Recently, a new round of peace talks between belligerent players of South Sudan has started in Addis Ababa, pending rebel leader Riek Machar’s visit to Juba next week. This consultation takes place after the peace agreement Riek Machar and South Sudan president Salva Kiir signed last August, in an attempt to end the almost two years of civil war that devastated the country. Notwithstanding the latter, violence and exactions against civilians are still occurring in some places of the country, revealing a substantive lack of political will and, above all, making peace promises an elusive concept more than a reality.
The peace agreement signed in August provided for, inter alia, the demilitarization of the capital Juba and a strong presence of rebels in local governing bodies of Upper Nile State (at the North-East). The agreement, which was suggested by the mediation established under the authority of IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development), envisioned Riek Machar reintegration for the position of first vice-president. But the agreement suffered several shortcomings and weaknesses. First, Salva Kiir showed reluctance for what he considered to be an “enforced peace”, as it was under international pressure, which could only stymie the establishment of a genuine peace. The lack of confidence on the process brings about a systematic ceasefires violation during the days, even hours, following their signing. The same applies to the peace agreement: since August, each side has charged the other with pursuing its attacks and threatening efforts made towards peace.
Moreover, last Thursday, South Sudanese parliament endorsed a constitutional amendment that may bear prejudice to the hope for an effective peace. Indeed, president’s powers will be extended, as Salva Kiir will be able to create new states within South Sudan. Early October, he decided to extend the number of States from 10 to 28 by decree. Reform’s opponents argued that the Constitution did not allow the president to take such measures. Riek Machar, as for him, has not missed the opportunity to denounce what he considered to be a power grab: he accused Salva Kiir to put in danger the peace agreement concluded in August, by making obsolete the intricate provisions on power sharing, built on the 10 existing states.
In spite of new political tensions, the government stated that it will meet a rebel delegation next week, for the first time since the beginning of the civil war, which is a crucial step towards the peace agreement implementation. But one can have serious doubts regarding the prospect to restore peace. The different agreements made have not been truly desired by the players in conflict, raising issues about their effective implementation. Even in observers’ minds, pessimism is appropriate: “We were in emergency. We needed a ceasefire but the agreement gave power to two rival factions that don’t have any consideration for civilian populations”, says Roland Marchal, a specialist on Africa.
The situation remains all the more worrisome as civil war between Dinka and Nuer, which erupted two and a half years after South Sudan independence, has left almost 50.000 dead and 2.5 millions of displaced persons, according to the UN. 70% of the population remains threatened by food insecurity. Humanitarian actors operating in the region have not stopped warning international organisations and public opinion about peoples living conditions inside the refugee camps. MSF, present in the city of Malakal, deplores that sanitation is inadequate regarding the presence of 48.000 people living with few space, facing an increase of respiratory infections but also a lot of new comers. More than ever, bringing back peace remains necessary. But as long as political leaders do not pave the way for such a prospect and continue testifying to mutual distrust, we can fear that peace, despite the different agreements signed, remains above all something unrealistic.