South Sudan crisis: Will the peace last?

A sustainable peace requires addressing the root causes of the crisis and an inclusive national dialogue.

The government should be accountable to the people of South Sudan, argue the authors [EPA]

South Sudan’s warring parties – factions representing President Salva Kiir and his political rival, former Vice President Riek Machar, respectively – have finally signed two separate  agreements: the agreement  on the cessation of hostilities and the agreement on the status of the detainees. Both agreements were negotiated and signed under the auspices of the East African Intergovernmental Authority on Development (“IGAD”) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January 23. The accord on cessation of hostilities requires the parties to cease all military actions against each other, as well as against civilians, livestock and property; to disengage the forces under their respective control; to refrain from hostile rhetoric; and to provide an unimpeded humanitarian access to needy populations. 

A fragile peace?

The agreement on Cessation of Hostilities – a product of strong international diplomacy led by the US – is welcome and overdue. The senseless bloodshed and displacement of innocent civilians must stop. However, several concerns remain. For one, while the agreement commits the parties to form a joint monitoring and verification mechanism, it does not stipulate a deadline for such a mechanism to be deployed on the ground to supervise a full implementation of the cessation of hostilities accord.

There is also doubt about the extent to which the parties control the forces loyal to them. As a result, there is genuine worry about whether the peace will last. Thus, it is not surprising that both sides have started accusing each other of violating the accord. It is vital that the two agreements are fully implemented to stop the bloodshed and build a conducive environment for a genuine political process, which will lead to a lasting solution to the crisis.

Furthermore, while the immediate trigger of the violence was a political power struggle within the country’s ruling party (the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the “SPLM”), the root causes of the crisis are deeper and structural, such as poor governance, corruption, nepotism, tribalism, among others. Lasting domestic (and regional) peace requires that these underlying causes be addressed within a comprehensive and inclusive framework.

The current IGAD-led mediation process lacks the capacity, leverage and impartiality to formulate a comprehensive long-term solution. Uganda, the leading member of IGAD has already become a party to the conflict. According to numerous reports, the Ugandan military has been engaged in the fighting in South Sudan. Moreover, the South Sudanese rebels believe that Kenya’s position on the conflict is similar to Uganda’s. In addition, Eritrea, despite being an IGAD member, was not involved in the recent IGAD mediation efforts; however, it might eventually support one of the conflicting parties if the conflict is prolonged.

Meanwhile, Sudan undoubtedly is carefully calculating how best to exploit the conflict for its own interest and is likely to side eventually – based on strategic considerations including the oil factor and its own domestic conflicts in Darfur, Blue Nile, and Southern Kordofan – with one or the other side. Ethiopia is the only member of IGAD that remains relatively impartial, and interested in an immediate end to this tragic conflict, before it spills over and transforms into a regional conflict. Nevertheless, Ethiopia cannot lead the IGAD mediation effort alone, nor can it counter the influence of President Museveni of Uganda. 

The future of the world’s newest nation is in serious jeopardy as are regional and international peace and security. South Sudan must not become a battlefield for the competing regional powers.,

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The root causes

Consequently, it is critical that the mediation process be restructured to deliver a lasting political settlement. The United States, in collaboration with the other Troika countries that assisted in the creation of South Sudan, the UK and Norway, and possibly China as well, should proactively lead the process to forge a sustainable peace.

Together, these nations have the political, economic, and diplomatic leverage to pressure the conflicting parties to formulate a lasting political solution and maintain the peace. Such multilateral efforts should be empowered and mandated by the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) and, if necessary, by the UN Security Council under the provisions of Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter.

While participation of the warring parties was vital in securing an agreement on cessation of hostilities, going forward the political process should be broadened. Subsequent phases of the process must discuss the root causes of the crisis and should be as inclusive as possible. Ultimately, a comprehensive national dialogue that includes opposition political parties, the detainees, and diverse civil society organisations, including women’s groups, should occur.

The peace talks after the cessation of hostilities should focus on the issues that relate to the broad agenda of nation building in South Sudan. The structure of inclusive, democratic and functioning state institutions should be agreed upon with clear timelines and mechanisms for implementation, if South Sudan is to transform into a viable state. The Sudan People’s Liberation Army (“SPLA”) should be transformed from a mostly ethnic-based liberating militia into a professional state army that represents and defends all the citizens of the Republic South Sudan. In addition, other security forces and organs should be reformed and reorganised according to international democratic and human rights standards. The SPLM should also be transformed from a liberating political organisation into a democratic political party that is recognised and operates within a democratic set of rules. 

Future in Jeopardy

The government should be accountable to the people of South Sudan and serve their interests based solely on the grounds of citizenship. A robust anti-corruption program should be established to return stolen assets, prevent further theft from the national treasury, and a transparent financial system must be established.

Finally, given the past and current horrific and often ethnically motivated human rights violations, South Sudan should implement national truth, justice and reconciliation processes. If South Sudan does not implement such measures, supported by international mechanisms, the country will not realise lasting peace.

The post-independence situation in South Sudan is extremely complicated and risks spiraling out of control. The future of the world’s newest nation is in serious jeopardy, as are regional and international peace and security. South Sudan must not become a battlefield for the competing regional powers.

A viable state in South Sudan will contribute to the world’s peace and security. It is vital that the parties and mediators address the root causes and give truth, justice, accountability, and reconciliation the importance and priority they deserve. The US, the UK, Norway, China, other interested states, the AU and the UN should assist the people of South Sudan to overcome the challenges and obstacles of this post-independence, nation-building era, while recognising that South Sudanese are the ultimate drivers of their own destiny and respecting their sovereignty.

Ahmed Hussain Adam is a Visiting Scholar and Co-Chair of the Two Sudans Project at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights (ISHR), Columbia University in New York City.

Laura Nyantung Beny is Professor at University of Michigan, Law School.