Richard Mutabazi questions the value of international intervention in South Sudan, where he believes solutions lie within. Traditional solutions are more compatible with local traditions and cultures, and hold the interests of those afflicted at heart. Could this be the key to lasting peace?
The fragile peace deal and the continued division within South Sudan’s political elite and military are some of the reasons why South Sudan has never fully been at peace, ever since it became a sovereign state. For external actors, the solution seen fit here is foreign intervention, instead of a political solution from within. In other words the United Nations Security Council has done, and is doing, what it does best, which is applying military solutions to problems that could be otherwise solved politically; hence, making the consequences of military intervention very dire.
First, external intervention undermines local efforts to conflict resolution and, at the same time, limits local institutions which aim to find solutions from within South Sudan itself. This is partly because more effort is put into building military institutions instead of local ones. This in return undermines local initiatives driven civil society and local courts, since their funding is undercut in order to cater for military projects.
The problem here is that the international community assumes that South Sudanese cannot make decisions of its own, which is problematic. South Sudan is a country rich in tradition, its people have pride in their traditional mechanisms of conflict resolution. For instance, over 90 % of cases are tried in traditional courts. This has enabled the South Sudanese people to be well equipped with traditional laws that help them manage their communities during conflict and peaceful periods.
For this reason traditional methods have worked for South Sudanese people in periods of conflict and peace. A good example is the Wulnit peace process, which took place between the Dinka and the Nuer in 1999 in an effort to initiate peace. The process involved elders, youth, chiefs and local leaders; their aim was to collectively find solutions that could lead to peace. Although it is argued by some that the success of the Wunlit peace process was limited, it still indicates that South Sudan is capable of collectively working together in order to find solutions to its own conflict.
However, for the current conflict that broke out in 2013 between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and Sudan People’s Liberation Army in opposition (SPLA-IO), the solution put forward by many is one that calls for the international community to initiate the peace process: in the words of one author, it is the international community’s responsibility to “clean up South Sudan’s tarnished independence dream”.
For me, such writing implies that the solutions to African problems can only be achieved through external actors. However, such statements are far from the truth; instead they legitimize foreign military intervention, which in the end does more harm than good.
South Sudanese and Africans in general should by now know that the international community works for its own self-interest not for South Sudan’s or any other African country. African countries should have noticed by now that the approach taken by the international community has continued to erode the local traditional institutions in favour of their own liberal western institutions, which in most cases are not compatible with the local communities they are being applied in.
Instead, the South Sudanese people should continue to seek from within their local institutions and through collective action for solutions to their own conflict. The assumption that the international community will save South Sudan and clean up its “independent tarnished dream” is an illusion, and one that will keep South Sudan in a politically unstable situation.
African countries should instead learn to take responsibility and be accountable for their actions. To do this the local communities and local institutions should be empowered so that this enables them to hold their leaders to account for the crimes they commit and have committed.
Furthermore, the peacekeeping mission under the United Nations Mission in South Sudan is seen by many to be a failure. It has failed to protect its own peacekeepers, it has failed to protect the South Sudanese citizens, it has also failed to bring its own officials to account in situations where they have been reported to have been involved in the abuse of human rights such as rape. An additional 4000 peacekeepers (which the UN tried to send in September 2016) are not going to solve the above problems, but instead could add more tension to the problems.
The addition of 4000 peacekeepers will give more responsibility to the international community and strip it from the South Sudanese themselves, which is a major problem. The question that I raise here is, when will South Sudan start handling its own problems? In order to find solutions to the problems in South Sudan, the country must take hold of power and responsibility, or its fate will remain in the hands of a bureaucrat seated in New York.
Richard Mubatazi's interests include Transitional justice, mediation and conflict resolution in Africa. He has a BA Politics and International Relations from the University of Westminster and an MA Conflict Security and Development, King's College London.