South Sudan risks witnessing the reignition of a civil war after the main opposition party opposed a Nov. 12 deadline by which day a coalition government should be formed, calling instead for a six-month delay for this crucial step towards a fragile peace deal.
“Suppose we form a government on the 12th, you know what’s going to happen? The ceasefire we’ve been enjoying for over a year will erupt,” said Riek Machar, the exiled rebel leader of, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) while in Juba, capital of, South Sudan this October 20.
Speaking later at a public event, President Salva Kiir did not directly address the comments from Machar’s camp. He said all parties regarding the agreement had committed to forming the unity government on Nov. 12 and the international community expected that to happen.
“I want to welcome (the opposition) and forget all the bitterness,” Kiir said.
With the US ambassador to the UN, Kelly Craft, saying the Security Council was “disappointed” by Machar’s warnings. The US has said it would reevaluate its relationship with South Sudan if the deadline isn’t met.
The Security Council insists the Nov. 12 should be met. With the South Sudan government spokesman Michael Makuei saying:
No change of schedule nor change of program
Dr. Machar who lives in Khartoum, capital of the neighbouring state of Sudan under house arrest had returned to the country for the second time for a two-day visit beginning October 19, since inking a revitalized peace deal with President Salva Kiir, in September 2018, under pressure from international and regional powers.
Gaining independence on 9 July 2011 as an outcome of a 2005 agreement, ending Africa’s longest-running civil war, the relative peace was disrupted again in 2013 when the president fell out with Vice President Machar leading to a conflict that has displaced some four million people to date.
The conflict split from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), led to the formation of the SPLM-IO, also known as the anti-governmental forces (AGF), in 2013.
There were hopes for an end to the hostilities when the pair signed a peace agreement in 2015. A government of national unity was formed and Machar was appointed vice president once again. But the optimism waned when violence broke out in the capital Juba in early July 2016 and forces from both sides battled each other with tanks, helicopters and other heavy weapons.
After the 2015 truce collapsed and fresh fighting broke out at the presidential palace in Juba in July 2016, Dr. Machar fled to the DR Congo on foot. The United Nations later organized for him to be airlifted for treatment in Khartoum, but later the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) partner states decided that he should not stay in any of the countries bordering South Sudan. He was then exiled to South Africa.
The peace deal has to date stopped a five-year civil war that has killed almost 400,000 people. He was briefly released in June 2018 to participate in the peace negotiations held in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia and Khartoum.
Several attempts at peace have since failed but in September 2018, under pressure from international and regional powers, the warring parties signed an agreement to form a unity government.
The deal allowed Machar to return from exile abroad, but he has since gone to Juba just once, in October last year, to celebrate the signing of the accord.
The power-sharing arrangements under the peace deal were supposed to take effect in May which meant that the rebels were to join a transitional government, integrate fighters into the army and settle disputes over regional boundaries. But the process was delayed by six months until November as both sides disagreed over the terms.
A key provision of the peace deal is the integration of former rebels in the army, which has still not occurred
The SPLM-IO demands security arrangements which involve cantonment, screening, training and reunification of the armed groups, the number of states the country should have, and the entrenchment of the September 2018 agreement, must be met before the formation of the transitional government.
“If security arrangements are not implemented, the country will definitely slide back into civil war. We want our country to have a national army that will defend the constitution and protect the people of South Sudan,” says Manawa Peter Gatkuoth, the deputy spokesman of SPLM-IO.
Both sides have disagreed on details of the deal, including how many states South Sudan should have. Under the accord, they have agreed to hold elections after a three-year transition period.
Also, South Sudan’s opposition leaders say that the government’s failure to make funds available for the implementation of a peace accord could plunge the country back into war.
The SPLM-IO accused President Kiir of failing to provide $100 million needed to support the establishment of a transitional government. Emboldening the criticism are reports that Kiir’s administration instead 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?” Henry Odwar, deputy chairman of the rebel group, is reported to have asked by Bloomberg.
In the worst-case scenario, the alternative “would be war,” Odwar said in an interview in the capital, Juba. But the government retorted saying development was the remit of the government with Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth, saying this September as reported by Bloomberg, that government had started the implementation of the peace accord by delivering food to military barracks, the “opposition forces” are not moving in, he said.
South Sudan’s government has said the international community should help fund that process. So far, it has allocated $10 million of the pledged $100 million, according to the international body monitoring the ceasefire.
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 Odwar.
The Security Council “is of the view that nothing is impossible, nothing is insurmountable,” said South Africa’s ambassador to the UN, Jerry Matthews Matjila. The remaining issues can be discussed by an inclusive government, he said.
One South Sudan expert says the international community is making a mistake. “The UN Security Council took the wrong approach,” Alan Boswell, senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, told The Associated Press.
“Rather than be fixated on Nov. 12, everyone should be focused on pressuring the parties to resolve the issues necessary to form a viable government at less risk of collapse,” he said. “There are much worse scenarios than another delay.”
Another expert suggested a different approach. South Sudan’s government “has consistently acted in bad faith,” said Klem Ryan, former coordinator of the Security Council’s panel of experts monitoring sanctions against South Sudan. “They need to be treated as illegitimate through increased international isolation by the diplomatic community until such time as they show a genuine desire to meet the needs of the people of South Sudan.”
For now, Machar, risks isolation by the international community over his ultimatum on joining the transitional government. “Lack of trust is also another element which compromises their willingness to commit to arrangements they themselves agreed upon. This also erodes citizens’ trust in the leaders in whatever they say to be doing. Political trust is supposed to instil confidence in leaders and citizens,” he said.
President Kiir has brazenly underlined the bad blood existing between himself and Machar saying he will go ahead and form a government on November 12 with or without his political nemesis.
This will certainly be a recipe for further trouble ahead for the world’s youngest state.