Sentongo Outlines Challenges and Solutions to Crisis in South Sudan

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA – On February 12, 2014, AIPR Director for Africa, Dr. Ashad Sentongo, was the featured speaker at a breakfast meeting with Addis Ababa-based political and security policy experts. The event, “Power-Sharing and Ethnic Conflict: Options of State Stability in South Sudan,” was organized by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Ethiopia to foster an exchange of opinions between experts towards generating concrete and practical policy recommendations to national and international institutions.

Dr. Sentongo’s presentation highlighted an array of challenges to state stability in South Sudan. Pressing challenges include sustaining the January 2014 secession of hostilities agreement, intra-SPLM Party disputes, corruption, nepotism, abject poverty, illiteracy, and contradictions in the 2011 Transitional Constitution. Underscoring this challenge, said Sentongo, was a missed opportunity during discussions and implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) to produce a political blueprint around which the new nation would be managed.

For Dr. Sentongo, trans-generational conflicts constructed along ethnic lines – where identification and belongingness of individuals and communities remain more to tribe than to state – remains a deepening challenge to stability. What’s more, internal political and constitutional contradictions that seem suspended by the ongoing Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)-led peace process also mark the conflict. Added Sentongo:

“The perception that impunity of the enablers of corruption, tribalism and nepotism is slowly replacing accountability and responsibility further undermines confidence and trust building, which are necessary conditions for local peace.”

After outlining these steep challenges, Sentongo proposed solutions towards fostering stability in South Sudan. What’s needed, he said, is a fully packaged power-sharing arrangement for the state, tailored to respond to unique expectations and interpretation of state power and control of local resources by different groups. For this to meaningfully happen, he added, the agenda for the ongoing IGAD-led peace process should be expanded to also engage with the causes of the conflict, and define a power-sharing architecture that can enduringly respond to these causes. “Such architecture would include a coalition government for immediate accommodation of competing political and military elites into government,” he said.

While this step is necessary to stop the fighting, Sentongo insisted that it should provide guarantees to minority political groups and tribes through an incentive structure that induces cooperation and moderation of extreme claims. Incentives would, for example, seek to avoid a winner-take-all political arrangement, where large ethnic or political groups are often advantaged to dominate control state power. Instead, Sentongo said that different groups should see themselves as proportionally represented in institutions and programs of government. This, however, may not involve counting numbers, but can be achieved through effective decentralization of fiscal, administrative and political authority and resources to sub-national levels.

Sentongo concluded:

“These processes are long and take time to develop and implement. For that matter, the IGAD-led peace process must institutionalize an open-ended dialogue program, involving politicians, traditional leaders and the civil society, to transform perceptions and build relationships that are necessary for dialogue to continue.”

For an addition perspective from AIPR on the root causes of violence in South Sudan and pathways for stability, read Anthony DiRosa’s recent blog post, “Deepening Divides and Unmitigated Suffering in the World’s Newest Country.”