Pacifying South Sudan: Why the International Community is Key to Sustainable Peace

The signing of the Revitalized Agreement for the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) in September 2018, cultivated an atmosphere of hope and expectation in the world’s youngest nation. Since the signing of the agreement, there has been ceasefire among warring parties, and a considerable reduction in active violence. However, lack of political goodwill, untimely implementation and mistrust among political leaders in South Sudan, have frustrated the formation of the unity government to pave way for the reconstruction of the country. With the expiry of the 100-day extension period set on February 22, 2020, and prospects for unity rapidly waning, the international community including regional powers, the African Union (AU), United Nations (UN) and leading western states need to step up their diplomatic engagement in South Sudan to pursue the settlement of the outstanding issues.

The Long Delay, Suspended Peace

Peace and stability in South Sudan have been elusive. The R-ARCSS outlined wide-ranging power-sharing arrangement culminating into the formation of the Revitalised Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGoNU). Before R-TGoNU is formed, R-ARCSS parties are required to ensure demilitarization of Juba and other major cities; unification, training, and redeployment of a new national military; as well as settling boundary of states matter.

The R-ARCSS started the clock on an eight-month pre-transitional period before the R-TGoNU would be formed. By May 2019, the initial deadline for the formation of the unity government, little progress had been made in implementing the crucial tasks. Disagreements loomed large between President Salva Kiir and opposition chief Riek Machar over the demilitarization of cities, the procedure of integrating militaries, as well as boundaries and number of regional states. Upon request by both parties, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), through its ministerial council, granted a six-month extension to the pre-transitional period to enable the implementation of the critical pending tasks. This pushed the deadline to November 12, 2019.

However, despite verbal commitment by President Kiir and Machar to respect the new schedule, the extension period was marked by a significant lack of progress in implementing the crucial tasks. In early November 2019, with only a few days to the expiry of the pre-transitional period, and amidst rising tensions between president Kiir- and Machar-allied camps, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and the head of Sudan’s Sovereign Council, Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, called for a meeting in Kampala, Uganda, to mediate the differences. The parties agreed to a second extension of the pre-transitional period by 100 days – that is,  from November 12, 2019 to February 22, 2020 – predominantly to ease the growing tensions and forestall the resurgence of war.

Even with the additional time, chances that the unity government will be formed by February 22, 2020 remain slim. First, the parties have been unable to resolve their disagreements over the number of states. The push and pull regarding the number of states is whether to carry on with 32 regional states that President Kiir instituted against the spirit of the 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS) or revert to the initial 10 states as Machar demands. Secondly, very little progress has been made as regards the formation of a unified military. Cantonment of forces remains a matter of great uncertainty. In addition, although joint training of forces kicked off in early January 2020, this process is way behind schedule and only includes a section of the forces. As such it is unlikely that a new military will be in place by February 22.

South Sudan’s peace remains hanging. Despite the ceasefire, non-implementation of the critical tasks may trigger the collapse of the R-ARCSS, and thereby spark another wave of violence. Even more worrying at present is the fact that Machar has not ‘permanently’ relocated to Juba as shared security in the capital is not guaranteed; a critical point that caused the breakout of violence back in 2016. Even if the new military is ‘miraculously’ formed by the February deadline or soon thereafter, it remains a great impossibility that an appropriate deployment to Juba can be achieved. As such the only viable alternative is to introduce an interim third-party force duly negotiated and accepted by the parties. Should the parties fail to strike an agreement in the coming days, the achievement of peace might remain a distant reality.

Shoring Up the Peace

There is need for increased international action to support the R-ARCSS. It is commendable the involvement of IGAD and other regional guarantors, particularly, Uganda and Sudan, in supporting continuous negotiations between President Kiir and Machar. However, these efforts need to be backed up by elaborate high-level diplomatic engagement from the international community. Although IGAD strives to maintain its leading role in the peace process, its capacity to exert pressure on the parties remains limited and at best scattered owing to regional power play and conflicting interests between its member states. The absence of the AU in South Sudan is particularly worrying. At a time when the continent is on a drive to end armed violence, the AU needs to show wider African leadership in bolstering peace-making in South Sudan. Particularly, the AU should work alongside IGAD to mediate the lurking differences between President Kiir and Machar to drive forward the formation of the unity government. A good step is to second a neutral third-party security force for deployment in Juba.

Finally, the UN and United States of America (US) need to be more effective and efficient in their actions in Juba. While the UN Security Council (UNSC) appears a little withdrawn from the ongoing negotiations, its presence is urgently needed. UNSC can possibly explore expanding the role of UNMISS to provide VIP protection in Juba in case the necessary security arraignments remain unimplemented. Washington has only recently appointed a special envoy to Juba. As a world leader, and a representative of the western bloc of countries, the US, through its newly appointed special envoy, Stuart Symington, should step up its support for the ongoing negotiations. Particularly, Mr. Stuart should conduct high-level shuttle diplomacy in the region and reassert the role of the US and, by extension, that of other western countries especially as the Troika (diplomatic alliance between the US, United Kingdom, and Norway), in ensuring that peace is restored in South Sudan.

Joel Otieno is a Research Assistant at the HORN Institute

Photo: South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir sign a power-sharing deal on August 5, 2018 (Photo Credit: Reuters)

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