South Sudan

Machar, Kiir ‘collide’ over office as new conflict brews

Riek Machar walks alongside President Salva Kiir on the red carpet

Riek Machar walks alongside President Salva Kiir on the red carpet

Global Risk Insights, a world-leading publication for political risk news and analysis, is predicting a new conflict in South Sudan soon.

Last week, a report came up suggesting that President Salva Kiir had blocked Riek Machar from assuming his new office of first deputy president as per the August peace agreement.

The report said Machar was prevented from going to his office on Wednesday due to supposed high tensions between his bodyguards and President Kiir’s.

Juba replied quickly explaining that Machar was not prevented to go to his office but that it was being renovated.

Security officials said the reports were fabricated citing the fact that the two forces are not garrisoned together.

“Riek was not prevented to go to his office, it’s being renovated,” said an official to National Courier.

Machar also dismissed the reports saying that his office was being renovated and that he was not prevented or intimidated by anyone.

Machar advance team sent to camp in Jebel

NC also reports that more than 600 members of Machar’s advance team who were living in expensive hotels in Juba have been moved to Jebel.

The transfer of these members to live in tents in a specially constructed camp has been completed now.

Those accommodated in the tent camp are those who do not have houses in Juba or have simply refuse to go back to their houses according to the government.

The government ceased paying for the hotels saying it can no longer afford to continue paying for the hotels due to economic difficulties.

Risk of conflict

There were also accusations from both sides on the attack by armed forces in Unity state that left many people dead and others wounded just after Machar had been sworn in.

According to Global Risk Insights, the former rebel leader could have joined a transitional government with Kiir but the risk of instability and renewed conflict remains high.

GRI says the underlying problems that set South Sudan up to fail at independence have remained entrenched.

“Although relative stability in South Sudan is probable in the short-term, the risk of escalating political tensions and a resumption of conflict in the medium to long-term is considerably higher. South Sudan’s future, rather than becoming more peaceful, has now become more uncertain.”

Transitional government

The transitional national unity government, comprising both SPLM and SPLM-IO members, is now in place, set to rule for a period of 30 months until the next election.

During this time, Kiir and Machar will need to work together to re-integrate former rebel troops into the army, fix the rapidly deteriorating economy and promote reconciliation whilst punishing those guilty of atrocities on both sides of the conflict by establishing a hybrid court.

All of this takes place in the context of poor relations between the two leaders and their respective factions, as well as a very small political budget to maintain patronage.

An increased budget might increase the incentive for ensuring a fragile peace.

This will only occur if the government receives funding from the international community as promised during the peace process. But even this is dependent upon implementing the conditions in the peace deal.

Given the country’s profoundly weak institutions, South Sudan has only ever been run through monetised patronage networks largely brokered by Kiir and Machar.

This mode of governance has no track-record in generating an economic recovery or political stability. Instead, a political system characterised by patronage networks and depleting state resources, is exactly the context which allowed for the outbreak of war in December 2013.

In the run-up to the war, political competition and distrust between Kiir and Machar increased as did competition for control of depleting the oil revenues.

Oil revenues had declined owing to a suspension in production designed to increase South Sudan’s bargaining power in negotiations with Sudan (concerning the use of the oil pipeline which ran across their borders).

In turn, the parallel political-ethnic-military structures in government, held together by patronage, clashed in December 2013 when Machar was accused of plotting a coup by Kiir, after having been fired in July 2013 for his intentions of running for the presidency.

Today nothing has really changed.

Machar still maintains aspirations for the presidency in the face of unwavering opposition from Kiir’s loyalists.

Meanwhile, inflation in Juba is reportedly at 240%, with the economy contracting by 5.3% in 2015, as war resulted in oil production reportedly declining by a third to just 160,000 barrels per day.

The only distinctive difference at present is that political and ethnic tensions are more deeply entrenched than ever.

Remnants of war

The civil war which killed tens of thousands and displaced approximately 2.3 million people, has torn apart the fabric of society.

The numerous Dinka and Nuer ethnic groups have deeper fault lines between them, having fought against each other across the country, largely for the SPLM and SPLM-IO, respectively.

Simultaneously, state infrastructure has been weakened even further.

Without a well-disciplined and well-financed security sector, insecurity became rife across South Sudan during the war.

As a result, communal and ethnic militias emerged, or regrouped, in an effort to protect their land or cattle from competing groups. A cycle of deadly attacks and revenge attacks ensued, facilitated by the widespread availability of weapons from the war.

This dynamic remains embedded in many areas of the country. Notably, the pervasive insecurity and ethnic tensions have even spilled into neighbouring Gambella, Ethiopia, where on April 15, 2016, approximately 182 Nuer were massacred by a Murle and Dinka militia from Boma state, South Sudan.

A fragile peace

Although the recent formation of the transitional government is probably the most significant and encouraging step in the peace process -since the signing of the August 2015 peace agreement coordinated by IGAD, it is also the most fragile.

Roughly 1,500 rebel fighters and 30,000 government troops are currently located in Juba.

It goes without saying that whatever the political intention is behind this decision, clashes could easily erupt between the two sides.

This would have the potential to regenerate a fully fledged conflict again and completely undermine the progress that has been made thus far.

South Sudan’s only hope for longer-term stability depends on the nature of the implementation of the transitional government and how well the former warring factions coordinate.

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