South Sudan government starts 2023 with renewed push to end violence

As the year 2023 starts, President Salva Kiir Mayardit on Monday January 9, met with Nicholas Haysom, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General. The meeting discussed ways to fast-track the implementation of the key outstanding tasks in the Revitalized Peace Agreement (R-ARCSS) to ensure that a conducive atmosphere is created for the conduct of free, fair, and credible elections at the end of the extended period. President Kiir in August last year announced an extension of the interim period by 24 months, arguing that the extension was not to keep him in power longer, but that political parties had agreed not to rush the people of South Sudan into an election that could take the country back to war.

The R-ARCSS was signed on 12 September 2018 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, by the warring parties in South Sudan as an attempt to revive the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS) of 17 August 2015, which had broken down as a result of the outbreak of civil war triggered by the violent confrontations that erupted on the night of 7 July 2016 in Juba.

The ARCSS of August 2015 had temporarily ended the first civil war of South Sudan that broke out on 13 December 2013. Between August 2015 and June 2016, the ARCSS played a noticeable role in constraining the key parties to the conflict from engaging in confrontations, until July 2016 when conflict ensued, springing into action efforts to ensure a return to peace in the country through various initiatives at national and regional levels. One such effort was the establishment of the High Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) – a seven-member regional bloc comprising Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda – at its Extra-Ordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government on South Sudan on 12 June 2017. This effort was instrumental in convening negotiating parties in South Sudan to revive the ARCSS according to a paper ‘Reviving peace in South Sudan through the Revitalised Peace Agreement’, published by ACCORD in 2018.

“The HLRF, after its launch in December 2017, managed to facilitate several negotiations for 15 months between President Salva Kiir Mayardit’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and Army in Government (SPLM/A-IG), Riek Machar Teny Dhurgon’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) and other opposition political parties, which ultimately culminated in the R-ARCSS,” reads the paper. It outlines five key agreements between the parties and stakeholders in the conflict. The parties agreed on the Cessation of Hostilities, Protection of Civilians and Humanitarian Access, signed on 21 December 2017 in Addis Ababa; they agreed to an addendum to the Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities, Protection of Civilians and Humanitarian Access, signed on 22 May 2018 also in Addis Ababa; the parties also signed the Khartoum Declaration of Agreement between Parties to the Conflict in South Sudan, signed on 27 June 2018 in Khartoum, Sudan; as well as the agreement on Outstanding Issues of Security Agreements, signed on 6 July 2018 in Khartoum; and the Agreement on Outstanding Issues on Governance, signed on 5 August 2018 in Khartoum.

In terms of scope, the R-ARCSS covers issues relating to the Pre-Transitional and Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGoNU) governance structures and institutions; permanent ceasefire and transitional security arrangements, humanitarian assistance and reconstruction arrangements; agreed frameworks for resource, economic and financial management; agreed principles and structures for transitional justice, accountability, reconciliation and healing; parameters for guiding the permanent constitution-making process; reconstitution of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC); and operational and amendment procedures for the agreement.

The agreement provides for the establishment of a RTGoNU in South Sudan. This RTGoNU mandated to rule for a 36-month transitional period that commenced eight months after the signing of the R-ARCSS. Democratic elections were to be conducted 60 days before the lapse of the transitional period. The same agreement further provides for a single executive president (Kiir), first vice president (Machar) and four vice presidents, nominated by the incumbent TGoNU, SSOA, incumbent TGoNU and former detainees respectively. Whilst the first vice president is mandated to oversee the Cabinet Cluster on Governance Issues, the other four vice presidents oversee their allocated Cabinet Clusters: the Economic Cluster, Service Delivery Cluster, Infrastructure Cluster, and Gender and Youth Cluster.

The Cabinet of the RTGoNU, as prescribed by the agreement, has 35 ministers – 20 from the incumbent TGoNU, nine from SPLM/A-IO, three from SSOA, two former detainees and one from other political parties – and 10 deputy ministers (five from the incumbent TGoNU, three from SPLM/A-IO, one from SSOA and one from other political parties). The reconstituted Parliament is very bloated, with 550 members of parliament – 332 from the incumbent TGoNU, 128 from SPLM/A-IO, 50 from SSOA, 30 from other political parties and 10 former detainees.

This arrangement is what was extended for another 24 months. While announcing the extension of the transitional period, President Kiir, who has been president since independence of South Sudan in 2011 admitted that the leadership has let the people down, negating an opportunity to build a country that all would cherish and defend and instead resorted to fighting among themselves for power, taking the country back to years of bitter war where brothers fought themselves for seats. He said the revitalized agreement provided an opportunity for the government to correct their mistakes and as such they have stabilized the country and established a framework to transform the state by building effective institutions.

According to the ACCORD paper, the R-ARCSS has the potential to facilitate a return to peace, stability, reconciliation, unity and prosperity in South Sudan. The paper notes potential obstacles as lack of political will and determination, interparty distrust and suspicions, failure to address some of the root causes of the conflict, resource constraints, and the inevitable resistance by some parties to implement politically sensitive provisions of the R-ARCSS.

While relative peace has been maintained at the centre in Juba, pockets of conflict continue to dot the country, keeping the people of South Sudan and the world sceptical of a real end to the fighting. President Kiir on January 9 discussed with the UN representative strategies to end the communal violence in the Country to create a peaceful environment.

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