Date: Wednesday, 20 March 2019
Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, and Eritrea’s President, Isais Afwerki, recently visited South Sudan for high-level meetings with their President, Salva Kiir, in hopes to reaffirm peace talks between the regime and local rebels. This move was done amidst fears that last year’s peace deal with rebel leader Riek Machar was crumbling, potentially making way for fresh fighting in the region. According to Al Jazeera, in an effort to stymie any possibilities of violence, Ahmed, Afwerki, and Kiir further discussed inviting those individuals who had rejected the peace talks that had occurred last September. In addition to peace talks, leaders further discussed bolstering regional infrastructure and economic development
When asked about opening the dialogue to those who had rejected last September’s peace talks, President Kiir said that “The government of South Sudan has been very supportive of this,” leaving many hopeful that a peaceful resolution is on the horizon. Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan further cited how spontaneity of this meeting, as well as Kiir’s willingness to come as positive signs of peaceful negotiation. According to Morgan, “Kiir was touring the states in the country and had to cut his tour short to go back to Juba to receive the prime minister of Ethiopia and the president of Eritrea.” Morgan justified the slow pace of the agreement thus far and predicted future progression. She stated that “the pre-transitional period comes to an end and the transitional period should be starting, with Machar, who is currently in Khartoum, returning back to South Sudan to take his seat as vice president.”
Especially right now, there is the inherent hope that the past does not repeat itself, for in 2015, a similar peace deal was made in South Sudan, only to fall apart due to persisting clashes. Simply put, one should remain cautiously optimistic. For South Sudan’s President Kiir to put cut short his visits and to spontaneously carry out these discussions points to a larger presence of genuine commitment to seek to reach a peaceful resolution. This recent progress in South Sudan is also significant because it points to improving relations between the historically adversarial Ethiopia and Eritrea. For two states with such a complicated history to collaborate to rebuild South Sudan’s oil infrastructure means economic progress, not only for the young nation but for the region as a whole. That said, it is a toss-up. We must commend the progress made by these leaders, but we must also remind them of the urgency, for the hardships endured by internally displaced persons in South Sudan persists.
Following years of struggling for independence, South Sudan eventually broke off from Sudan in 2011. However, this progress was cut short, for, in 2013, Kiir accused his former deputy and current rebel leader, Riek Machar, of plotting to overthrow the regime. This caused a civil war cut along ethnic lines, resulting in millions of internally displaced persons and the death of 400,000 citizens. In its effort to bring peace to the world’s youngest nation, Ethiopia has taken a proactive role. In the past, under the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, the capital of Addis Ababa has hosted peace negotiations between the Kiir regime and rebel leaders. In addition, the nation has taken in countless amounts of refugees. According to Africa News, Eritrea has also pledged its support in helping to rebuild South Sudan. Furthermore, according to Al Jazeera, both Eritrea and Ethiopia have invested in South Sudan’s hotel industry.
Right now, though it seems that further progress is on the horizon, this does not warrant complacency on the part of the international community, but rather the opposite. Amidst these peace talks, we must not forget that almost 3 million people are still struggling within the borders of this young country. With that said, one can only hope that history does not repeat and that these peace talks lead to tangible results and fruition in a country where such is long overdue.