Will 24 more months provide solution to South Sudan’s unending conflicts?

On August 4, 2022, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit informed the nation that his government in consultation with political parties who signed the Revitalized Agreement on Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) unanimously agreed to a 24-month extension of the interim period. The President while meeting dignitaries that included the 5 vice presidents, the speaker of the national legislature, ministers, diplomats and civil society, noted that the extension was not to keep him in power longer. He, however noted that the political parties did not want to rush the people of South Sudan into an election that could take the country back to war.

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. “Due to unforeseen circumstances, we had to finance the agreement alone amid other serious priorities, like a bloated government and catastrophic flooding. As a result, significant issues remain unimplemented. Among these, we must prioritize some to succeed as a country,” Kiir told the dignitaries, adding: “I consider the reunification of the army, constitution-making, and the conduct of a census necessary to implement elections and establish a new government without reverting to war. Reunifying the army means we would protect the outcomes of the elections against spoilers who would use it as an occasion for violence. The constitution-making process will determine what type of government we need – decentralized, centralized, federal, parliamentary, presidential, etc. These choices, if wisely decided, will set South Sudan on a course of progress for centuries to come. The census will provide the evidence upon which we will determine the details of voting, state formation, and nation-building. We will redouble our efforts to complete these to lead you to a successful election and build an effective government.”

The President has since this pronouncement received a number of dignitaries, congratulating him on his new arrangement. Among the supporters of the new move is Nicholas Haysom, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General, who last week met the President to congratulate him on the roadmap. He encouraged the government to continue to engage the parties to the agreement to implement the key outstanding tasks in the R-ARCSS to ensure that a conducive atmosphere is created for the conduct of free, fair, and democratic elections at the end of the extended period.

About the R-ARCSS
Only two years after South Sudan gained its independence in 2011, the power struggle between President Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar resulted in an atrocious civil war. In 2015, the signing of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS), which was brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), led to a temporary pause in the fighting, but it was reignited within a few months. New efforts at peace negotiations followed, eventually resulting in the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS), finalized in September 2018.

Long before its independence, stake holders in South Sudan have been involved in various engagements of peace negotiations and peace agreements. Its independence, which was backed by overwhelming popular support (99%) in a referendum in 2011, was the culmination of a six-year-long process, set in motion by the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). The CPA was signed by the Government of Sudan and the SPLM and ended a war that had spanned several decades. However, the secession from Sudan did not bring peace for South Sudan. Increasing tensions within the SPLM, which ruled the fledging state, led to an outbreak of violence in December 2013. Disagreement between President Salva Kiir, Vice-President, Riek Machar, and other senior party leaders resulted in Machar leaving the party’s National Liberation Council, which had been convened with the intention of endorsing the party’s new manifesto and constitution. Subsequently, fighting broke out in the barracks of the presidential guard in Juba between elements supporting the two rival factions. The fighting spread quickly to other military installations as well as to residential areas, and later to the states of Upper Nile, Unity, Central Equatoria, and Jonglei. The fighting resulted in large-scale killings and atrocities and the displacement of millions of people. The bloody power struggle between Kiir and Machar came to a temporary halt in 2015, when the parties reached a peace agreement (ARCSS) brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

As part of the agreement, Machar was supposed to return to Juba and his post as vice-president. When he did so in April 2016, he brought some of his own forces with him to ensure his safety and that of the other leaders of his faction. Shortly after, the fighting between the two factions reignited.

The process leading up to the signing of the (R-ARCSS) involved significant pressure put on the two main parties to the conflict, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-opposition (SPLM-IO). The two peace negotiators, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir and Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, possessed significant leverage over the main actors and used this to force an agreement.

President Kiir listed reunification of the army, constitution-making, and the conduct of a census necessary to implement elections as necessary steps to establish a new government without reverting to war. “Reunifying the army means we would protect the outcomes of the elections against spoilers who would use it as an occasion for violence. The constitution-making process will determine what type of government we need – decentralized, centralized, federal, parliamentary, presidential, etc,” he states, adding:

“While Article 8.4 says that two-thirds of the parties can amend the agreement, Riek Machar and others unanimously decided to extend the transition period. Our shared intention is to take you to a peaceful election. While we want to implement the agreement entirely, we must be realistic. We did not even implement the mighty CPA fully, yet it remains a historic accomplishment that none will deny or reverse. Therefore, we have decided to prepare the soil over the next 24 months to plant the seeds of South Sudan’s elections with a unified army, visionary constitution, and firm understanding of our country upon which to build a government that can complete the war on poverty, ignorance, and hopelessness.”

A unified army
Kiir’s government has further made steps towards unifying the armed forces of different factions. On August 30, the forces, named the Necessary Unified Forces at the Training Centers, will graduate after training under the National Transitional Committee (NTC), the Joint Defence Board (JDB), the Joint Transitional Security Committee (JTSC), and Joint Military Ceasefire Commission (JMCC).

In a recent brief the Presidency was informed that the Necessary Unified Forces in all training centers are now ready for the graduation and deployment since they have accomplished all the processes of screening, training, unification and verification by the Security Mechanisms.

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