Talks concerning peace in South Sudan finished on Wednesday 23 May, without a negotiated settlement between the warring parties. The third round of the High-Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF), held in Addis Ababa, took place between 17 and 23 May. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the regional organization facilitating the talks, has grown increasingly impatient with the various stakeholders for refusing to take responsibility for the political deadlock. While Ismail Wais, IGAD’s Special Envoy to South Sudan, remarked in his closing statement that progress had been made, opposition leaders claimed that the talks had been called off due to disagreements over the power-sharing proposal submitted by IGAD. The purpose of the HLRF talks is to reinvigorate South Sudan’s peace process, previously enshrined in the 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS). IGAD believes that there are three necessary conditions to achieve this: first, restoring a permanent ceasefire; second, fully implementing ARCSS, and; third, re-establishing a timeline for holding national elections.
According to IGAD, the remaining outstanding issues can be divided into security issues and governance issues. The dominant security issues include the time frame for the reintegration of armed forces, the demilitarization of civilian areas, and broader reform of the security sector. It is hoped that resolving these problems will ultimately result in the disarmament of existing militias and the establishment of a national army. Meanwhile, the most pressing governance issues include the structure of the transitional government, the number of states in the country, and the size and composition of Parliament. The number of states has been a particularly controversial issue since 2015, when President Salva Kiir dissolved the nation’s 10 existing states and created 28 new ones. Kiir’s official reasoning for creating the new states was to decentralize power, placing resources closer to rural populations while also reducing the central government’s size. However, critics of the President have suggested that the move was an attempt to consolidate power by appointing state-level governors sympathetic to his leadership.
On Tuesday 22 May, IGAD published a document proposing a new power-sharing arrangement. Their solution would grant 55% of the positions within government to President Kiir’s party, 25% to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO), and 20% to the other political parties (including the Former Detainees and the South Sudan Opposition Alliance). IGAD also called for Riek Machar, the currently-exiled leader of the SPLM-IO, to be reinstated as First Vice President, while also establishing another vice president position to be nominated by the remaining opposition parties. Finally, IGAD proposed that a transitional Parliament of 440 seats be created, with an Equatorian speaker.
However, opposition delegates loyal to the country’s former Vice President Machar rejected IGAD’s power-sharing proposal, claiming that it failed to bridge the gap between the opposing groups. The deputy head of the SPLM-IO’s Committee for Information, Manawa Peter Gatkuoth, told Radio Tamazuj that IGAD’s proposal, which maintains the current 32 states in the country, “is a clear violation of the 2015 peace agreement and the 2011 constitution.” Moreover, the leader of South Sudan’s SPLM-IO youth wing, Pout Kang, added that the opposition faction loyal to Machar would refuse to sign any agreement developed without their leader, who is currently under house arrest in South Africa. IGAD has permitted him to relocate to any country not bordering South Sudan. However, President Salva Kiir has called on Machar to return to Juba, an offer which Machar refused on security grounds.
Despite making this public show of reconciliation towards Machar, Kiir has flatly refused to countenance his former deputy’s return to the government. It appears that both IGAD and the UN Security Council believe that peace negotiations have reached a stalemate, as they demanded that Kiir and Machar meet face-to-face to try and reach a resolution before the African Union Heads of State meeting in July.