This past week, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir called to dissolve the country’s parliament, moving forward to reorganize a new one. The decision comes as part of a 2018 peace deal between President Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar, who were on opposing sides of the South Sudanese Civil War. In an attempt to resolve the fighting, which had been ongoing in the country since 2013, the deal required that the size of parliament would increase from 400 to 550 members, and members of all political parties would have the chance to be incorporated, according to a Reuters report. Members of parliament would instead be appointed by political parties instead of chosen through elections, with President Kiir’s SPLM party holding the majority of the seats.
Many civil society groups and activist organizations within South Sudan have applauded the highly anticipated move by President Kiir, hopeful that the inclusion of voices from both sides of the civil war, including members of the opposition led by Vice President Machar, would pave the way for lasting peace in the country. Jame David Kolok, the chairman of the South Sudan Civil Society Forum, describes the dissolution of parliament as a “welcome development” that will hopefully “open the way to a lengthy process towards reconstituting the parliament.” However, Kolok expressed his concerns about the effectiveness of President Kiir’s decision, stressing that the “civil society is getting frustrated and no longer believes that even if the parliament is reconstituted it will be a very viable parliament.”
The doubts that Kolok and other South Sudanese civil society groups raise are valid, considering the failed attempts at achieving peace in the past. In 2015, another peace deal was signed between President Kiir and Vice President Machar to bring an end to the war. One year later, the peace deal collapsed after violence broke out between Kiir’s government forces and the opposition, leading Machar to flee the country. After the 2018 peace deal was signed, a unity government was finally formed in 2020, reinstating Machar as the vice president of South Sudan – a move considered to mark the end of the South Sudanese Civil War.
While these sound like positive developments that will hopefully trigger meaningful change, they do not reflect the realities on the ground. Implementation of the peace plan has been relatively slow, with multiple violations and delays in deadlines. “Let it not take weeks or months,” stated Edmund Yakani, member of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, a civil society based in South Sudan. Additionally, according to Aljazeera, violence continues between communities in the country, with an estimated 1,000 people killed in clashes within the last months of 2020. Consequently, the United Nations warned of a possible resurgence in widespread violence and conflict in South Sudan.
The series of violent attacks is disheartening to see as the country attempts to recover from the South Sundanese Civil War, which is considered one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. After President Kiir accused Vice President Machar of planning a coup in 2013, the country plummeted into a large-scale war split between the Dinka ethnic group backing President Kiir and the Nuer ethnic group backing Vice President Machar. Since the war began, almost 400,000 have been killed, according to World Vision. In a study done by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, approximately 2.5 million are refugees, with many fleeing to Uganda, and 1.8 million are displaced within South Sudan. Famine and violence severely plagued the country and still continues as South Sudan’s leaders attempt to secure a ceasefire and move forward with their peace deal.
While South Sudan begins to reconstruct its parliament, many are hopeful that the country may finally be shifting away from the dark stages of the civil war and starting on a path to peace and security for its civilians. However, considering past attempts at peace and the current state of violence in the country, it is difficult to predict whether the region would see lasting change once and for all at this point in time. Nevertheless, President Kiir’s move to dissolve parliament should not be overlooked, as the world should remain watchful over whether this development would mark the beginning of a new age of peace in South Sudan.