Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Dim prospects for South Sudan

While a peace accord is in place to end the war between the Kiir government and Machar opposition, details remain to be ironed out, if even they can be, writes Haitham Nouri

Al-Ahram Weekly

The situation in South Sudan remains fragile, despite the peace accord that ended the two-year war that ravaged the world’s newest country after independence. Initial steps have been taken to implement the terms of the agreement, starting with the formation of a national unity government and Juba’s appointment of the leader of the armed opposition as vice-president.

Last week, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir issued an order appointing his opponent, rebel leader Riek Machar, as his vice-president. Thus, Machar reclaims the position he lost in July 2013, just a few months before the outbreak of the war. Under the terms of the peace agreement, signed between the two factions in Addis Ababa in August, Kiir must appoint 50 members of the opposition to parliament.

Machar’s supporters are also entitled to 10 ministerial portfolios, including oil and humanitarian affairs, the latter responsible for the distribution of humanitarian assistance in a country where one-fourth of the population requires urgent aid.

In exchange for these positions, Kiir’s supporters will take 16 ministries, including defence, interior, finance and justice. Independent politicians, known locally as the “Former Detainees”, will claim the Foreign Ministry and Transport Ministry, while small parties will head the Cabinet Affairs Ministry and Agriculture Ministry.

The war began when Kiir — a Dinka, the largest ethno-tribal entity in South Sudan — accused then-Vice-President Machar — a Nuer, the second largest ethnic group — of plotting a coup against him.

As soon as Machar left the capital, Juba, war broke out in December 2013, leaving 10,000 dead and more than two million people displaced, or one-quarter of the population. The war, which assumed an ethnic dimension, brought the country to the brink of famine.

According to a joint press statement issued by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, UNICEF and the World Food Programme in early February, 40,000 people are suffering from famine conditions in the northern areas adjacent to Sudan. The statement warned that the food shortages will be exacerbated with the coming of the dry season. The season normally lasts from April to July, but is expected to start earlier this year and last longer due to climate change.

The statement also expressed concern that security conditions might severely impede the distribution of food to the needy, while non-governmental aid organisations complain of a new law signed by Kiir that will restrict the operation of civil society.

The UN Security Council threatened to bring sanctions against both government and opposition leaders if they did not reach a peace agreement to save South Sudan.

While the agreement was signed in August, a recent report from the African Union issued in late January documented five separate violations of the ceasefire, including the killing of 50 people who had been detained by governmental forces in a container.

Human Rights Watch has accused both parties to the fighting of violating international humanitarian law, documenting dozens of cases of rape in February and the recruitment of child soldiers, among them 89 children from Malakal, located in the north of the country. The majority of dead in recent weeks have been children.

Although Machar welcomed his appointment, he still harbours some doubts. “If I receive sufficient support to implement security arrangements, I’ll assume my position within a few weeks,” he said, commenting on Kiir’s decision.

Machar’s spokesman, Colonel Roman Nyarji, explained what such support entails: “There must be a sufficient number of opposition forces in place before Machar reaches Juba. Otherwise, good luck to South Sudan.” He added that what concerns the armed opposition is that the government is implementing the peace agreement in line with its own interests. According to Niyarji, Machar must be appointed after the constitution is amended and the interim parliament approves it.

The statements demonstrate the lack of trust between the two parties and point to several controversial issues still pending between the government and opposition.

Regarding security arrangements, the opposition insists on integrating some of its forces into the governmental army, an issue that has not yet been broached.

There is also some dispute over the division of the country into 28 provinces instead of the current 10, which would reduce Machar’s control. The August agreement calls for the opposition to hold the leadership of two provinces. If the number of provinces increases, Machar’s supporters will have little presence in local governments.

The amendment of the constitution is another bone of contention, specifically to reduce presidential powers. Constitutional provisions were changed to give Kiir broad powers, leaving Machar with no real authority. Machar’s appointment decree did not specify the vice-president’s prerogatives, stoking the fears of the Nuer that they will have limited participation in the regime, thus further increasing tension in the country.

Pessimism rather than optimism still has the upper hand. Frank Charnas, director of Afrique Consulting, believes that the obstinacy of the opposition will fragment the conflict between Dinka and Nuer into a multi-sided war driven by local agendas between smaller tribes or branches of the two main ethnic groups.

At the same time, Charnas continued, governmental tampering, especially by increasing the number of provinces, will reduce Nuer influence in their areas but may also exacerbate a number of conflicts in the country.

In contrast, Alor Arop, the director of the Kush Centre for African Studies, which is close to the Kiir government, says that both the government and opposition have learned the lesson that war is not a game and has high costs. Arop says that many people were threatening war, but now with famine looming and the displacement of one-fourth of the population, everyone understands the horror of war.

He added that even North Sudan, which supported the rebellion, lost a large market for its products in South Sudan and so was forced to open the border.

Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir decided to open the border with South Sudan on 26 January. Khartoum lost 65 per cent of its resources after the independence of oil-producing South Sudan, but the war interrupted oil exports, making things worse for both countries.

Sudan and South Sudan engaged in a war for control of the border oil field that ended with Khartoum in control in 2012 after weeks of skirmishes.

A report issued by the International Crisis Group in November said that many feared the history of hostility between various groups in South Sudan would undermine a lasting peace agreement. The Dinka and Nuer engaged in several wars in the 20th century, fighting for control of pasture or simply primacy.

Declining oil prices will also exacerbate the situation in Juba, which is in dire need of nearly everything, especially after tribal and government corruption decimated its opportunities from the time of the peace agreement with the North in 2005 until the outbreak of the latest war in 2013.

Machar’s appointment puts pressure on him to return to Juba and participate in the government regardless of the situation, which may reduce his tribal popularity, but the demands of government supporters are also putting pressure on Kiir.

Many of his supporters are clamouring for their share of the state pie before Machar and his people come to the capital to claim their own share of a state that has yet to offer its citizens any tangible benefits.

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