On June 25th 2018, adversaries in South Sudan agreed on a permanent ceasefire following failed attempts in the past to end the nearly 5-year long civil war in the country. According to Al Jazeera, the deal was signed by President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. The peace agreement gave hope to an end of a war that has killed thousands of people, plagued the country with famine, and created an extraordinary refugee crisis. However, before the peace deal was signed, rebel groups pushed back on the accords because they argued that the agreement did not address the root causes of the war and continue to leave minority groups unrepresented and on the fringes of society. The South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA) stated that the current deal is a repeat of the failed 2015 peace agreement and it is unlikely that the 2018 deal will last. However, regional leaders, international coalitions, and the United Nations all welcome the agreement. The deal allows Machar to become Vice President again, with Kiir remaining as chief executive.
Following the signing of the agreement, the President released a statement stating, “After a 10-hour-long meeting, the parties agreed… there will be four vice presidents and Dr. Riek Machar will be reinstated as first vice president … there will be more consultation to come up with the final decision.” Before Kiir and Machar fought against each other in the civil war, they were members of the same party and worked together as leaders of the nation’s executives. Although Machar was among the top leadership of the main rebel group, SPLM-IO, the SSOA said, “It is crystal clear that the Entebbe meeting was focusing on power-sharing instead of addressing the fundamental issues of governance. For that reason, we absolutely reject these proposals as they do not serve the interests of the suffering people of South Sudan.” The SSOA will likely continue attempts of violence in protest of a signed agreement that they disagree with. Puok Both Baluang, SPLM-IO deputy spokesman, said, “We will not fall only for the position of the First Vice President in this negotiation. We are focusing more on structural and institutional issues to constrain Kiir’s regime both in the executive and legislature.” It seems that SPLM-IO has shifted to peaceful attempts at reform, but only time will tell if the peace will remain in the country.
The South Sudanese peace agreement is a good step in establishing a lasting peace. However, it must not be misperceived as the final agreement, but instead a continuation of negotiations between rebel groups that continue to attack adversary ethnic groups and elongate the humanitarian crises throughout the country. As rebel groups remain firm in fighting against the government until an agreement they view is more comprehensive and inclusive of minority groups, they make it clear they wish to have a larger part in the governance in the coming yeras. President Kiir and Vice President Machar must continue a dialogue with the fringe rebel groups and work together to lower the tension between their respective ethnic groups.
Both President Kiir and Vice President Machar are members of the same political party, but from different tribes, as Kiir is ethnically Dinka and Machar is ethnically Nuer. In 2013, Machar was accused of planning a military coup to overthrow Kiir, but after denying the allegations, Machar led an opposition fight against the government. Roughly 3.5 million people have displaced in the country and estimates as high as 300,000 have reportedly been killed. Additionally, the economy has been shattered and humanitarian crises, including a refugee crisis and vast famine, has plagued the country.
Constant dialogue is key to stopping the deadly civil war in South Sudan. If further concessions are not made in the legislative and executive branches, it is likely that small sects of rebel groups will increase violence to pressure the presidency in being more inclusive to minority groups.