- The current peace agreement was signed in September 2018.
- For many South Sudanese, there is very little to go by to believe that this promise will hold.
- But of course there are a lot of people with a hopeful outlook.
It is not safe for anyone nowadays to comment with confidence on the fate of South Sudan’s peace processes.
This is because nothing about this country prepares anyone for the speed at which peace agreements are signed, promised to be implemented, violated, re-signed, promised and violated again, never mind the fact that the people of the youngest country on the East African block have reeled under civil war for the past six years, suffered violence at different levels, collapsed economy, grand corruption, displacement and a miserable state of public goods and services.
So the desperation for peace and stability cannot be over-emphasised.
The current peace agreement, known as the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS), was signed in September 2018.
It has been under the auspices of the regional bloc –Intergovernmental Agency on Development (IGAD).
It stipulated a power-sharing arrangement and formation of a transitional government of national unity. Sadly, its implementation quickly stalled when the parties, especially its principal leaders President Salva Kiir Mayardit and opposition leader Riek Machar Teny, could not make a breakthrough.
Two particularly intractable problems stood in the way, namely the 2015 president’s executive order that divided the country into 32 states, which the opposition deems unconstitutional, and the security arrangements of R-ARCSS, including cantonment of all the fighting forces, which the government was in charge of but which Juba has proven unwilling to or incapable of financing.
Consequently, in May 2019 the parties to the IGAD-sponsored peace deal agreed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to extend the deadline for the national unity government for six months, placing the new deadline in November 2019. (See this report.)
It was back to the drawing board and the pressures mounted on both parties from IGAD countries, the African Union, the so-called Troika (United States, the United Kingdom and Norway), with the US particularly telling them they must form a transitional government of national unity or face sanctions.
When the November deadline arrived, the parties were nowhere near agreement on the question of the number of states and their boundaries.
The peace committee in charge of working out a plan for addressing this issue failed to conclude a plan.
There was also very little progress made on Chapter II of the agreement, which is focusing on the security arrangements, including cantonment of forces, training and unification.
So when the parties met again in Entebbe, Uganda, hosted by President Yoweri Museveni, they decided to postpone the formation of government one more time and extended the deadline for 100 days, which put the date at February 2020.
This is why there was a renewed, if cautious optimism, a few days ago, on December 17, 2019 when President Kiir and Dr Machar once again announced that they have agreed to form a unity government by the February 2020 deadline.
They hinted that this should be the final promise to the people of South Sudan, that they will work together, form a unity government, unify their armed forces into one national army, work on rebuilding the economy, steer the country ever so delicately through the interim period, complete with repatriation of refugees, national dialogue, reconciliation and see through a return of the young state to stability.
There is still no clarity on the matter regarding the 32 states and their boundaries.
There is fear that rescinding the order and returning the country to the original 10 states could cause a revolt in some of the states where the residents are in unwavering support of this current arrangement.
But there is fear that keeping the 32 states could cause communal conflict in the states where boundaries between communities are unclear, as there are some communities that claim their territories have been annexed to the states where they do not belong.
The government has flagged a possibility of holding a referendum on the states, but the opposition has not decided their position on it. How a new unity government will navigate this delicate issue is unclear.
The new promises to consolidate peace are a tall order indeed, not just because of the mistrust that exist between the leaders but more importantly because the country is broke and the kind of peace agreement they have crafted, one that will have a bloated cabinet, parliament, civil service and the army, in order to accommodate all the rebel leaders and their forces on their return home, will come with a huge price tag.
It is not the kind of peace deal that can be sustained, at least resource-wise.
For many South Sudanese, there is very little to go by to believe that this promise will hold.
Many people are very pessimistic, saying they are not holding their breath, as these leaders have made similar promises before, only to end up in war, not to say anything about the fact that a peace agreement at the level of elite will not end the war, as corruption, ethnic divides, the collapse of the economy, absence of basic infrastructure, a lacklustre rule of law and safety, will not allow this country to rise up in the short term, unless there is a drastic change in the system of governance and the attitude of the leaders.
For example, the likely reabsorption of the huge rebel forces into the army, that alone is a repeat of the cycle of violence that the country has not been able to break. It will mean inflated army ranks, which comes with a lot of expenditure and it is likely that some will rebel again if their demands are not met.
PEACE AND STABILITY
Additionally, while there is country-wide desperation for peace and stability, it is hard to see how this deal will address such issues as the recent devastating flooding, food deficit and potential famine, communal violence and most importantly the plight of the more than half of the country’s population that is languishing in refugee camps throughout East Africa or in internally displaced persons’ camps, all of which are linked to the six-year long civil war, as this war has rendered the state unresponsive to the suffering of the citizens.
If the leaders do not have a conception on how to start tackling these issues right away, it will be hard for the people of South Sudan to see value in this political arrangement and the deal will be just a little more than a postponement of conflict.
But of course there are a lot of people with a hopeful outlook.
I have heard many South Sudanese say that the country may be in dire straits at the moment but that this country has been in similar situations before and it was still able to crawl out, even before it became an independent country, and there is no reason why it should not do the same again.
The question is how to gauge the seriousness of the country’s politico-military leaders who now seem to hold the people hostage to their political ambitions.
“All we need is peace and everyone will do his own thing to survive…We just need these leaders and their wars to leave us alone,” remarked a resident of Wau town I interviewed by phone a few days ago.
Jok Madut Jok is a professor of anthropology at Syracuse University and senior analyst at The Sudd Institute