2018 will be make or break time for South Sudan as the international community intervenes perhaps for the last time.
After four years of civil war, effort by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development to resuscitate the August 2015 peace agreement is headed for proper negotiations in February 2018.
The South Sudan political leaders are also feeling the pressure from the general population, which is tired of war because children have not been going to school for the past four years, the healthcare system is broken and almost two million face starvation as farming activities had stopped in most regions.
“Politicians are now being forced to listen to the cry of the people and feeling the pressure from the international community. However, some of them are afraid of being called to account once the war stops,” said Jervasio Okot, a South Sudan Political Analyst based in Nairobi.
President Salva Kiir in a Christmas message promised a new dawn of peace and stability in 2018 and said the government must recommit itself to the course of peace, and extend a hand of unity and friendship across the divided country.
Riek Machar said that he has been pushing for the 2015 agreement to be re-evaluated and is keen to respect the cessation of hostilities agreement signed on December 21.
According to the International Crisis Group, more than 100,000 people have lost their lives in the conflict since 2013 and more continue to die in localised conflict over resources and boundary disputes throughout the country.
Even if the politicians and militias agree to silence the guns, suffering is likely to continue throughout the year. Four million people remain internally displaced and close to three million are refugees in neighbouring Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda. Civil servants have to go without pay for sometimes up to eight months.
Aid agencies appeal for $1.72 billion to assist six million people. Destruction of schools and the departure of teachers from many affected areas has severely hindered access to education, with two million children out of school.
James Morgan, the South Sudan Ambassador to Ethiopia said the international community must be ready to deal firmly with those violating the cessation of hostilities agreement if the country is to realise meaningful peace in 2018.
Besides the inclusion of more players in the government, South Sudan will have to deal with the issue of the 32 states that have been created by President Kiir, but which has been a source of boundary conflict even in areas that were previously peaceful.
According to the 2015 peace agreement, elections were supposed to be held in 2018 at the expiry of a transitional government of national unity, but South Sudan experts say that it would be difficult to hold elections when key components of the agreement are yet to be implemented.
They include a truth and reconciliation commission, a hybrid court to hold to account those who committed war crimes, a comprehensive constitutional review and compensation to families who lost their loved ones and property during the war.