Abdul Mohammed is the chief of staff for the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan and South Sudan. Alex de Waal is executive director of the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University’s Fletcher School.
There is an opportunity to halt South Sudan’s slide into war and state failure, but it must be seized within days or it will be lost. This requires the leaders of South Sudan to rise above narrow, tribalistic, zero-sum politics and develop a national program. President Salva Kiir and other members of the country’s political elite — in government and in opposition, inside South Sudan and in the diaspora — must respond to this challenge now or go down in history as having betrayed their people.
Two years after achieving independence, a political dispute between President Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar erupted into the open. Kiir dismissed Machar and most of his cabinet. Two weeks ago, this dispute suddenly mutated from a contest over votes in the ruling bodies of the SPLM into a terrifyingly violent tribal conflict. The speed and vigor of ethnic mobilization not only threatens a widening war but also jeopardizes the very viability of the South Sudanese state.
African and international mediators are in a race against time to stem this tide. Once the political dispute descends completely into a fight for communal survival, foreign leverage disappears. Ethiopia and Kenya, acting on behalf of African nations, took key steps at a summit in Nairobi Friday to try to stop further violence. They called for a cease-fire and for the rights of 11 high-level political leaders arrested by the government to be respected. (Two were released on Saturday.) They affirmed the core African principles: no unconstitutional change in government and South Sudan must build a viable state. President Kiir stays, but he must negotiate.
Stopping the shooting is the immediate priority. But the mediators should not be content with patching together a ruling coalition and returning to business as usual in advance of scheduled elections in 2015. A power-sharing formula could become just another division of the spoils, and elections could become another exercise in ethnic division....
Read the full OpEd in the Washington Post.
Read related coverage in the Christian Science Monitor.