If the civil war still rages in South Sudan, it is not due to lack of efforts on the part of the world community to end violence. There has been more than one peace deal after the fighting broke out in 2013. Only they were broken by one party or the other to the conflict. So what are the chances of success for the latest one?
First, let us look at the brighter side of the picture. South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir issued a decree on Thursday reappointing his rival Riek Machar as first vice president — his position before he was sacked in 2013, throwing South Sudan into the vortex of murderous violence.
What started as a political squabble soon assumed the dimension of an ethnic conflict as Kiir (a Dinka) and Machar (Nuer) belong to two different groups. The army too has split on ethnic lines and there have been clashes around the country.
Restoring Machar to the position he had held until 2013 was an important condition of a peace agreement reached last August but repeatedly violated. So Thursday’s announcement should add pressure on Machar to return to South Sudan from Addis Ababa where he has been living in exile ever since the fighting erupted.
The peace deal envisages the formation of a transitional government of national unity for three years. Actually, it should have been in place by July 9, 2015, the day when Kiir’s current presidential term ran out.
There are other controversial steps the president has taken. By far the most contentious issue is his decision to split South Sudan’s 10 states into 28.
Secondly, overriding constitutional term limits, he began a new unelected tern as president in July 2015. On Thursday, he signed into law a nongovernmental organizations (NGO) bill, restricting the numbers of foreign aid workers. This would hinder relief efforts affecting millions.
The fighting has displaced more than 2.2 million people, including about 600,000 who have sought refuge in neighboring countries. Some 2.8 million people — a quarter of the country — need aid while thousands face starvation in northern areas hardest hit by violence.
South Sudan is rich in natural resources including oil but is one of the least developed regions of the world. One reason is the civil war in Sudan between north and south from 1983 to 2005, after which South Sudan emerged as the world’s youngest nation in 2011. Within two years it was plunged into another civil war. Economy is in very bad shape, with foreign reserves rapidly diminishing and inflation growing.
The war, fought mostly in oil-producing areas, has made things worse. Oil production that stood at 245,000 bpd is down by roughly a third. Oil prices are declining. Add to this the transit fees of $24 South Sudan has to pay Sudan for each barrel transiting through Sudanese pipelines to Port Sudan on the shore of the Red Sea and you get an idea of the perilous economic situation the country is facing.
Both the government and rebels should think whether it is in anybody’s interest to allow this situation to continue. Now that government forces are reportedly in the process of moving out of the capital Juba, Machar should travel to South Sudan to take up his new job.
Kiir should display the political will to implement the peace agreement, not in letter but in spirit. His administration should support the rebel faction in transporting the nearly 3,000 elements of joint police and military forces to Juba, so that Machar can move to the country to form the unity government.
African countries, especially the six neighbors, should do everything possible to enforce whatever international pressures are placed on the South Sudan government and the rebels led by Machar. They should ensure that neither the president nor anybody in his administration undermines the clauses of the peace agreement dealing with power sharing.