How viable is the latest South Sudan peace deal?
Unless the agreement addresses fundamental issues including governance and institutional reform, it is unlikely to translate into tangible peace in the everyday lives of South Sudanese, writes Jok Madut Jok, executive director of The Sudd Institute.
outh Sudan marked seven years of independence on 9 July, but its people have little to celebrate. The country has been embroiled in a devastating and seemingly endless civil war since 2013, sparked by fierce rivalry between President Salva Kiir and his then deputy-turned-opposition-leader Riek Machar. The conflict, though pitting the top political and military leaders against one another, has drawn much of the population into violence along ethnic lines. Many efforts have been made and agreements signed to try and end the violence but none of them have endured. Efforts of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to reconcile Kiir and opposition leaders have only resulted in agreements being violated and dismantled even before the negotiating delegates returned home. The failure to resolve the conflict is due to both the intransigence of the parties and fundamental problems of a weak and incoherent mediation process.
Attempts at yet another peace agreement are underway but after many failed attempts since 2014 to settle the political crisis, many South Sudanese understandably harbour heavy skepticism that the outcome this time will be different. They eye the two primary leaders, Kiir and Machar, with disdain and believe they do not care about the welfare of the people. For how else could the failure of these men to reconcile be explained in view of the massive suffering their rivalry has inflicted on the majority of the population? A commonly held view is that these peace deals are not about finding solutions to issues that caused the war, but are selfishly focused on power and resource sharing among the elite. It is also said that the reason these agreements collapse so quickly is that they avoid the fundamental questions of security, governance, basic institutional reforms, corruption, lack of accountability for crimes, lack of basic services and economic disparities born of malpractices and fiscal irresponsibility in public office. In short, it seems that the people of South Sudan are fed up with war but find themselves hostage to these warring leaders and their competing armies. Unless this latest peace deal tackles these issues, it is unlikely to translate into tangible peace in the everyday lives of the people of South Sudan.
Though Sudan has been involved in South Sudan’s peace talks through IGAD, it is leading the current round of talks for the first time. This has taken on a whole new dimension and has generated a different line of commentary and questioning from South Sudanese, mainly because of the entry of Sudan as mediator. Many regard this situation with skepticism, as they do any ‘offer’ Sudan has ever made to South Sudan. Firstly, there is a view that it is humiliating for South Sudanese leaders to return to Khartoum to seek peace with each other when they could have easily done so on their own. Given the politics that led to the separation of South Sudan from Sudan in 2011, where South Sudanese saw the Sudanese state as a colonial power, the humiliation that South Sudanese leaders subjected themselves to was unnecessary.
Secondly, it’s clear that Sudan’s own geopolitical and economic interests would be inserted into wha is supposed to be a purely South Sudanese peace affair. For example, Sudan’s offer to provide security for oil fields, assistance with the repair of oil facilities damaged by war, resumption of pre-war production levels and financial matters left over from the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the north-south war in 2005 are all matters of bilateral relations between Sudan and Sudan South Sudan. How Sudan’s initiative to reconcile South Sudanese leaders came to include these issues is a mystery, making Khartoum’s genuineness about peace in South Sudan questionable. A bigger question is whether the leaders of South Sudan will allow Khartoum to exploit their disagreements to score a deal on oil at the expense of their country.
The role of Sudan as a peace broker in South Sudan is a moot point. But the history of South Sudan’s peacemaking has shown that the security aspect of any deal is what makes or kill that deal. The last agreement, signed in 2015 and by virtue of which a Transitional Government of National Unity was formed, returning Riek Machar to Juba as the first vice president in April 2016, disintegrated due to the failure to implement the security clauses of that agreement. With that history in mind and with a renewed regional dedication to achieving a political settlement in South Sudan, IGAD’s efforts have moved from one East African capital to the next for the best part of the last five years.
The current round of negotiations began in Addis Ababa under the auspices of IGAD, moved to Khartoum under the supervision of Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, and then to Nairobi on 9 July. Reports from Khartoum have suggested that a deal on security arrangements was reached on 5 July, which spelled out the terms of a permanent ceasefire, the fate of the various fighting forces, the eventual creation of the national army out of these forces and the overall security sector enhancement and professionalisation of the military.
The talks then moved to Kampala on 7 July, where President Yoweri Museveni has been struggling to mediate a power-sharing arrangement. Kiir and Machar reportedly agreed on the formation of a new government of national unity in Kampala. However, there are conflicting reports of a power-sharing deal being struck – Machar's opposition group is said to have rejected the proposal to reinstate him as vice president. With no clear details available yet, questions continue to pile up.
For example, will the deal outline how to tackle many of the local-level confrontations that have wreaked havoc on communities under the shadow of an elite war? And how will South Sudan afford an enlarged government? The mediation team has proposed a government that includes the incumbent President who will keep his job for an interim period, four vice presidents, a cabinet of 45 ministers, a bicameral national legislative assembly of 495 members and a federal system of 32 states. This would double the size of current government – a scandalous move given the desperate state of the country’s economy. Opposition groups have objected to this cooption, with the South Sudan Opposition Alliance saying “inclusivity does not have to mean big government, as a lean transitional government of national unity can still be achieved with 18 ministries”.
The best reading of the proposed peace agreement is that it offers a respite from war and a good chance for the warring parties to peacefully discuss and compromise on their political differences. However, whatever peace agreement emerges from whichever East African capital it is signed in, the reality is that it will have little to no chance of holding up. Without the sincere commitment of the parties involved and no guarantees by mediators and the wider international community to ensure that the security arrangements part of the agreement are solidified, the reform project is revived, and the future of South Sudan is charted out with regards to constitutional reviews and elections at the end of the interim period, any peace deal struck will be broken before long.
(Main image: President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir (4thR) poses with South Sudan's opposition leader Riek Machar (3-L) during peace talks at Uganda's statehouse in Entebbe where they were received by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (C) along with Sudan counterpart Omar al-Bashir (4thL) and other delegates - Sumy Sadurni/ AFP/ Getty)