Uncertainty surrounds South Sudan’s peace pact despite Kiir and Machar’s renewed agreement.
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit and Vice President Riek Machar joined hands this week on yet another agreement to resurrect the continent’s newest—and most difficult—peace process.
At a signing ceremony in the capital Juba on Sunday night (Rarcss), both leaders and their respective parties reaffirmed their commitment to the ceasefire and other terms of the 2018 Revitalized Agreement for the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan. Among the criteria was a quick acceleration of their armed forces’ integration.
The conference became essential after the resumption of violence between the government’s South Sudan People’s Defense Forces and Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-in-Opposition (SPLM/A-IO).
Machar’s forces announced their resignation from the peace monitoring organization in March, citing government soldiers’ “unprovoked assaults” on their sites.
Machar pleaded with the Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s mediators to intercede to rescue the peace pact, notably appealing to Sudan, one of the 2018 agreement’s guarantors.
And Sudan did contribute to the recent accord, which a person familiar with the discussions described as “a very big and crucial move in the right direction that will result in months of tranquility.”
However, for it to be effective, it must be followed by the effective execution of the ceasefire and transitional security measures in the Rarcss.
Kiir had offered Machar’s SPLM/A-IO and the South Sudan Opposition Alliance five leadership posts in the army and police — which Machar declined. The sides have finally reached a fundamental agreement on how top leadership roles would be divided.
However, the more difficult aspect of forming a cohesive army will be merging the rank and file of different parties.
Machar has attempted to avert this by raising a large number of his warriors to the level of a senior officer. Integration of the military forces would also be costly, and both the government and opposition in South Sudan are attempting to get foreign donors to foot the tab.
However, donors are rejecting, claiming that their budgets are intended for development assistance, not security.
Additionally, they feel the government can pay the expenditures. “Global oil prices have boosted South Sudan’s revenues,” as NCMP has reported in recently. “And they must demonstrate a willingness to use their own resources… or they aren’t taking this seriously.”
Apart from the Rarcss’ security concerns, there is still more work to be done to put South Sudan on a path toward peace and stability.
The 2018 peace agreement ‘revitalized’ the 2015 Kiir-Machar Agreement. The first one imploded catastrophically in July 2016, when Machar was forced to depart Juba after being pursued by Kiir’s army.
While the 2018 agreement has averted a repetition of the 2016 bloodshed, isolated skirmishes and regional disputes have occurred.
And worries are growing that the obviously heightened tensions around next year’s elections could precipitate a return to significant bloodshed and instability. The transition period is expected to conclude in December, with the 2023 elections establishing a democratic administration.
However, the Rarcss’s list of unfulfilled conditions for conducting elections and beyond remains disturbingly extensive.
These include constitutional and institutional changes, legislative and administrative initiatives, as well as voter registration. This has prompted a discussion in the nation regarding the bare minimum required to ensure the legitimacy of elections.
Some South Sudanese experts advocate for a more accommodative stance, claiming that generally viewed legitimate elections would suffice. However, the Rarcss’s primary foreign partners — the United States, the United Kingdom, and Norway — maintain that all of the Rarcss’s requirements are required.
They are, nevertheless, flexible on the edges, such as being willing to consider comprehensive voter registration in the absence of a census.
Similarly, the three-member United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan cautions that the nation risks devolving into bloodshed if elections are conducted before the government implements constitutional provisions ratifying the peace accord.
“The repercussions of a hasty poll, inside a contentious political system and without the necessary security and democratic conditions in place, might undoubtedly be terrible,” Commission member Andrew Clapham told the Voice of America.
Given the magnitude of the task ahead, some urge for a delay of the elections, while others worry that doing so would further erode the transitional government’s credibility.
Even more critical than technical circumstances is fostering a climate favorable to free and fair elections, which few believe exists now.
Yasmin Sooka, Chairperson of the United Nations Commission, was caustic in her assessment of South Sudan’s political situation. According to her interview with Voice of America, the government was corrupt, and the political elite was stealing the purse.
Civil liberties were suppressed, and human rights advocates and journalists were often threatened with murder and detained. According to Sooka, conflict-related sexual assault is pervasive and systemic.
“How can we discuss constitution-making, elections, and transitional justice in this context of dread and terror?” Is it really feasible to have nationwide consultations?” she enquired.
And, one believes, far deeper than all of that is the pervasive, fatal mistrust between Kiir and Machar, which seems to be the primary source of the country’s persistent instability.
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