By - Adedoyin Shittu
With the US threatening sanctions and fatigued aid agencies saying they may pull out, South Sudan’s opposing parties and feuding leaders finally established a new coalition government on February 23, 2020, seeking to bring peace to the country, but is this fragile truce now about to come to an end?.
Former rebel and opposition leader, Riek Machar, was sworn in as first vice-president, sealing a peace deal aimed at ending six years of civil war which has killed at least 400,000 people and forced millions more from their homes. It is the 3rd time since independence that he is being sworn in as Vice President.
Second Vice President James Wani Igga, a former ally of Machar who switched to the government’s side was also sworn in, together with third Vice President, Rebecca Garang, the widow of John Garang, who led a long fight for independence from Sudan.
Rebecca Garang – and yet another Vice President
This transitional government will lead the country to elections in three years time. And as President Kiir noted at the swearing-in ceremony, “this is an official end of the war, and we can now proclaim a new dawn, peace is never to be shaken ever again.”
This proclamation opened another new chapter in South Sudan since its fragile emergence from the civil war in 2011 but many observers prayed the peace would last this time around, as similar agreements made by the two opposing factions have collapsed twice.
“Peace is finally here,” that is the promise of the president of Sudan, President Salva Kiir, after signing the latest power sharing agreement with his rival, vice president Riek Machar. But can South Sudan enter an era of peace when her feuding leaders were arm twisted into making peace with one another?
Before independence from Sudan, South Sudan, a country the size of France, had only 186 miles (300 km) of paved road and 90 per cent of its population are without access to electricity or clean water. Not much has changed now.
South Sudan was thrown into civil war barely two years after the country’s independence that brought an end to 20 years of guerrilla war against the north. The war was caused as a result of political rivalry between the founding fathers, Salva Kiir and Reik Machar.
Since the civil war broke out in 2013, an average of over 800 violent events per year has persisted, resulting in an estimated 400,000 deaths. Though many ceasefires were initiated, these were immediately followed by sharp spikes in violence. About four million South Sudanese—a third of the population—are displaced from their homes and two-thirds of the population—7.5 million people—is in need of humanitarian assistance.
Years of war have left the country in shambles, entrenched in corruption and human rights atrocities committed with impunity. A damaging report by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan found that government officials were implicated in the “pillaging of public funds”, while millions of dollars were diverted from the National Revenue Authority depleting resources that could have been used to help millions of vulnerable people. Days ahead of Machar’s third inauguration, the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan reported that the state had diverted millions of dollars earmarked for critical humanitarian efforts, including feeding an estimated 5.5 million people who do not currently have enough to eat.
It was also reported that, South Sudanese were being “deliberately starved, systematically surveilled and silenced, arbitrarily arrested and detained and denied meaningful access to justice”.
On 14th July, 2011, the General Assembly admitted South Sudan as the UN’s 193rd member and Salva Kiir was elected president of the country under a clause in the Transitional Constitution. While Riek Machar was appointed vice president in 2011 as part of a transitional unity government.
In June 2013, President Kiir dismissed Finance Minister Kosti Manibe and Cabinet Affairs Minister Deng Alor over a multi-million dollar financial scandal, and lifted their immunity from prosecution.
In July 2013, the President Kiir also dismissed his entire cabinet and Vice-President Riek Machar in a power struggle within the governing Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
On 16 December 2013, President Salva Kiir alleged a coup attempt by forces loyal to former Vice-President Riek Machar and a civil war erupted. Rebel factions seize control of several regional towns, thousands were killed and many more fled.
On 21 February 2014, Security Council members received a report on the human rights situation in South Sudan. The report summarized the human rights violations in the Central Equatoria, Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile states, including the deliberate targeting of civilians in extrajudicial killings and mass killings, enforced disappearances, gender-based violence and torture committed by forces from both sides of the conflict.
In April 2014, the UN accused pro-Machar forces of killing hundreds of civilians and UN peacekeepers in the oil town of Bentiu. It further underscored that the attack may constitute a war crime.
On 1 July 2015, the 2206 South Sudan Sanctions Committee imposed sanctions (travel bans and assets freezes) on six military figures.
In August 2015, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a trade bloc made up of eight countries in the east region of Africa, brokered the first peace effort, the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan.
In April 2016, Riek Machar finally returned to Juba and was sworn in as first vice-president in a new unity government for the second time.
Thousands of people were displaced as a result of clashes in Wau on 24 – 25 June 2016, between Dinka and Fertit ethnic groups. This escalated to Juba and forced Reik Machar to flee the country on foot and back to exile.
November 2016, UN sacks Kenyan commander of its peacekeeping mission over the failure to protect civilians in Juba during July violence.
