The parties to the conflict in South Sudan again failed to reach an agreement at the recently concluded High-Level Revitalization Forum in Addis Ababa. They rejected the Intergovernmental Authority on Development’s (IGAD) proposal aimed at reconciling the positions of the warring factions. IGAD now wants to organise a face-to-face meeting between President Salva Kiir and his opponent Riek Machar before the African Union (AU) summit in Nouakchott in June/July 2018. The Peace and Security Council (PSC) is also expected to hold a summit meeting on South Sudan on 30 June, on the eve of the summit.
The recent South Sudanese peace talks, held in Addis Ababa from 17–23 May 2018, were a continuation of a process that started in December 2017. This had resulted in a ceasefire agreement that the warring parties continue to violate.
It also followed a visit by the PSC to Juba in April this year in support of the IGAD-led peace process.
The United Nations Security Council has ramped up its threats to impose sanctions Tweet this
The conflict has seen gross human rights abuses and displaced 4.2 million people. Over 7 million South Sudanese are in need of humanitarian aid, and warring parties continually obstruct humanitarian access. Refugees, civil society groups and women representatives strongly advocated compromise during the peace talks.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has ramped up its threats to impose sanctions against six key individuals in South Sudan if no compromise is reached before the end of this month. IGAD also said it was developing punitive measures against violators of the ceasefire agreement, although it is uncertain whether this will materialise in a region that has been reticent to impose sanctions.
The recent peace talks were facilitated by the leaders of the South Sudan Council of Churches. IGAD mediators developed the proposal based on a report by the church leaders.
The sticking points in the proposal relate to the nature of the power-sharing arrangement, which was contested by all the conflicting parties for different reasons.
The proposal allocates 55% of cabinet positions to Kiir’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Government (SPLM-IG), 25% to Machar’s SPLM in Opposition (SPLM-IO) and 20% to other parties and entities.
It also allocates the presidency to the SPLM-IG, the first vice president position to the SPLM-IO, the vice president position to the SPLM-IG and an additional third vice president position to other parties and entities.
The perception of bias
The opposition objects to the fact that the proposal disproportionally empowers the Juba administration. The proportional representation for the SPLM-IO, for instance, is less than in the previous 2015 deal, which gave it 33% of cabinet positions.
The opposition further disagrees with the proposal that the SPLM-IG be given 65% of state governors, while the SPLM-IO has 25% and others 10%.
Many accuse IGAD of attempting to strengthen the SPLG-IG through the proposal. This highlights the inherent advantage of incumbency and a shift in allegiances – from the opposition to the government and vice versa.
For instance, Vice President Taban Deng Gai’s SPLM-IO officially joined forces with Kiir’s SPLM-IG only a few days before the peace talks.
New armed groups have emerged to seek inclusion in the peace process Tweet this
Prominent figures within the SPLM-IG have also defected to form their own opposition parties. For instance, Lt. Gen. Thomas Cirillo Swaka, a former deputy chief of general staff for logistics, and Lam Akol, a former minister of agriculture, left the SPLM-IG to form an opposition group.
These defections should have had an impact on the new power-sharing proposal, but these leaders complain that no explanation was given for the large allocation of cabinet seats to the SPLM-IG.
Proliferation of parties and groups
Since the 2015 peace deal, new armed groups have also emerged to seek recognition and inclusion in the peace and governance process.
The most recent armed group is that of Paul Malong, former chief of staff of the South Sudanese army, who formed the South Sudan United Front (SSUF).
Some of these groups have since joined forces and formed the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA). They aim to work together during the peace process, but the strength of these armed groups varies significantly and reaching agreement within the alliance remains a major concern. The SSOA forms part of the ‘other parties and entities’ defined in the peace deal, alongside former detainees and other opposition parties.
The resultant fragmentation in South Sudan now belies a narrow consideration of the conflict as between Machar’s Nuer and Kiir’s Dinka alliances.
Is the call for inclusivity driving fragmentation?
While inclusivity is key, IGAD mediators should critically assess whether the power-sharing approach does not foster fragmentation in South Sudan.
The challenge for mediators will be securing a peace deal that is people-centred Tweet this
This approach inherently prioritises the interests of a few individual leaders over that of the majority of ordinary South Sudanese. It could also encourage individuals to establish armed groups in order to be included in the peace talks.
The new proposal is also criticised for expanding the cabinet (from 30 to 42) and the Parliament (from 320 to 440 members) with a view to increased representation, without taking into account the economic issues in the country. Can South Sudan afford such a big government and Parliament?
The major challenge for mediators therefore will be securing a peace deal that is people-centred rather than elite-centred.
Divisions over sanctions
International and regional actors remain divided on the nature and intensity of the sanctions and punitive measures needed to secure agreement from the parties to the conflict.
These sanctions are limited and certainly not comprehensive enough to end the conflict Tweet this
Since the targeted UN sanctions on six South Sudanese in 2015, the UNSC has failed to agree on further sanctions or arms embargoes on the country. It recently approved a United States-led resolution to impose sanctions on an additional six individuals by the end of June if the fighting does not stop. Yet these sanctions are limited and certainly not comprehensive enough to end the conflict.
The AU and IGAD have also recently ramped up threats of sanctions and punitive measures, but it is unlikely that these will be implemented.
However, without decisive and far-reaching international enforcement measures, there is little hope for peace in South Sudan.