Date: Thursday, 28 June 2018
The president of South Sudan and his former vice president signed a peace deal on Wednesday in a bid to end their country’s protracted civil war.
The rivals — President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar, who leads the largest rebel group fighting the government — met for the first time in two years last week. The civil war has lasted for more than four years and has plunged South Sudan, the world’s youngest country, into a humanitarian crisis.
Despite the agreement, signed in neighboring Sudan, many worry that a lasting resolution to the conflict is still a long way off. Peace deals signed by both leaders have fallen apart in the past, and the war now involves numerous smaller parties. Just two years ago, the pair struck a similar agreement that soon unraveled.
Jacob Bul, co-founder of a South Sudanese artists’ collective called Ana Taban, or I’m Tired, said the country needed a peace deal that represented the interests of all people in South Sudan, rather than the interests of a few.
“It shouldn’t be a mere signature on paper, but a deal in letter and spirit,” Mr. Bul said.
Less than two years after South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011, clashes broke out between forces loyal to Mr. Kiir and those backing Mr. Machar, then the vice president. The clashes soon erupted into a civil war that divided the country along ethnic lines, with the Dinka ethnic majority supporting Mr. Kiir, and the Nuer ethnic group aligned with Mr. Machar.
The new agreement combines elements of an earlier deal and includes a unilateral cease-fire.
It calls for building a “national army, police and other security organs of an all-inclusive character that shall be free from tribalism and ethnic affiliations.” It states that efforts to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure and basic services “shall be intensified.”
It also allows the government of Sudan to ensure the security of South Sudan’s contested oil fields in the north of the country. It urges the two governments to work to rehabilitate the oil fields and resume production, with the proceeds to be used “to improve the livelihood of South Sudanese and to alleviate poverty and suffering.”
The Khartoum talks were mediated by President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda.
But the path forward will be a difficult one. The conflict has torn at the social fabric of South Sudan: Millions are on the brink of famine, the economy is in shambles and more than 2.5 million citizens have fled the country. Hundreds of thousands more — mostly members of minority ethnic groups — are internally displaced, with many sheltering in camps administered by the United Nations.
Humanitarian workers in South Sudan are skeptical that the agreement will be meaningful. Elysia Buchanan, who advises the aid group Oxfam on issues related to South Sudan, said Oxfam had recently heard accounts from victims of abuse at the hands of the warring parties.
“We will be most hopeful when any new agreement translates to real changes on the ground,” Ms. Buchanan said, “when we hear from South Sudanese civilians that they feel safe from attacks and rape, free from rising hunger — which is being driven by ongoing conflict — and they can once again pursue their livelihoods and education without fear.”
Previous cease-fires have largely been ignored by both sides, and fighting has cut off some regions from emergency aid.
Brian Adeba, deputy director of policy for the Enough Project, a Washington-based watchdog group, said that while the peace deal could be a positive first step, there was much work to be done.
“One of the things that we have to really gird against is the danger of an agreement that becomes some elite pact that fails to address the structural problems that are at the route of this conflict,” Mr. Adeba said, adding that civic society organizations should be involved in the discussion.
The war has fragmented the nation into several groups. Framing it as only a dispute between Mr. Kiir and Mr. Machar would “perpetuate the same issues that led to war in the first place” Mr. Adeba said.
“It has evolved significantly. There are other actors involved in it who have grievances, both armed and unarmed,” Mr. Adeba said. “Therefore, any discussion on a deal must involve everyone at the table — those who are armed and those who don’t have arms — because a lot of sectors and quarters in South Sudan have grievances with the government.”
In addition, both Mr. Kiir’s army and Mr. Machar’s rebel group have been accused of war crimes, some of which could also amount to crimes against humanity, according to a report this year from the United Nations.
“The peace agreement will not resolve everything immediately,” Mr. Adeba said. “But the first process is to have an agreement so that the guns are silent. Then, when the guns are silent, you can start doing other things.”