On the first anniversary of South Sudan’s peace agreement Mr Festus Mogae, Chairman of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission – the body charged to monitor the implementation of South Sudan’s peace agreement – commented that “the country is badly off today than it was before”.
Mr Mogae was commenting on the lack of political will by South Sudan’s leadership to implement the security arrangements stipulated in the Agreement on Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS), which he saw as the biggest hurdle to the Agreement’s full implementation.
The Agreement, which is also known as the ‘peace accord’ was signed on August 26, 2015, by South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and former vice president turned rebel leader Riek Machar. It was an attempt by the warring factions to end fighting in the five-year-old country. However, violence flared again between the two sides in July 2016, and despite the implementation of a ceasefire, concern for the fragile peace agreement remains.
The Agreement envisioned arrangements for the rival armies to come together and work as a national force. It promised a new constitution, as well as reforms in the economy, security sector and the civil service. It also had provisions for fair elections, and included elements of transitional justice such as setting up a reparations authority, a truth and reconciliation commission and a hybrid court for the trial of grave crimes that had been committed.
Many South Sudanese blame the failure to implement the Agreement on the “bad blood” and distrust between Salva Kiir and Riek Machar. In the current stalemate, many questions remain unanswered. Will the parties’ inability or unwillingness to work together in good faith lead to greater regional involvement? What form will that regional intercession take? Will it be military intervention? What impact would this option have on a political settlement?
Following the outbreak of fighting in July 2016, Salva Kiir sacked Machar from his post as first Vice President. In his place, Salva Kiir appointed Taban Deng Gai, a former opposition negotiator who had broken ranks with Riek Machar. Gai is seen by many as a defector to Salva Kiir’s faction and someone who will compromise the implementation of key provisions of the Agreement.
Most South Sudanese are sceptical of the current leadership and question their commitment to work for peace and development. To many the future is uncertain. They have begun to lose confidence in the willingness of their leaders to pursue peace. They are also wary of the possibility and implications of yet another power-sharing arrangement that forces unpopular leadership on a population that is hungry for change.
South Sudan was founded on July 9, 2011, when it gained independence from Sudan after nearly 100 percent of its citizens voted for cessation in a national referendum. Barely two years into independence, the country descended into conflict when Salva Kiir accused Riek Machar, his former deputy whom he had sacked in the beginning of 2013, of plotting a coup. The conflict then took an ethnic tone, pitching Salva Kiir, a Dinka, against his rival Riek Machar, a Nuer.
As the conflict flared into violence, Riek Machar and the commanders loyal to him fled to the countryside. Tens of thousands of people died in the violence, many starving to death. More than two million people have been displaced This renewed conflict has shaken the country to its core, disrupting a fragile peace in a young nation still healing from decades of civil war. It now poses an existential threat to South Sudan, a fragile state whose economy is in tatters. The conflict puts a test on the international community’s resolve to mitigate this seemingly unsolvable conflict. It is clear the country cannot endure a continuing state of war.
All across South Sudan, communities are mobilizing for peace. Different voices, groupings and movements are emerging, calling for a return to normalcy. Ordinary women and young men are reaching out to their counterparts across the front lines, putting aside tribal and political differences in genuine search for lasting peace. However, with no infrastructure, no access to social media and other forms of social mobilization, their calls for solidarity are largely going unnoticed. They are being overshadowed by the brutality and self-destructive action and inaction of the political class.
Activists in South Sudan are frustrated by the perceived lack of empathy and solidarity from their brothers and sisters across the continent, and the rest of the world. To them, it seems the world listens to the few rebels-turned-politicians, even when they kill, murder and destroy their country, giving a platform to voice and articulate their divisive agenda. They wonder why the world hardly gives any audience and visibility to the silent majority of peaceful actors or to their efforts to bring peace.
Although state structures profess to work for peace in Africa, the experience of South Sudan seems to indicate that states work better for those who hold power, even if they got there through violence.
For the ordinary people of South Sudan, their only hope is the support and solidarity of ordinary people in Africa and around the world. Driven by their collective resolve to end the conflict and live in harmony, their appeal is now directly to fellow world citizens: Join the movement for peace in our country, South Sudan.
Don Bosco Malish is a program officer in the Democratic Governance and Rule of Law program at OSIEA focusing on elections and constitutional reforms in Eastern Africa.