South Sudan: May the region steward a lasting peace deal

The South Sudan peace agreement signed last September marks four months this weekend.

The deal binding President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Dr Riek Machar saw the latter return to government as one of the five vice-presidents.

It is the latest of a series of attempts to finding lasting solution to the country’s 5-year old conflict.

At the time of the signing, international media reported of there being “an impetus for peace, including from the elite on both sides of the conflict.”

That was an encouraging observation. In the months that have passed, there is general acknowledgment the deal is a work in progress amid optimism in the region it may hold this time around.

However, it is similar the 2015 agreement which collapsed a year later. This has led some observers to fret that the new pact may perpetuate the Kiir-Machar rivalry in the run-up to the 2022 elections it envisages.

Giving credence to this concern is the recent report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) mapping Africa’s likely trouble spots. It named South Sudan among six hotspots to “watch this year, either due to elections or internal conflict.”

The likely trouble spots include Nigeria and the Sudan. Elections in Nigeria are traditionally violent, with the populous country expected to go to the polls in February.

In Sudan protesters have been on the streets since December 19.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, which has just declared Felix Tshisekedi the surprise presidential winner, also received mention in the ICG report.

Though the declaration has already drawn some contention, observers are hopeful acceptance of the election results will be amicable and that calm will prevail.

Another is the Comoros, an archipelago of three islands between Mozambique and Madagascar. It has been simmering with opposition grievances that threaten to explode with the expected call for elections this year.

Closer home, Somalia was destined to receive mention. It has lately been experiencing some political impasse, not to mention the perennial threat Al Shabaab continues to pose to the peace, security and stability of the country and the region.

Then there is South Sudan, among which the ICG report urges the African Union and the United Nations should keep a close watch.

That said, the mapping of likely hotspots on the continent is particularly noteworthy. It lends to the role of an early warning system that is an integral part of peace and security not only in Africa, but locally in the EAC.

In this sense, with South Sudan working to nurture the still fragile peace deal, and particularly being a member state in the East African Community, it demands EAC stewardship to shepherd the deal and ensure it flowers into lasting peace.

The stewardship is out of self-interest. A stable South Sudan will not only pull its weight in regional development but will go a long way in neutralising a serious threat to the region and ensure the EAC becomes a bit more stable in a particularly volatile neighbourhood.

Under article 124 of the Treaty Establishing EAC, member States agreed that peace and security are prerequisites to social and economic development within the Community and vital to the achievement of the objectives of the Community.

But there exist hurdles that need to be addressed. As intimated in a recent commentary by an ICG senior analyst for South Sudan, “regional officials privately admit that they struggle to reach consensus or change course where necessary, particularly since policy is negotiated only at the highest levels, and meetings between heads of state are infrequent.”

This often means that “key decisions linger until crises hit,” he explains.

EAC heads of state ought to take note. But it also emphasises the need for sustained regional stewardship augmented by the likes of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), COMESA, the African Union and the European Union as well as the larger international community.

However, the ICG analyst also laments how international engagement has disappeared, echoing widely acknowledged humanitarian concerns on why it is a collective responsibility we must not give up on the troubled country.

He singles out the United States, which has had no senior envoy devoted to South Sudan since 2016, while no other government or body has stepped up to assume Washington’s lead role.

Despite the donor fatigue, understandable after funding the country’s peace deals that have collapsed in the past, “the abdication is baffling,” he writes.

“Diplomacy is much cheaper than footing the billion-dollar annual bill for an endless humanitarian crisis.”

In diplomacy is writ the EAC stewardship in addition to international support that lasting peace in South Sudan demands.

Twitter: @gituram

The views expressed in this article are of the author.