Where Are We With The Peace Deal In South Sudan?

In the last week, fault lines have reappeared within the political negotiations in Juba as the completion of South Sudan’s peace deal stalls. One major hurdle is the allocation of state governments across the coalition parties. As a consequence, the “Transitional Government of National Unity” (TGONU) is still not yet fully formed. The 2018 peace agreement decrees control at state and county level as 55% for the incumbent TGONU, 27% for “Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition” (SPLM-IO), 10% for “South Sudan Opposition Alliance” (SSOA), and 8% for “Other Political Parties” (OPP), which has created unwanted ambiguity.

Last week, President Salva Kiir Mayardit’s Press Secretary, Ateny Wek Ateny, declared that Kiir’s side would not concede ground on its position to take six of the 10 states, at the frustration of the smaller coalition parties. At the same time, former South Sudan’s vice president Riek Machar’s SPLM-IO is fixed in their position of taking three states. The deadlock has led the peace monitoring body, RJMEC, to urge the politicians to find compromise, and Augustino Njoroge, the body’s interim chairperson, is set to convene cross-party talks to try and halt the deadlock.

This disagreement between national politicians carries profound regional consequences as the appointment of state governors and local governments must wait. A recent research project funded by the United States Institute for Peace, “Perceptions of Peace in South Sudan,” found that the issue of federalism and devolved government was intimately tied to notions of peace for citizens in Bentiu and its sister town Rubkona. It was only in February this year that Kiir reversed a decision to divide South Sudan into 32 states, rather than the 10 states currently under dispute, a move largely perceived as an attempt to reinforce ethnic lines between different communities. These two towns are home to more than 120,000 internally displaced persons in a UN civilian protection camp, many of whom must wait for a resolution of this state allocation issue before considering a move home. 

In another setback for peace in South Sudan, the training camps hosting 29,000 troops from Kiir’s government army, and Machar’s rebel forces have been suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak. The reunification of security forces was a cornerstone of the 2018 peace deal, but its suspension is far from the first setback experienced. This, when viewed in conjunction with Kiir’s recent decision to replace the NPTC with a new committee to oversee security arrangements, arguably signals an attempt by Kiir to grapple for further control of available security forces. It certainly suggests that South Sudan remains some way off completing one of the most integral parts of its 2018 peace deal.

Meanwhile, bursts of inter-communal violence have continued to erupt in different pockets of the country. At least 13 people were killed in Rumbek, as members from the Gak and Manuer communities clashed over cattle, whilst another 16 people sustained injuries. Cattle disputes have also just been reported between two armed groups from the Gatjaak and Gatjiok communities in several areas of Maiwut county with the conflict alleged to have lasted two days with no information yet on casualties. Access to resources is not the only fuel for violence in South Sudan, with currently 107 young men being recently abducted by unknown gunmen in Lainya County. This has caused political tension with the NAS and SSPDF both accusing each other of orchestrating the abduction.

It is therefore self-evident that peace in South Sudan will not be fully achieved until the peace deal is completed. The deal remains a work in progress, and, unless senior politicians across the coalition become more flexible, the backlash from their intransigence will continue to ripple across the country in waves of subnational conflict and fear.