Should the formation of the South Sudan transitional government scheduled for May be delayed to salvage the fragile September 2018 peace agreement?
A new report by the International Crisis Group proposes that the delay in the formation of transitional government after the eight months pre-transition period is necessary to tackle five challenges that could collapse the agreement.
The ICG report released on March 13 says that while for the first time in five years the fighting between President Salva Kiir’s forces and those of Dr Riek Machar has stopped, the implementation will face serious challenges because of five major factors.
The challenges are difficulties in realising the security arrangements that is already behind schedule, bringing in armed groups that refused to sign the September 2018 peace deal, lack of strong external guarantors and finances, President Kiir’s belief he could achieve a military option because the opposition is weakened and Dr Machar’s dwindling military and political influence.
The ICG argues that additional political deal is necessary on the provision of a unified national army.
“Most worrying at present, President Kiir and Dr Machar are still negotiating shared security control of the capital Juba, the scenario which led to the bloody setback in 2016,” reads the report.
Unlike the 2015 peace agreement that provided for two armies and two commanders-in-chief, the September agreement called for training and unification of the armed groups within the eight months pre-transition period. This process is yet to start due to lack of finances.
“Talks on creating a new unified army—including Dr Machar’s fighters—before his return are not only behind schedule but are also prompting all sides to mobilise their own forces. The upshot is that the accord’s security provisions are broken and in need of urgent repair,” reads the report.
Gen Thomas Cirillo, a former deputy army chief who now leads rebels in the Equatoria Region, is leading the grouping of other armed groups.
Gen Cirillo and his National Salvation Front are fighting over the grievances of the Equatorians, which stem from a sense of political neglect and that their land is being occupied by the Majority Dinka and are strong decentralisation. They are pushing for greater decentralisation through federalism.
On March 14, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), Igad Special Envoy for South Sudan with non-signatories, Ismail Wais, met Gen Cirillo and Gen Paul Malong of South Sudan United Front to discuss ways of joining the revitalised peace agreement, but excluded other non-armed groups.
Lack of strong guarantors in the face of diplomatic apathy by Western powers led by the United States, who have paid billions to support the peace process and humanitarian relief is also posing a challenge.
ICG says that US appears to have abdicated its leading role in South Sudan diplomacy and outside of other Horn of Africa states, no country has stepped up to assume the mantle.
President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and his Uganda’s counterpart Yoweri Museveni were the guarantors of the September agreement, but the two apart from being accused of having pushed the deal for their economic interests, are also facing serious challenges domestically.
Further, President Kiir maintains the military option after realising that Dr Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition is getting weaker military after Khartoum stopped supplying him with arms.
President Kiir also continues with military offensive against Gen Cirillo’s forces in central and western Equatoria, which the report says could scuttled plans for united national army.
This comes as Dr Machar is struggling to keep his coalition together, some of which were small groups that had joined him due to shared desire to fight the Dinka hegemony.
The report says that pressure on Dr Machar is coming from smaller groups that are fighting over local boundaries and for greater devolution of powers.