Written by Luka Kuol, Global Fellow at Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Norway. Washington, 28th May 2018
The rapid degeneration of the situation in South Sudan on a trajectory towards the Hobbesian state made many circles to call for President Salva to step down for various reasons, but the final decision rests with him. It is apparent now that the various armed groups are militarily too weak to oust Salva. The possibility of popular uprising as a peaceful means for forcing leaders to step down is even unthinkable in a country of unknown gunmen. His impeachment by parliament is inconceivable as he satisfies all conditions for eligibility for the office of the President until that time when elections are held. The option for AU to intervene and overthrow him militarily in the light of war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and deteriorating humanitarian situation such as famine and massive forced displacement is unlikely given the politics of the member states of the AU and the UN. The revitalization of the 2018 Peace Agreement will certainly not ask him to step down as shown in the last proposal by IGAD. While the regional and international pressures are, therefore, not so effective by themselves, they may create a conducive environment for encouraging Salva to step down of his own accord. The exit packages that have been proposed are conditional on his voluntarily consent. So the only option is to convince Salva to step down at his will. This option is a possibility as he confided several times of his readiness to step down immediately after delivering the independence of South Sudan. Salva is one of our few leaders who participated and sacrificed with his own life in the two civil wars but he is also a consensual leader that made his leadership susceptible to influence by people around him as we are currently witnessing. The reason why Salva decided to stick to power after independence is less about his desire to hold power indefinitely but more about the reckless and hasty ways pursued by some SPLM leaders to ascend to the leadership. Let us assume hypothetically that Salva decides to step down voluntarily, then what will happen? Certainly exiting of Salva will not solve all problems of South Sudan and if it is not managed well it may exacerbate the current appalling conditions. This scenario would require a thorough reflection and preparation, as this will raise the critical question of a successor who will certainly be the choice of Salva. We are aware there is now a lining up for such a successor. While the Dinka ruling elites including Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) will exert pressure on Kiir to pick a successor of their choice, and this may be catastrophic, Salva may need to resort to his political party, the SPLM. The way of selecting the successor should be subjected to the right institutions and provisions of constitution. While the 2011 Transitional Constitution and 2018 Peace Agreement are clear of how to fill the office of the President if it falls vacant, the selection of a successor will start within the SPLM, as the ruling party. The SPLM Constitution states it very clearly that “In case the office of the Chairperson falls vacant, the most senior Deputy Chairperson shall assume the office of Chairperson and convene an extra-ordinary meeting of the National Liberation Council within sixty (60) days to elect a new chairperson”. One would expect that Salva may use his decision to quit to consolidate the unity of the SPLM by genuinely implementing the Arusha Agreement. One would expect also that Salva may stay inside South Sudan and assist in the reconciliation and healing process, implementation of 2018 Peace Agreement, as well as strengthening SPLM with its new political agenda for winning back the trust of people of South Sudan. Now most senior cabinet members of Salva are sanctioned, reaching a record level of sanctioned ministers, and such a trend of sanctions is creeping toward the institution of the Presidency if the status quo persists. If the Dinka ruling elites who are around Salva continue with their hegemonic, exclusive and patronage policies similar to those pursued by the Ja’alin northern Sudanese ruling elites in the post-independence Sudan, South Sudan may face the same fate of disintegration now witnessed in Sudan. Asking Salva to step down voluntarily is a genuine national quest and would be a timely homegrown initiative to help the new nation escaping its imminent demise. This noble initiative can only be achieved by some eminent and reputed personalities in the national dialogue committee and our church leaders who are on higher moral ground and command respect and trust and will be able to ensure nationally supported and dignified exit packages. Beside asking Salva to relinquish power, this eminent group together with the successor of Salva may also initiate a genuine national dialogue and homegrown.