South Sudanese deserve peace, progress

After so many false starts, there is light at the end of the tunnel for troubled South Sudan following the signing of a peace agreement between the government of President Salva Kiir and the rebels led by former Vice President Riek Machar in Juba on Wednesday.

In retrospect, in his speech during this year’s Madaraka Day celebrations, President Uhuru Kenyatta urged the warring factions in South Sudan to return home and sort out the mess.

On Wednesday this week, together with other regional leaders, he was at hand to witness the culmination of a long process fraught with challenges emanating from recalcitrance, suspicion and mistrust among the protagonists.

Kenya and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have for the last two years been doing all in their power to ensure the return of peace to Africa’s youngest nation after it degenerated into civil war barely two years after gaining independence from Sudan in 2011.

It is instructive that President Kiir still harbours some reservations about the peace deal that he reluctantly signed in Juba, one week after the August 17 deadline imposed by the international community expired.

Kiir was clearly under pressure when he signed the agreement a few hours after the United Nations threatened immediate sanctions against his country should he fail to comply. Some will argue that he signed the agreement to avoid sanctions and they may not be wrong.

Therefore unless there are follow up efforts by IGAD to ensure the peace agreement holds — recalling that in the past such deals were trashed almost immediately the signatories left the venue of negotiations — this truce may also collapse. This should not be the case this time round because the people of South Sudan are crying for peace; longing to go back to the homes they abandoned when fighting broke out and pick up the pieces. They deserve that peace.

The two-year civil war in Africa’s youngest nation has not only killed more than 10,000 people and displaced more than two million; it has consigned not less than 200,000 South Sudanese nationals to UN peace keeper’s bases where they are living in deplorable conditions.

Under the peace deal, Riek Machar becomes the First Vice President as a transitional government comes into place 90 days from the day of signing the peace agreement. Such an arrangement mirrors the situation in Kenya after the chaotic 2007 elections.

Through a UN-brokered peace deal, we have been able to rise through the ignominy of that period to be where we are today, boasting a progressive Constitution that guarantees rights and freedoms of the citizens while guiding the manner in which politics is run to ensure fair play.

Coincidentally, this latest South Sudan peace deal was signed on the eve of the day on which Kenya celebrated the fifth anniversary of the new Constitution promulgated on August 27, 2010 by retired President Mwai Kibaki.

This should serve to reassure the people of South Sudan that all is not lost; that there is hope and all that is required is political goodwill to rise from the ashes.

Rwanda has shrugged off the ravages of the 1994 genocide to build a robust economy,    with an impressive annual growth rate of 6 per cent. It has some of the strongest institutions on the African continent that ensure government delivers on services.

This did not just happen; the futility of wars in which there is no real winner must have dawned on the protagonists who ultimately laid down their arms and embarked on nation building. The progress that Rwanda has made in only two decades is worth emulating.

South Sudan is no different; with its oil and a stable government, the people should look back and wonder what really happened. President Kiir and Machar should lead the way in helping their people achieve peace and development after suffering needlessly for so long.