On 23 December 2016, the Council voted on a draft resolution to impose an arms embargo on South Sudan and targeted sanctions (assets freezes and travel bans) on three key government and opposition figures including opposition leader, Riek Machar. The draft resolution failed to be adopted, receiving seven affirmative votes and eight abstentions. A UN commission on human rights also said that a process of ethnic cleansing is underway in several parts of the country, a claim that President Salva Kiir denies.
February 2017 – A famine is declared in parts of South Sudan in what the UN describes as a man-made catastrophe caused by civil war and economic collapse.
May 2018, President Kiir declares unilateral ceasefire, launches national dialogue.
In September 2018, both parties signed the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan. The deal will see Machar return to the government as one of vice-presidents.
The peace deal failed to meet its deadline twice thereby threatening the peace of the fragile country. At first, the main signatories to the agreement failed to meet a key ceasefire milestone of naming a government of national unity, thereby missing a May 2019 deadline, which was extended to November 12 2019.
The November 12, 2019 deadline was also extended by 100 days by the parties. The one hundred–day deferral expired on February 22nd, 2020 and the question of the number and boundaries of states, was finally resolved in the favor of 10 states, as it was when the country gained its independence.
South Sudan was was born from a regional fissure between what is today Sudan and South Sudan so regional considerations have always played a prominent role in the South Sudan’s conflict.
South Sudan’s neighbours, particularly the four ‘frontline countries’ of Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda, have strong interests in South Sudan. These influences have had both exacerbating and stabilizing effects on South Sudan.
South Sudan attracted both small and big investors into various sectors of its economy from Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Egypt. The subsequent engagements by these countries were generally informed by their desire to protect their investing nationals, although the intensity of such interests has varied from country to country.
In relation to oil, the secession of South Sudan from Sudan resulted in the loss of more than 70% of oil revenue for Khartoum. In an effort to recover for the loss in oil revenue, the Sudanese government levies exorbitant oil transportation tariffs, processing, and transit fees for exporting South Sudan’s crude through its pipeline to Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast. Crude oil accounts for 98 percent of South Sudan revenue.
The high cost of transport of its crude had necessitated South Sudan to search for solutions in the immediate post-independence period. The options included building a new pipeline, either through Kenya to the Indian Ocean, or through Ethiopia to Djibouti’s or Eritrea’s Red Sea ports.
Given Sudan’s dependence on revenue from its pipeline, the country benefits from instability of South Sudan which renders her unable to pursue building an alternative pipeline.
The politics around the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) between Ethiopia and Egypt is another important factor that has fueled the South Sudan’s civil war.
The Nile Waters Agreement signed between Egypt and Britain in 1929 granted Egypt an unprecedented monopoly in the management and use of the water of the Nile River, despite the fact that 97% of the water flowing into the Nile originates outside Egypt’s territory. Egypt depends on the Nile water for all its domestic, agricultural, and industrial use though the Blue Nile, which originates in the Ethiopian highlands, contributes 85 percent of the overall flow of the Nile. The rest originates from rivers and lakes in the riparian states that fall south of South Sudan (Burundi, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya).
The construction of Ethiopia’s GERD, which will hold 62 billion cubic meters of water did not go down well with Egypt and the country reportedly threatened Ethiopia with war if Nile flows are disrupted. Although Egypt and South Sudan do not share a border, the Egypt concern over sustainable access to Nile waters informs its interest in South Sudan, which occupies 45% of the Nile Basin.
As the dispute over the GERD continued, the government of South Sudan, with alleged facilitation from Uganda, strengthened its diplomatic relations with Egypt with the aim of weakening Sudan and Ethiopia’s influence in South Sudan. Unlike South Sudan, Sudan elected to side with Ethiopia on the GERD, a development that led to improved diplomatic relations between the two countries.
In 2017, it was alleged that Egypt, not only provided funding but also supplied military goods and services to the South Sudan government through Uganda. Ethiopia might pursue regime change in South Sudan if it feels that Juba’s ties with Cairo undermine Ethiopia’s security and economic interests but for now Ethiopia and South Sudan have an agreement.
Kenya’s economic interests lie largely in the banking sector and air transport industries. Kenyan nationals also constituted a key part of the budding hospitality industry in addition to running small businesses. With the sharp economic contraction in South Sudan following the onset of the conflict in 2013, Kenyan economic interests were badly affected.
South Sudan’s independence was granted reluctantly by Khartoum. Soon after the partition, Sudan was forced to issue a new currency as the economy struggled with the permanent loss of more than a third of its revenue.
The fear that Khartoum could attempt to reverse southern independence would frame relations not only between the two erstwhile enemies but also between the West and both neighbors. Sudan was also thought to have infiltrated the first post-independence government in South Sudan with the aim of keeping tabs on developments there if not also to weaken the newly independent state.
