The controversial issue of the number of states in South Sudan is now in the hands of South Africa after the two principals failed to agree.
On Wednesday, South Sudan President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar handed over the issue to South African vice-president David Mabuza, after a two-day face-to-face meeting in Juba failed to produce results.
The meeting in Juba was also attended by Sudan’s deputy head of the Sovereign Council, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.
Since last December, Mr Mabuza has tried to bring the two leaders to a compromise agreement, but President Kiir has maintained that the 32 states will remain because any changes downwards will cause chaos.
Speaking to reporters in Juba after meeting President Salva Kiir on Thursday afternoon, David Mabuza said the proposal regarding to the number of state and boundaries could be discussed over an extended period of 90 days more.
Dr Machar’s Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) and other opposition signatories to the September 2018 peace agreement have called for reverting to the original 10 states if President Kiir refuses to review the boundaries and consider having 23 states.
Presidential press secretary Ateny Wek Ateny said that President Kiir will not back down from the demand for 32 states.
South Sudan permanent representative to the African Union James Morgan said that the government and other signatories have agreed that the issue will go for arbitration led by South Africa, and that the only resistance is coming from Dr Machar and Dr Akol of the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOP).
The government was only willing to increase the number of states to 42, or even 55.
As the countdown to form a transitional government of national unity on February 22 enters the final stretch, the issue of the number of states could be the only one outstanding, after some progress has been seen in the security arrangement.
Last month, the two parties moved from their original five divergent positions towards consensus on two positions, which is a choice between 32 and 24 states.
Also promising is the recent decision by the holdout parties to sign an agreement with the government, a declaration of principles in Rome, in a critical step towards resolving years of conflict.
The Opposition Movements Alliance (SSOMA) that comprises those who refused to sign the peace agreement — Gen Thomas Cirillo, Gen Paul Malong, Pagan Amum — signed the Rome Declaration and agreed that they will continue to dialogue with the government.
The parties recommitted themselves to the cessation of hostilities agreement signed in December 2017 to halt further armed confrontation.
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development and the SPLM-IO representatives witnessed the declaration of peace as observers.
However, SPLM-IO representative in Kenya James Oryema said that it is doubtful whether the agreement between the government and the SSOMA will hold, because it was just a public relations exercise from the Juba regime to demonstrate to the United States government that they are for peace.
“It seems that the sanctions imposed by the US have changed their mind for the time being, in order to buy time. They will use their proxy militias to break this agreement just as they have been doing with our forces in Maiwut,” said Mr Oryema.