The peace deal signed by President Salva Kiir and his rival Dr Riek Machar to end 20 months of fighting in South Sudan is a useful first step but many challenges remain for Africa’s youngest country.
First is the deal itself. President Kiir’s refusal to sign the deal in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on August 17 – the deadline set by the region and the international community, and the day Machar signed – was seen by many as a sign of strength. It was anything but.
Without the presence of Ugandan troops, hurried in to prop up his faltering regime when the fighting broke out in mid-December 2013, it is unlikely that Mr Kiir would still be in power. His inability to defeat the renegade forces military or isolate them politically left him weak and vulnerable to internal revolt from within his government.
It is not clear whether President Kiir would have signed the deal had the UN Security Council not threatened to take immediate action if he walked away from a peace process that had blown hot and cold until world powers, especially the United States, drew a line in the sand.
The terms of the deal, which broadly allow for a power-sharing transitional government, set up a demilitarised zone in the capital Juba and whittle down executive authority, reflect the power balance in the country but one that neither side acknowledges.
Mr Kiir must now hand over enough power to make the deal hold, while retaining enough not to undermine his own position.
Although Mr Machar was quick to sign the deal, he did so with his coalition beginning to fall apart, with key top commanders withdrawing their support for and confidence in him, and the peace process. His credibility and his place at the table depends on his ability to bring all or the most important renegades into the tent.
Secondly, the success of the deal depends on the ability of the two principals to find common ground in a movement with a long history of divisionism. This divisionism has long manifested itself in tribal warlordism and, since December 2013, in broad ethnic warfare between President Kiir’s Dinka and Machar’s Nuer communities.
The emotional wounds of the massacres of Neur in Juba and the reprisal killings of Dinka remain sore to the touch. To resolve this, the two main principals will have to do de-escalate their disagreements from a military to a political confrontation, and to build national consensus across tribal lines, and beyond the margins of the SPLA/M.
Yet, having fallen back to personal and tribal militia, a sadly routine modus operandi, this would require them to relinquish their power bases and show the kind of long-sighted nationalism that neither has hitherto demonstrated.
The warlords in South Sudan will have to be encouraged to hand over their personal militia into a new force that, with time and training, could slowly begin to look like a national army – one that doesn’t disintegrate into tribal militia at the first sign of political disagreement.
Thirdly, and in addition to this, the demilitarisation will have to be accompanied by a process of political reform to build the institutions required to check executive authority, such as Parliament, civil society and the media, while expanding the diversity of views to political actors and groups outside the SPLA/M.
The origin of the current crisis can be found in internal dissent over the rampant corruption, abuse of office and impunity within the government. Only deep reforms will cure the underlying governance deficit.
Crucially, improved governance will create the conditions necessary for those responsible for some of the most egregious episodes of violence, including the deliberate targeting of civilians by both sides documented by an UN Panel of Experts, to be held accountable.
Breaking this cycle of violence is important. “Lack of accountability for decades of violence during Sudan’s long civil war helped fuel the conflict,” Human Rights Watch notes.
ANY SERIOUS ATTEMPT
“Military and political leaders on all sides have failed to make any serious attempt to reduce abuses committed by their forces, or to hold them to account.”
Fourth, and most urgent, is the humanitarian crisis that the country has suffered for decades, and which the renewed fighting exacerbated.
According to the UN, thousands have been killed and 1.6 million forced to flee their homes. Many remain in UN-supported camps, too frightened to return to their homes. Resettlement of internally displaced persons and those who fled into neighbouring countries is a top priority, as is the provision of basic services in one of the poorest countries in the world.
The UN estimates that 6.4 million people are in need in South Sudan, including 2.5 million people without enough food to eat, and 235,000 children suffering from severe acute malnutrition.
Rebuilding a country is a hard task in the best of times. It is extremely difficult in the current economic landscape where the price of crude oil, which contributes more than 90 per cent of government’s revenues, is at record lows and not expected to rise significantly in the foreseeable future.