On 13 March 2020, Salva Kiir Mayardit, the President of South Sudan, issued a presidential decree to appoint members of the Transitional Government of National Unity in accordance with the terms of the peace deal. This development paved the way for the debate between those who see it as a real step towards the implementation of the peace deal and the restoration of security and stability and those who consider it a mere response to external pressures, an attempt to buy time, and the deferral of an imminent clash because of which the country could relapse into overall civil war.
Signing the comprehensive peace deal
The four conflicting parties in South Sudan had signed a comprehensive peace deal in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa in September 2018. The government, led by Salva Kiir, agreed with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO), led by Riek Machar, opposition parties and representatives of former detainees on power-sharing by the formation of a transitional government to be led by a president and five vice-presidents so that Machar would be the first vice-president, together with a ceasefire, disarming belligerent militias, building a national army and police force, the rehabilitation of the infrastructure and oilfields, and allowing the delivery of humanitarian aid.
It was decided that the implementation of the deal would pass through two stages: a pre-transitional stage that would last for eight months during which committees and commissions on the implementation of the deal would be set up, followed by a transitional stage of 3.5 years, during which all other terms of the deal would be implemented. However, numerous obstacles prevented the formation of the government and the launch of the transitional stage, which was postponed more than once since May 2019.
Efforts to implement the peace deal
Despite the formation of the necessary committees and commissions to implement the peace deal, numerous obstacles remained in place that delayed its implementation: no ceasefire was achieved, most efforts to rehabilitate the infrastructure and oilfields failed, the Technical Committee for Border Demarcation, with the participation of representatives of the African Union, failed, armed clashes and ethnic violence continued, even new armed movements were formed, mainly: the National Democratic Front, the South Sudan National Movement, the National Salvation Front, and the Federal Democratic Front.
At the humanitarian level, waves of asylum and displacement continued as reports revealed that nearly 400 thousand lives were lost during the war and a third of the population were displaced as of January 2020. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) warned against the possibility that 5.3 million people from the South were exposed to death from starvation in view of the difficulty of delivering humanitarian aid to them.
The main difference lied in determining the number of states in the country and the mechanism of border demarcation between them, as the peace deal make no mention of this matter. In this connection, some suggested the reduction of the number of states from 32 to 21, others put forward the return to the original number, namely 10 states, with their provinces. Yet a third group considered the possibility of holding a referendum to obtain the opinion of citizens on the most appropriate number of states, which was rejected, particularly after Salva Kiir sought to set up a new committee to decide on the matter, as opposed to the independent committee stipulated in the peace deal.
In the meantime, Riek Machar insisted on the implementation of the security arrangements first, particularly disarmament, the integration of fighters, and the formation of a force for his personal protection in Juba as he refused that this task be assigned to a regional force to be formed by neighbouring countries. Thus, Machar continued to reside abroad which confirms that he has not forgotten the assassination attempt against him which led him to flee at night from Juba to the Democratic Republic of Congo and from there to the Sudan in August 2016, after which the former peace deal signed in August 2015 collapsed.
Determination of the number of states and formation of the transitional government
Regional and international efforts were successful in convincing Salva Kiir, on 15 February, to respond to the main demands of the opposition, namely the return to a federal system that would divide the country into thirteen states. This contributed to lifting the main obstacle to the formation of the new government. In this context, the statement of the Presidency of South Sudan underlined that the reduction of the number of states may not be the best option for the people of the South, although it is considered necessary to achieve peace and the unity of the country. On the other hand, Machar agreed to be sworn in as first vice-president on 22 February 2020.
These developments paved the way for the issuance of a presidential decree to form the transitional government on 13 March, where the cabinet consisted of 35 ministers, with 18 ministries allocated to Salva Kiir’s team and 10 ministries to Machar’s. The remaining seven portfolios would be distributed among the other opposition factions. It was also agreed to complete consultations regarding the appointment of state governors and members of the legislative assembly as the peace deal stipulated the increase of seats in the national parliament to 550, distributed as 55 percent to the government, 25 percent to Machar’s group and 20 percent to the rest of the opposition.
Prospects of implementation of the peace deal
In light of the current facts, the prospects of implementation of the remaining terms of the peace deal swing between two possibilities and views: the first suggests that the implementation of the deal would fail and that fighting would be resumed, while the other expects the success of the deal and the fulfilment of the future terms of the transitional process.
The first possibility: failure of the deal and the resumption of fighting
Advocates of this opinion base their position on the following three foundations:
Based on all the above, advocates of this opinion believe that this deal might meet the same fate as earlier ones, whose chances ranged between stumbling beginnings and failed endings, which is why it is likely that control of the country will continue to be shared among the conflicting factions.
Second possibility: implementation of the deal and passing the transitional stage
Advocates of this view believe that there are indications in favour of the implementation of the peace deal and passing the transitional stage to reach the formulation of a new constitution for the country and holding general elections, mainly:
Nevertheless, it is most likely that the deal will stumble and eventually fail for the following considerations:
* Director of the African Research Centre at Cairo University.
EPC | 11 Aug 2020
Hamdi Bashir | 09 Aug 2020
EPC | 03 Aug 2020