Revitalised agreement best chance yet for peace in South Sudan

The news that South Sudan President Salva Kiir and his archrival Dr Riek Machar have agreed to delay the unity government by a 100 days has been received with relief the world over.

It now allows some space to address concerns about the unimplemented provisions under the revitalised peace agreement (R-ARCSS).

These include the integration of the opposing forces into a national army and guaranteeing security.

President Kiir had also appeared determined to form a transitional government by the November 12, deadline without Machar. Reams of editorials and articles in the region and around the world had urged against this, agreeing with the civil society organisations in the country.

It was feared that South Sudan would have exploded in violence before December, living up to the lamentable prediction that it was bound to explode anyway, according to the Ten Conflicts to Worry About in 2019 by ACLED, the US-registered Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

The prediction was despite warring parties having prior signed the September 2018 revitalised agreement. 

With the many failed peace deals—more than four—it was not expected that the R-ARCSS was going to be any different.

But the revitalised agreement looks different, and the 100-day delay could be the key that it may just work.

The ACLED analysis included its northern neighbour, Sudan. The country offers a handy comparison.

This includes ironies of their neighbourliness that may yet hold possible South Sudan peace in the mirror.

The months-long protests that saw the ouster of the 30-year rule of Sudan’s former President Omar al-Bashir in April this year are still fresh in the memory.

One cannot miss the irony that months before his removal, Bashir had been instrumental in the negotiations that led the revitalised South Sudan agreement.

Nevertheless, as the protests intensified the military junta that had overthrown him capitulated, acceding to the demands of the people. 

Following this, in August this year, Sudan formed a transition government under a joint civilian-military sovereign council that will run the country for the next three years leading to an election.

The irony can also not be missed that, two months later, President Kiir mediated successful peace talks between its neighbour Sudan’s newly created Supreme Council and rebel leaders.

This neighbourly hand to a former enemy is a hopeful and pragmatic one for South Sudan. The country gained its bitterly fought independence from Sudan in July 2011.

The same magnanimity could also work with enemies in South Sudan, thus the optimism that R-ARCSS could work.

Nothing is guaranteed, however. The R-ARCSS may just not work.

In acknowledging this hard reality, some have wondered whether South Sudanese cannot borrow a leaf from their neighbour and issue their own mass protests given that political solutions seem futile.

This is not to suggest that there should be one, but it would not be any different from the spate protests in recent weeks that The Economist notes are in places on every continent: Algeria, Bolivia, Britain, Catalonia (Spain), Chile, Ecuador, France, Guinea, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Lebanon and more.

The reasons as to why so many countries are witnessing mass protests, the magazine finds, range from economics, demography (i.e., youthful age of the protesters), a sense of powerlessness and social media.   

Can the people summon any of these factors in their aggrieved remonstration in South Sudan?

Sure, they could. But, with a multitude of militias, against which of the splinter groups, in spite of the government, would the people hold peaceful demonstrations against?

The militias hold a death grip on the communities around the country. The militias have been known to kill on a whim.

The solution in the current deal, which enjoins President Kiir, Machar and splinter groups who signed the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS).

Optimists such as myself remain hopeful that the revitalised agreement will work. It will be expensive not to implement provisions set out in the R-ARCSS, including from economic penalty tied to it by prospective business suitors.

Ethiopia has just announced that it will be importing oil from South Sudan with a caveat that this will only be possible if the revitalised peace agreement holds with a government of national unity in place.

Ditto the just-signed agreement with Egypt for oil exploration in the country.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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