” , Ugandan troops have already been spotted in the fighting for Malakal , others are up in Wau , preparing for an attack on Bentiu which will very likely take place since the South Sudanese ex-VP does not seem very cooperative (he wants guarantees before accepting to negotiate) and the whole IGAD assembly , which does not care so deeply about South Sudan , seemed happy to leave the limelight to the man from Kampala who very much seemed to want it.

Since the hostilities are rather unlikely to stop nicely within the four day limit set by the meeting , what will happen ? Militarily , whatever the Ugandan Army is capable of i.e. trying to re-take Bentiu , helping to secure Malakal and cleaning up more limited pockets of revolt here and there (Akobo , Torit , Pibor) . Politically , a sleigh of hands: the idea is to divide the opposition between those who will remain in solidarity with Riak Machar (probably few) , those who will accept “a deal” and those who can be pinned down on corruption charges . The legal attack will probably focus particularly on Riak himself (if he can be caught ; but he can also be tried in absencia ) and on Pagan Amum , i.e. the two most dangerous contenders for the 2015 election against Salva Kiir . And then – last but not least – diplomatically an attempt at having the international community swallow the whole thing – hook , line and sinker . It will probably work at the African Union where head of state solidarity prevails (in 1978 Julius Nyerere called it “a Trade Union of heads of state”) . It will be a bit harder for the UN to accept but worst things have happened in the past . And then what will be left of Southern Sudan ? If Museveni’s plans are successful , still another colony. After being colonized by the British (1898-1956) and the Arabs (1956-2011) , South Sudan will now be colonized by Uganda . Welcome to the Brave New World of African Imperialism!

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