Rival Leaders Set To Meet In South Sudanese Capital

South Sudanese President Salva Kiir has agreed to conduct talks with his rival, and former vice president, Riek Machar. The talks will take place on Monday in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, and will follow talks on Wednesday and Thursday in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Abada. The talks will be the first time the political rivals will have met one another in Khartoum ever since 2013, marking the beginning of a new round of talks in the hopes for a peaceful resolution to the ongoing Sudanese Civil War. The meeting has likely been spurred by the United Nations end-of-June deadline that will see sanctions put in place if a peaceful resolution is not reached.

The call for talks between both leaders has been met with concern over the future course of negotiations. The current president of the Republic of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, has been earnest for his desire to see the talks go forward in the hopes for bringing the conflict to an end. “Over time our efforts have been eclipsed by the use of violence, giving credence to the call for punitive measures against perpetrators,” Kenyatta said. Others, however, have been more critical of future reconciliation. South Sudan Information Minister, and government spokesman, Michael Makuei claimed that while prepared to talk, the President will not work directly with Dr. Machar. Makuei said, “President Salva Kiir is not ready in any way to work again with Dr Riek Machar in the next transitional government…we have had enough of him.”

Despite the willingness of President Kiir to speak with Dr. Machar, the language used by the actors involved indicates that the attempt may be unlikely to succeed. While both leaders being willing to speak to one another is commendable, it is not the first peace talk to be undertaken in recent years by either party. Given the reluctance and lack of faith present on both sides, the meeting between both leaders will only be as successful as both leaders’ willingness to communicate and negotiate with one another. With the troubled history that already exists between both, combined with both sides believing an end to the conflict being unrealistic, the talks are off to an uncertain start.

The conflict between President Kiir and Dr. Machar began back in 2013 when the then Vice President Machar was one among many of the top cabinet members that were dismissed by the president. Due to growing concerns over President Kiir’s use of power and decisions, especially with the 2011 independence, this sparked concerns that South Sudan was becoming a dictatorship. This caused a split among the countries forces, with the two most noteworthy groups being The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), who are loyal to Salva Kiir, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In-Opposition (SPLM-IO), who follow Riek Machar. While a peace deal was signed in 2015, it later collapsed in July 2016, causing Dr. Machar to flee into South Africa.

It is uncertain if the talks will be able to successfully bring an end to the ongoing conflict, at least not immediately. The history between both leaders is troubled and the faith of those involved in the talks success is minimal, meaning that the talks will be off to a difficult start. While the willingness of both leaders to talk is a positive development, both must be prepared to do more to cooperate and secure peace if they are to avoid the pitfalls that lead to the collapse of the previous Peace Deal. While the talks represent a step forward, it is only the first step of many if South Sudan hopes to see an end to the civil war.

Joshua Robinson