Since fighting erupted in Juba in July 2016 and a major rebel faction returned to war, rebel groups have proliferated though conflict is much reduced from its height in 2014. The government’s current strategy can secure Juba but cannot deliver sustainable nationwide peace. Of the millions experiencing hunger due to the conflict’s impact on civilians, the UN declared 100,000 in famine conditions for several months in 2017. Through field-based research and engagement with relevant national, regional and international actors, Crisis Group aims to support humanitarian access and build a new consensus around sustainable peace efforts that address the regionalised nature of the conflict as well as its localised dynamics.
South Sudan’s rival parties have temporarily salvaged prospects for peace, agreeing a six-month deadline extension to allow for the formation of a unity government. But the country’s external partners must sustain pressure on both sides to preserve a ceasefire and maintain consensus on a path forward.
Rebel leader Riek Machar indicated his willingness to resume direct talks with President Kiir, as implementation of 2018 Sept peace deal continued to lag ahead of Nov deadline to form interim govt. Machar 8 July told govt he was willing to hold face-to-face talks with Kiir on condition that regional bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) lift travel restrictions imposed on him and that an IGAD head of state broker meetings with Kiir. Body tasked with command and control of all forces during pre-transitional period Joint Defence Board (JDB) 21 July ordered all govt and rebel forces to report to cantonment sites by 31 July, which reportedly they did. Army clashed with non-signatory armed group National Salvation Front (NAS) in Lobonok, Jubek 22-23 July, resulting in unconfirmed number of casualties. UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) 3 July released report indicating that security forces and rebel groups had killed 104 civilians between signing of peace deal in Sept 2018 and April 2019 in Central Equatoria region in south. Unidentified gunmen 16 July killed one UN peacekeeper and six civilians in Abyei region, disputed between South Sudan and Sudan. Govt 1 July agreed to establish joint border commission with Kenya to help resolve conflict between ethnic communities in disputed border territory Ilemi Triangle. Kiir 27 July facilitated talks in Juba between, on one side, Sudanese rebel groups active in border areas Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N) Hilu and SPLM-N Agar and, on other, joint delegation of Sudanese ruling Transitional Military Council and opposition coalition Forces for Freedom and Change led by TMC deputy head “Hemedti”; parties renewed ceasefire agreement.
The truce in South Sudan is holding but could break down at any time. To stave off renewed civil war, external actors should urge the belligerents to strike new bargains on security and internal boundaries – and accept a third-party protection force for the capital.
In 2018, the African Union (AU) and its new Assembly Chairperson President Paul Kagame of Rwanda have the chance to push ahead with much-needed institutional reforms. But the AU must not lose focus on dire conflicts and defusing potential electoral violence.
Vigilante groups have been successful in providing local security. But subcontracting security functions to vigilante groups for counter-insurgency purposes is a dangerous option for fragile African states. African leaders should set clear objectives and mandates when enlisting vigilantes and invest in disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programs.
China, traditionally averse to intervening abroad, is testing the role of peacebuilder in South Sudan, where it has unique leverage. This could portend a growing global security role, but further Chinese engagement will likely be tempered by self-interest, capacity constraints and aversion to risk.
War in South Sudan led the UN to declare 100,000 people are suffering famine, with a further 5.5 million at risk. This special briefing urges the country to work harder to establish parameters for a ceasefire. At the same time, humanitarian corridors from Sudan should be kept open and donors must fully fund the UN aid appeal.
President Salva Kiir has played a weak hand well since his main rival was forced out of Juba in July. To avoid new flare-ups in South Sudan’s three-year-old civil war, Kiir and regional states should step up their work on a more inclusive transitional government and peace deals with local rebel groups.
Until Salva Kiir and Riek Machar strike more deals on a path forward, the peace deal will keep spinning its wheels. In six months, South Sudan may be stuck in the same spot.
More clearly than ever, it is now up to Kiir and Machar if they want to move the peace deal [for South Sudan] forward.
The [South Sudan] peace agreement is stalling and is at risk of collapse if more political deals aren’t struck.
In South Sudan, manpower is political power. Politicians use peace deals to grow their own armed ranks.
This is a critical moment for IGAD and the peace process. The response to these early violations will set the tone for the rest of the peace implementation.
Washington was never willing to take a hard line with Uganda on South Sudan. This was the biggest missed opportunity to halt the war early.
15 December 2018 marks the fifth anniversary of South Sudan's civil war. To ensure that September’s peace agreement does not meet the fate of previous failed attempts at peace, a broader political settlement that shares power across the country’s groups and regions is needed.
Talks between President Salva Kiir and former First Vice President Riek Machar in the Sudanese capital Khartoum offer the only, albeit slim, hope of a breakthrough in South Sudan’s brutal civil war. African leaders should offer cautious support during the Nouakchott AU summit.
Five years into South Sudan’s civil war more than half of the population is either displace or starving. In this interview, Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for the Horn of Africa Casie Copeland talks about the enormous humanitarian toll of the crisis.
A UN mission has largely succeeded in keeping the peace in Abyei, an oil-rich area claimed by both Sudan and South Sudan. But there has been less progress made on the mission's work in aiding political mechanisms to determine the final status of Abyei and demilitarise and demarcate the border. As the UN Security Council debates the mission's scope, these mechanisms deserve ongoing support.