In 2012, relations worsened between Sudan and South Sudan, prompting South Sudan’s military to invade disputed oil fields located in Heglig, a a small town at the border between the South Kordofan state of Sudan and the Unity State in South Sudan contested by both countries.
Khartoum’s courting of key opposition figures after the civil war broke out in 2013 attests to its desire to influence events in Juba.
As a longstanding political ally of President Kiir, no regional leader holds greater sway over Juba than Uganda President Museveni.
Uganda threw its weight behind Kiir and continues to support the status quo in Juba. Over the course of the conflict, President Museveni has invested considerable financial and human resources in keeping President Kiir in power following the military intervention that stopped the advance of rebels on Juba in 2014. President Museveni has attempted to bring disaffected SPLA/M members back into the fold, and to rally them behind Kiir and the South Sudan government national dialogue initiative.
Security and territorial interests of IGAD member states have played a critical role in exacerbating the conflict in South Sudan. For the most part, Ethiopia, unlike other IGAD members has provided objective and neutral stewardship of the peace talks that produced the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS).
However, the rapprochement between Cairo and Juba and particularly the alleged Egyptian funding and provision of military supplies to Juba in exchange for support of Cairo’s opposition to the construction of the GERD by Ethiopia complicated relations between Addis Ababa and Juba.
In response to reported Egyptian political initiatives toward South Sudan and in an attempt to improve its relations with the latter, Ethiopia signed a security agreement in which both countries committed not to host rebels or groups opposed to their respective governments.
For its part, Sudan has strategic security interests in South Sudan and is the IGAD member with the most leverage over South Sudan.
Sudan shares the longest border with South Sudan with most parts remaining disputed or unsettled. The final status of Abyei, in particular, remains a dagger in Sudan-South Sudan relations. A weak and embattled South Sudan allows Khartoum to reinforce and take advantage of the status quo in Abyei. It also allows Khartoum to extract commitments cheaply from Juba in terms of discontinuing military support for rebels in Sudan’s Blue Nile and South Khordofan States.
Sudan has succeeded in exerting efforts to normalize relations with all IGAD states with the exception of Uganda.
Rivalry between Sudan and Uganda has played a pivotal role in dragging out the conflict in South Sudan. Uganda has long supported Sudanese rebel groups, including the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (a guerilla movement that eventually morphed into South Sudan’s national army) during the Sudanese civil war.
Meanwhile, Sudan supported Ugandan rebel groups, including the Lord’s Resistance Army. After the 2013 conflict boiled over in South Sudan, Uganda and Sudan each picked sides. Uganda supplied troops to support Salva Kiir and the government of South Sudan, while Sudan provided limited support to Riek Machar and his faction, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition – SPLM -IO (Sudan airlifted Riek Machar from the Ngaramba Forest in the DRC following the July 2016 hostilities in Juba).
Both Uganda and Sudan played an instrumental role in bringing the opposing parties in South Sudan to the table to sign the refreshed 2018 peace deal and in negotiating the latest one hundred days extension for naming a unity government. Their continued involvement as brokers of the peace agreement, though self-interested, will be crucial to the deal’s survival in the future.
If the region and international community continue to push its national interesting South Sudan, the future of South Sudan most probably will be marked by continuing troubles.
While observers are lauding the coalition government as an important landmark, ending a war is one thing, piecing South Sudan back together and repairing the damage of this war will take generations.
No doubt, the formation of the government is a key development. It signals the end of the war, but not necessarily the beginning of peace. While the government agreed to revert the country to 10 states instead of 32, which was established in 2015, in what many South Sudan analysts saw as an attempt to gerrymander the country along ethnic lines. The return to 10 states will no doubt create new challenges, including tensions over the loss of government positions and newly unresolved borders.
There is also the contentious challenge of unifying the opposition troops and government soldiers into one national army.
Also there is the tension of who gets what portfolio, recently Dr Machar’s Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) complained that President Kiir’s side has not only taken all the key ministries, but has been offering ministries to other signatories without consultations. According to the SPLM-IO representative, President Kiir’s side wants to retain the Finance, Petroleum, Defence and Interior, and Foreign Affairs dockets. The opposition wants the four ministries be divided into two, claiming the Petroleum and Interior dockets.
Unsurprisingly, South Sudan’s political elites seem more interested in power and wealth and not the welfare of the South Sudanese people. The South Sudan government overtime has shown that it is not a government by the people and for the people but a government formed to ease the external pressure and conserve the vested interests of a political class.
In the coming days, many eyes will be on Juba to monitor how this peace deal folds out. Hoping that it ends well for the people of South Sudan.
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