On August 5th 2016, the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the IGAD-Plus held its Second Extra – Ordinary Summit meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and deliberated on the prevailing situation in the Republic of South Sudan. This was one of the high level meetings purposefully convened to discuss the South Sudan question ever since fighting broke out in the country on July 8th 2016.
One of the key outcomes of this important meeting was the decision to deploy a Regional Protection Force in South Sudan. A force that will be under the command of the UNMISS with a peace enforcement mandate. and will be responsible for enforcing peace.
In its other recommendations, the meeting called upon the warring parties to immediately return to the implementation of Chapter Two of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS); Dr. Riek Machar to rejoin the peace process and Gen. Taban Deng to step down.
These and many more endorsements form the red-thread of the resolutions of the just concluded IGAD-Plus meeting.
The concern around the outcome of the meeting is not just about how good, beautiful or bad the recommendations made by IGAD-Plus are, but how consistently and committedly these resolutions will be followed through.
IGAD has had a fairly good record of championing peace processes in South Sudan (with an unwavering support from the African Union), which resulted into the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), between the South and North. It is arguably because of IGAD’s role that South Sudan got its independence on July 9th 2011.
For sometime now, IGAD has become the unifying vehicle to engage the ever-shifting internal dynamics in South Sudan more effectively. Whereas IGAD’s role has been clear-cut in the past, there seems to be a sense that it may be slowly ceding its position and responsibilities to other secondary actors in the process of galvanizing regional and international engagement on the South Sudan conflict. The transition from IGAD to IGAD-Plus (within the context of South Sudan) was meant to facilitate a mechanism that would bridge between continental solution approaches and concerted high-level, wider international engagements in solving the South Sudan conflict. And as the name of the mechanism suggests, IGAD-Plus is supposed to take a center-stage leadership role – while bringing other entities to the table for technical, financial and other forms of support or complementarity.
There is an increasing conception that IGAD-Plus is not taking a visible lead in marshaling disparate actors behind a defined strategy, creating the space for the proliferation of various regional and international processes. If this continues, then, the role and centrality of IGAD-Plus could get lost in other multiple, parallel, overlapping and, sometimes, contradictory processes convened by individual countries and bodies such as: the AU, the UN, the Troika (the U.S., UK and Norway), the European Union, China, Tanzania, South Africa and Egypt in handling the South Sudan question.
For IGAD-Plus to follow through on the recommendations made at its recent second extra ordinary summit on the situation in South Sudan, it must take a more distinct stance in coordinating all the other international actors within a framework of a single, well-defined strategy. To pursue this, IGAD-Plus will have to reinvigorate proper structures through which it will liaise, harmonize and guide other prevailing parallel processes without ceding its tested leadership position, but while seeking to harness complementarity. Short of that, IGAD-Plus may remain constrained to exert authority or command respect from key actors even within South Sudan.
IGAD-Plus has to stand out, rise to the occasion and assert itself in the solution-finding matrix with respect to South Sudan; if it doesn’t, then it will be seen as another champion of recurrent peace jokes in the youngest country.