By this November South Sudan’s warring parties are expected to form a unity government but opposition leaders have said that the government’s failure to make funds available for the implementation of a peace accord could plunge the country back into war.
Initially, a unity government was supposed to have been formed this May, but a deadlock on several key issues forced a six-month extension. Since then, little has changed.
Meeting for the first time in the country’s capital Juba, this September 11 in almost one year President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar pledged to resolve all outstanding issues standing in the way of cobbling up a unity government within two months.
Machar, left Juba in 2016 after a renewed fighting forced him into exile and resulted in the collapse of the 2015 compromise peace agreement.
The two rivals last met at the Vatican, Italy by the invitation of Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, in April this year.
President Kiir and several rebel groups signed an agreement a year ago in an attempt to resolve a conflict that erupted in December 2013 and killed an estimated 400,000 people. The government agreed to seek outside support as well as make its financial contribution toward stabilising the country and rebuilding an economy ruined by five years of fighting.
The Special Representative and head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), David Shearer briefed the council in New York after the momentous meeting between the two leaders this September saying Mr. Machar’s visit to the capital at the invitation of his political adversary “was an important development” noting the apparent “conciliatory “demeanour between the two forces who had spent “several hours in formal and informal discussions.”
“Talks between us are going on well. And we will reach a deal soon, so let’s rest assured that things are going on well,” Kiir told reporters in Juba.
While Machar noted that even though he was to revert to his earlier position of First Vice President, South Sudan descended into war in mid-December 2013 when Kiir accused his former deputy-turned rebel leader for plotting a coup.
In September 2018, the rival factions involved in the conflict ostensibly signed a peace deal to end the conflict but nothing tangible emerged out of the apparent truce.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO), also known as the anti-governmental forces (AGF), which is the country’s largest rebel group routinely accuses President Kiir of failing to provide $100 million needed to support the establishment of a transitional government within two months.
Intensifying the bad feeling are reports showing Kiir’s administration had allocated $700 million to build a highway.
“What is the point of saying that we don’t have funds and yet you have heard that the government is going to build a $700 million road? What is the priority, those roads or the peace?” said Mr. Henry Odwar, deputy chairman of the rebel group led by Machar.
With the minister in charge of information, Mr. Makuei Lueth saying it was the government’s responsibility to develop the country and nothing will derail it from delivering services to its citizens.
In the worst-case scenario, Mr. Odwar says the alternative “would be war.”
Under the terms of the accord, the rebels are to join a transitional government, integrate fighters into the army and settle disputes over regional boundaries. The militants, who in May asked for a six-month delay because of ill-preparedness, said the situation hasn’t changed much. There is still no confidence in the security arrangement, according to Mr. Odwar.
Government spokesman Mr. Michael Makuei said the talks between the two warring leaders were “highly successful” and insisted plans to meet the November deadline were still on track. While Mr.Odwar instead described the meetings as “luke-warm”, saying key issues needed to be resolved before a unity government could be formed.
“It’s not clear they made any breakthroughs. Both leaders are positioning themselves to blame the other party if they fail to form a government together in Juba,” Alan Boswell, senior analyst for the International Crisis Group, is reported to have told, The New Humanitarian (TNH), news network. “The peace deal will almost certainly face a major crisis in November. The risk remains substantial that the process breaks down.”
Lasting peace would boost the production of oil, which hovered around 350,000 barrels a day when South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011, but then dropped by about half after civil war erupted in 2013. The conflict has also displaced so many farmers that more than half of the nation’s 12.5 million people are now relying on food assistance. The nation could quickly double its production of cereals to meet domestic demand if calm returns, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s country representative, Mr Meshack Malo.
During Kiir and Machar’s meeting it was agreed that a screening and a unification of a new military force consisting of 83,000 troops – at least half of those needed ought to be in place by November. Both parties also agreed on a VIP protection force of 3,000 soldiers, with an equal number of opposition and government troops.
After the failed 2015 peace deal, the government expanded the previously agreed upon 10 states to 32 – a move South Sudan experts say was intended to gerrymander boundaries along ethnic lines.
The opposition wants to return to 10 states, but the government is keen to continue expanding the number.
As part of the 2018 agreement, a commission was formed to settle the matter, but it has been unable to come to a consensus.
After Mr. Machar’s visit, both parties announced that a new committee would be formed to investigate the issue.
“If there is no consensus on the number of states by November, we in the (opposition) will not be part of the formation of the government,” said Mr. Odwar.
Part of the problem in moving the peace deal forward is a lack of funds.
While Mr. Kiir pledged $100 million towards the process in May, a little over $10 million has materialised.
The international community, specifically Western countries, has abstained from financially supporting the process. It’s unclear why, specifically, but there have been numerous reports of alleged financial corruption.
As November approaches, the international community is calling on South Sudan’s government to urgently increase the “pace and the quality of implementation”, the EU said in a statement last week.
South Sudan’s government and opposition say their leaders are open to further meetings before November, but no dates have been confirmed.
The peace deal mandates that the transitional constitution and laws that govern the national security agencies, the army and the national police service be amended by parliament ahead of the formation of a unity government.
But the country’s lawmakers are on a two-month recess that began two weeks ago. Last month, civil society activists warned that failure to amend the laws before November would affect the formation of a unity government.
Mr. Odwar said the two leaders discussed the number of states but only agreed to form another committee.
“The two principals have agreed that yes, we will have a committee and this committee will look into the IBC (Independent Boundaries Commission) report and if we reach a consensus that will be great. If we don’t reach a consensus, then the principals will have to come together again and come up with a final statement on the number of states and boundaries,” Odwar told reporters.
Despite reaching no agreement on the unresolved issues, Information Minister Michael Makuei says Kiir and Machar are both confident a unity government will come together on time.