Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1258, (13 - 19 August 2015)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1258, (13 - 19 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

South Sudanese consider power-sharing

South Sudan’s rival factions began talks on power-sharing in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa this week, aiming to strike a deal before an August deadline, writes Haytham Nouri

Al-Ahram Weekly

Rival factions in South Sudan began long-awaited talks on power-sharing in Addis Ababa on 6 August. They are feeling the pressure more than any time before, as the organisation hosting the talks, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), has made it clear to both government and opposition that they have to strike a deal before 17 August.

Pressure is also mounting from the US, and US President Barack Obama threatened both sides with sanctions if they fail to reach a compromise while on a visit to Ethiopia some weeks earlier.

Since its independence in July 2011, South Sudan has been suffering from chaos and bloodshed, mostly because of the unbridled rivalries between the country’s biggest tribes, the Dinka and the Nuer.

The UN Security Council has slapped sanctions on South Sudanese military chiefs, including three generals from the army and three from the insurgents. However, the country’s civil war, which broke out in earnest in December 2013, has claimed thousands of lives and forced an estimated two million people from their homes.

Unless the country regains a semblance of stability in the near future, many may die of famine.

The conflict began in July 2013 when South Sudan president Salva Kiir Mayardit, a Dinka, dismissed his vice-president, Riek Machar, a Nuer, along with the entire government. Machar reacted with an attempt to take over a military base near the capital Juba, a move which Mayardit called a “coup”.

Since then, forces loyal to both sides have fought pitched battles on more than one front in South Sudan, with Ugandan troops fighting on the side of the government. A short-lived ceasefire reached in January 2014 was followed by an even worse bout of fighting.

Although both sides are under tremendous pressure to reach a deal, their chief negotiators have been asking for bigger slices of power than expected. Each side is demanding about 70 per cent of the portfolios in the transitional government, basically rejecting an IGAD proposal to give the Mayardit government 53 per cent of the ministerial portfolios, with 33 per cent going to Machar’s SPLM-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) and 14 per cent to other political parties.

SPLA Commander James Ajongo Mawut has warned that the IGAD proposal falls short of SPLM-IO aspirations and may lead to another bout of fighting. But Agog Mathiang, a South Sudanese journalist living in Uganda, believes that current differences in the ranks of the SPLM-IO may encourage it to reach a compromise.

However, even if a deal is reached before the deadline, latent grievances may surface leading to further waves of violence, observers warn.

The SPLM-IO is unlikely to give up its wish to control South Sudan’s three oil-rich states of Warrap, Unity, and the Upper Nile, for example. If the Nuer are allowed to dominate the north, frictions are bound to appear with smaller communities living in these states. The Dinka, dominant in Jonglei and Bahr Al-Ghazal, are unlikely to allow their Nuer rivals such an advantage.

The SPLM-IO is driving a hard bargain and demanding a veto power for two vice-presidents over the president, an arrangement that may prove problematic in a country that is in dire need of effective decision-making.

One point the SPLM-IO is trying to use to its advantage is that the current term of the incumbent government ended on 8 July 2015, which means that any deal made in Addis Ababa may automatically prolong the government’s mandate.

Taban Ndeng, the SPLM-IO chief negotiator, said that the Juba government had no right to demand power-sharing as it had overshot its legal term.

The Dinkas constitute about 36 per cent of the inhabitants of South Sudan, whereas the Nuers make up 16 per cent of the population. If nation-wide elections take place, the Dinkas will have little trouble taking the lead.

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