On Wednesday 27 June, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar met for the first time in two years and took a crucial step towards resolving their country’s ongoing conflict. The two signed a document at the Presidential Palace in Khartoum, Sudan, under the supervision of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. The “Khartoum Declaration of Agreement” was also signed by representatives of the other South Sudanese opposition groups.
The “Khartoum Declaration of Agreement” document contained five key provisions. As well as committing to reopening corridors for humanitarian aid and releasing political detainees, the signing parties agreed to: declare a permanent ceasefire throughout South Sudan, to enter into force within 72 hours of signing of Declaration of Agreement; establish a national army, police and other security organs that should be free from tribalism and ethnic affiliations; make efforts to improve South Sudan’s basic infrastructure and services that impact citizens’ livelihoods, aided by support from the international community; in collaboration with security forces supplied by the government of Sudan, re-establish security in South Sudan’s oil fields so that the country can begin to export oil again; and finally, implement the “Revised Bridging Proposal”, a pre-transitional period of 120 days followed by a transitional period of three years. During the transitional period, power will be shared according to the “Revised Bridging Proposal”, while preparations are made for free and fair national elections.
Under the proposed transitional arrangement, President Salva Kiir would retain his position in charge of the executive. Riek Machar would be reinstated to his former role as First Vice President, replacing his contender for leadership of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO), Taban Deng Gai. Meanwhile, the incumbent Government of National Unity (TGoNU) would appoint a Second Vice President, while the remaining parties (the Former Detainees, South Sudan Opposition Alliance and Other Political Parties) would appoint a Third Vice President.
So why, when multiple attempts at resolving the conflict have failed in the past, have these talks produced a possible solution? The looming threat of a UN sanctions deadline at the end of June likely factored heavily in the timing of this deal. Given the rush, it is unsurprising that on several key issues the agreement seems to offer lacklustre solutions. According to the deal, “the parties shall agree on self-monitoring mechanisms” as a means of preventing ceasefire violations, which have often hampered peace talks in the past. While independent monitoring mechanisms, such as the existing Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM) are typically considered essential peacekeeping tools, this provision suggests a recognition that independent monitoring has not been effective.
Section 5 of the deal, pertaining to the rehabilitation of the oil fields, is slightly more detailed. Crucially, this section provides a potential role for the direct involvement of Sudanese security forces in South Sudan’s domestic affairs. This is unprecedented since South Sudan’s independence in 2011. Unwarranted involvement from the northern administration in the south was, after all, a major motivation behind the original liberation movement. Having experienced weak economic growth and several widespread anti-government protests in the last year, it seems likely that gaining increased access to South Sudan’s oil was a key motivation for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.
Finally, the Khartoum deal stipulates that national elections should be held after the three-year transitional period. While these appear to be the only way to install a legitimately-recognized government, it is possible that competitive elections might exacerbate tensions. If this peace agreement, unlike the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS), is going to have a lasting impact, it is imperative that all stakeholders, whether government or opposition, seek to support their political settlement with genuine efforts at reconciliation between communities throughout the country.