Saturday,21 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1183, (6 - 12 February 2014)
Saturday,21 October, 2017
Issue 1183, (6 - 12 February 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Mediators tackle thorny South Sudan issues

While tribal tensions have played a part in South Sudan’s recent civil conflict, political reform will also be necessary if a lasting peace is to be achieved, writes Salah Khalil

Al-Ahram Weekly

African mediators addressing the tribal conflict in South Sudan have set Friday, 7 February, as a deadline for the forces of both President Salva Kiir and his opponent, former Vice President Riek Machar, to respect a ceasefire. For the past few weeks, mediators from the Africa Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have been holding talks with parties to the civil war in South Sudan, which broke out mid-December.

On 31 January, Kiir and Machar signed a deal to stop hostilities and release political detainees. The deal is supposed to pave the way for an overall peace agreement between the two sides. But observers say that the ceasefire, which also covers other parties to the conflict, including the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-Democratic Change (SPLM-DC) and the Murle troops of David Yau Yau, has not been strictly observed.

The deal was hammered out by AU and IGAD officials during an extraordinary African summit in Addis Ababa.

Sources close to the negotiations say that once the ceasefire holds, focus should turn to the causes of the conflict, such as power sharing and the need to reform various institutions, including those of the government, in Africa’s newest independent nation.

IGAD officials say they will try to bring opinions closer and draw a roadmap for the ruling party and the state.

But continued fighting in various parts of the country casts a shadow on the prospects of a political deal, as rival groups try to shore up their position prior to substantial negotiations on the sharing of power and wealth.

Long-term tribal mistrust has fomented the recent bout of fighting pitting against one another the country’s two largest tribes, the Dinka and the Nuer.

In recent fighting, SPLM forces loyal to Salva Kiir regained control of the oil-rich cities of Bor and Bantio, which had been captured by anti-government combatants earlier in the conflict, which has claimed at least 10,000 lives so far.

Continued hostilities may undermine the prospects of further talks scheduled to be held in the next few days in Addis Ababa.

As fighting continued, both Kiir and Machar promised a ceasefire, but both men stated conditions for a future peace deal.

Sources close to Salva Kiir say that the government is willing to talk, but is not going to discuss issued related to the sharing of power and wealth with Machar and his tribal supporters.

Kiir ruled out a possible return of Machar to his former position as vice president. His government agreed to release detainees and said it was willing to address humanitarian issues.

As IGAD observers have been flown into Sudan to monitor the ceasefire, Machar said his forces were willing to abide by the ceasefire without delay. But the former vice president demanded that Uganda discontinue what he described as military interference in the internal affairs of South Sudan. The Ugandan presence in South Sudan may disrupt the ceasefire, he warned.

Machar also called for the holding of early presidential elections.

Unless peace is achieved through a political deal, Machar warned that his troops might reoccupy the oil-rich states that are inhabited by a majority of his tribe, the Nuer.

In discussions with African negotiators, Machar maintained that the current conflict in South Sudan is not about tribal rivalry, but about political reform. Before the conflict broke out, Machar had declared his intention to run for president.

It is hard, however, to ignore the ethnic background of the conflict. And without the tribal power base of both Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, the fighting may not have spread so fast.

Some say that tribal mistrust may make it difficult to enforce the ceasefire, or reach a lasting political settlement.

Over the past few days, both sides traded accusations of ceasefire violations in the oil-rich states of Unity and Jonglei.

Before the conflict broke out, Salva Kiir reshuffled his cabinet in a bid to exclude his opponents from power. The move was seen as an attempt to block his main political rival, Riek Machar, from consolidating his power base. To silence his critics, Salva Kiir imprisoned top SPLM reformists, including Pagan Amum and Deng Alor.

The political strife in South Sudan may have tribal overtones, but shows the failure of the country’s political elite to rise above their narrow rivalries and create a corruption-free modern state commanding the loyalty of all citizens.

Ahead of the next round of negotiations, scheduled in Addis Ababa within days, IGAD and AU mediators are pressing both sides to reach a political settlement.

During a recent visit to Juba, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said he would give Riek Machar four days to abide by a ceasefire. If Machar keeps on fighting, “we will go after him and defeat him,” the Ugandan leader warned.

The US special envoy to the two Sudans, Donald Booth, is also urging the combatants to observe the ceasefire.

Booth has asked Kiir to release political detainees and initiate a credible process of reform and democratisation in the country.

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council voiced its support for the mediation efforts and voiced hope that the current talks would lead to a lasting political settlement in South Sudan.

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