The factions involved in the South Sudanese conflict signed a ceasefire deal on Thursday in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, in the most recent effort to end the country’s now four-year civil war. The agreement, expected to go into effect early on December 24th, serves as an attempt to recover the 2015 peace deal that failed after heavy fighting resumed in the country’s capital in 2016. This new agreement calls for an unconditional end to the violence and unobstructed access to aid workers throughout all areas of the country that will allow vital humanitarian assistance to civilians affected by the fighting.
The new deal has been welcomed by much of the international community but also with considerable caution by those close to the conflict. Ethiopia’s foreign minister, Workineh Gebeyehu, expressed that the move was “a precious gift” and would allow “South Sudanese people to celebrate their Christmas and New Year.” Nevertheless, he noted that “as past experience has showed, implementation is the longer and more difficult aspect” and that “many critical issues lie ahead.” Indeed, a spokesperson for South Sudan’s opposition, Lam Paul Gabriel, told the Associated Press that they would adhere to the agreement but were prepared to defend themselves if the government broke it. “I doubt if it will hold but we will abide by it as we have always done,” he said.
It is difficult to predict whether this latest action will constitute a meaningful step towards peace in South Sudan. Moussa Faki, chairman of the African Union Commission, perhaps assessed the situation with the most accuracy. Quoted by the Anadolu News Agency, he described the ceasefire as “just a small first step” and that for those involved “the real test of the seriousness of [their] commitment will reside in [their] commitment to take practical action”. Diplomats, speaking to Reuters, asserted that beyond the ceasefire a revised power-sharing arrangement would need to be devised leading up to a new date for polls.
The consequences of civil war in South Sudan have been significant. Initially, the conflict began when the political rift between President Salva Kiir and his former Vice President Riek Machar developed into outright warfare in late 2013, with loyalties largely divided along ethnic lines. The picture has since become more obscure, shifting from a two-sided fight into one involving multiple parties that has complicated labours towards peace. As a result of the protracted violence, tens of thousands of people have died and approximately one-third of the 12 million population have been displaced from their homes. At this stage, well over one million South Sudanese people have fled abroad in what ABC News says has created “the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis”.
This most recent ceasefire agreement comes at a desperate time for the country, not only due to its enormous humanitarian crisis but because South Sudan’s government is under growing international pressure to find a resolution. The United States and other states have threatened further sanctions and Ethiopia’s leader has said that the deal serves as a “final alternative” before the possible foreign intervention. Such statements seem supported by the UN Security Council, who warned South Sudan’s government and opposition earlier in December of “costs or consequences” if they were to undermine the effort to reinstall the 2015 peace deal.