After years of violence, major political figures of South Sudan agree to meet to discuss a peace agreement in the country’s capital, Juba. Reik Machar, ex-Vice President of South Sudan and rebel leader for Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) has agreed to meet the country’s current President Salva Kiir to once again make an attempt at peace. This is not their first attempt, as the Global Conflict Tracker reports that in June of 2018 they decided to make peace and signed a ceasefire. A few months later in August of 2018, they signed an agreement called the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict of South Sudan. While this was marked as a breakthrough in peace efforts, violence has continued and urged another discussion.
Sudan had been in civil war for nearly 40 years before the South seceded and gained independence in 2011. Only two years later in 2013, South Sudan was immersed in another civil war. The African Center for Strategic Studies estimates, that it took the lives of 400,000 people and displaced more than 4 million. The extreme levels of humanitarian crises experienced in South Sudan have put it at the top of some infamous lists. Firstly, The Congressional Research Service reports that with this extreme violence, South Sudan was the world’s largest recipient of humanitarian aid upon the outbreak of the civil war in 2013. Secondly, the Washington Post reports that the gross number of displaced people has warranted this atrocity one of Africa’s largest refugee crises. And finally, the UN considered South Sudan’s food shortage in 2014 the worst in the world; this was followed by extreme famine reported in 2017 with five million people at risk of food insecurity. These deaths, displacements and food deserts are inherently ethnically targeted attacks. Violence broke out most prominently against two ethnic groups, the Dinka and the Nuer, after the beginning of the civil war in 2013. The Congressional Research Service reports both sides participating in ethnically targeted rape and other sexual violence.
The plethora of civilian casualties, the use of child soldiers, and the sexual violence against women have opened the eyes of the countries around South Sudan and South Sudan itself that peace needs to be reached and quickly. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has pushed the country to have a discussion and has held platforms for those discussions to occur. What is it, then, about this meeting that raises our hopes for peace in South Sudan more than the last few? Janardhan Rao, the South Sudan country director of the Mercy Corps makes a commentary to the Washington Post on this topic, “in many ways, this is holding a lot of hope for us, two years of negotiations did not bear fruit because the two leaders did not meet. Now it looks like the big push, and once that happens, the other things can start happening.” In the past, most meetings have been facilitated by external forces such as IGAD and even the US in some instances. While these forces are still at play there is a new sense of organicity in the conversation between Kiir and Machar that is vital to achieving peace; an open dialogue between the two operating entities is the only way for change to occur. Ideas can be coaxed upon Kiir and Machar by the rest of the world, but until these efforts for peace come from within themselves in pursuit of a way for their country to experience transformation, there will be no change. And this is exactly what these leaders are doing—Radio Tamazuj reports, “Reik Machar said that their talks made important progress and the two sides had candid and constructive conversations.” Therefore: the open dialogue, candor in conversation, and a genuine pursuit of peace between the operating parties give us good reason to hope that this meeting will mark a great achievement in the fight for peace in South Sudan.