Peace in South Sudan rests on establishing a cohesive military force: yet it’s proving hard
The South Sudanese government is severely behind schedule in implementing the 2018 peace accord. The establishment of a unified military command organization is one of the causes for the delayed pace. This was to be completed within the first eight months after the agreement’s signature.
South Sudan’s five-year civil conflict was brought to an end by the 2018 peace agreement. President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, formed a unity government under it.
The country’s slide into war was precipitated by a disagreement between the two presidents in 2013. Machar was sworn in as first vice president under the provisions of the agreement.
The transitional stage of the peace agreement began with the formation of the unity government and was set to span 36 months. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO), which is associated with Machar, and other opposition organizations, joined the government in February 2020.
A unified command of the country’s military forces was also established under the peace deal. Kiir and Machar recently agreed on a 60-40 split of key roles in national security institutions in favor of the president.
However, the process of unification has been sluggish and fraught with obstacles. Examples from Cote d’Ivoire illustrate that it may be a difficult process that, if not managed properly, might undermine attempts to consolidate a comprehensive peace accord like the one inked in South Sudan.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition agreed to withdraw from the security mechanisms established as part of the 2018 peace agreement on March 23, 2022.
The judgment arouses concerns that an attempt to create unified security forces may be undermined as a result of the ruling. To avert widespread bloodshed, the international community and donors reacted quickly, denouncing the assaults and urging the movement to resume security procedures.
South Sudan seems to be back on pace to executing the 2018 peace deal, with the reinstatement of security measures and the resumption of discussions between Kiir and Machar.
This mending, however, may not ensure a smooth route to peace and stability, since the process is progressing at a snail’s pace, with some seeing the three-and-a-half years since the agreement was signed as a stalemate.
The procedure, which is only getting started, is planned to be finished by the conclusion of the transition period in February 2023.
However, there are still numerous obstacles to overcome.
For example, over 78,500 registered militants of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition are stranded in military camps and training facilities without food, medication, housing, and equipment.
This has harmed Machar politically and has had military and political repercussions for the revolution.
More opposition commanders have joined the South Sudan People’s Defense Forces on a military level. With the formation of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition [Kitgwang], the movement was divided politically. As a consequence, the two factions have continued to battle.
It’s crucial to be wary of the ambitious timetable set for uniting the country’s command structure. In South Africa, it took four years to create unified military forces, five years in Mozambique, and seven years in Sierra Leone.
As shown in South Africa, Mozambique, and Sierra Leone, the development of a professional armed force may continue after first-agreement elections. Armed forces that are not completely professionalized, on the other hand, may easily disrupt the election process.
The elections in 2010 in Cote d’Ivoire ran concurrently with the military reform process. When the election result was called into question, the nation descended into chaos, with troops loyal to the different presidential contenders taking sides.
In terms of building professional military forces, the present scenario in South Sudan is remarkably similar to that in Cote d’Ivoire.
Machar has a weak military and is politically sidelined. This might be seen as a positive for Kiir and the Dinka ethnic community he represents. However, it will not always result in peace and stability.
The execution of the 2018 peace accord has been fraught with uncertainty. Nonetheless, Kiir and Machar have saved the process by renewing their commitment to its execution.
They do, however, have a very narrow window of time to execute key aspects of the agreement and re-establish confidence in order to ensure the process’s success.
One of the obstacles to a successful peace process is the signatories’ lack of confidence in one another and their shared commitment to following an agreement.
However, trust does not develop overnight. It is accomplished by the implementation of a series of changes that address the requirements of the various constituencies that the leaders represent.
Because of the back-and-forth nature of these changes, achieving peace is often unpopular among those who profit from the status quo. However, as my study has demonstrated, the trust created via this process helps to a stable peace.
However, sluggish implementation procedures, which breed distrust and violence, might jeopardize this stability.
South Sudan’s peace and stability are contingent on Kiir and Machar abandoning brinkmanship politics. In 2011, they collaborated to create an independent nation for the South Sudanese. It is past time for these two leaders to demonstrate that they can work together to achieve the peace and stability that all South Sudanese deserve.