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.
A negotiated 100-day extension for naming a unity government has averted a crisis imperilling a ceasefire between South Sudan’s main belligerents. Regional leaders should use the time to pressure them to agree on how to divide the country into states, an essential step for peace.
Negotiations between President Kiir and main rebel leader Riek Machar, notably to resolve dispute over number and borders of states, failed to achieve consensus, but both reiterated pledge to form transitional unity govt in Feb, and intercommunal violence continued. Kiir and Machar 4 Dec adjourned negotiations facilitated by regional bloc Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) and South Africa’s Deputy President David Mabuza: govt insisted on increasing number of states to no less than 32, while Machar’s rebel group Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) stated preference for ten. Govt proposed referendum to resolve impasse. After further talks between Kiir and Machar in capital Juba 10-17 Dec, both reiterated commitment to form unity govt by mid-Feb even if political disputes remain unresolved. Unification of country’s 83,000 security personnel remained stalled, undermined by lack of funds and shortages of food, water and medical supplies, which force fighters to abandon cantonment sites. After U.S. temporarily recalled its ambassador to South Sudan in Nov, it placed sanctions 11 Dec on five security officials it says are responsible for abduction and murder of two activists in 2017; 12 Dec implemented visa restrictions on individuals impeding peace process. Intercommunal violence continued early Dec. In Western Lakes state, following clashes between Manuer and Gak communities that left some 80 people dead 27-29 Nov, UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) 3 Dec said it had deployed 75 Nepalese peacekeepers to area. Unidentified gunmen 1 Dec stormed compound of international NGO Relief International in Maban county, Upper Nile state, severely assaulting staff; no casualties.
South Sudan’s conflict parties are supposed to form a unity government by 12 November. But key disputes between them remain unresolved. External actors should push the adversaries to make progress on these matters before entering any power-sharing arrangement – lest war erupt once more.
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.
The South Sudan peace process is at serious risk of derailing following the UNSC visit to Juba. The strategy to simply pressure on Nov 12 deadline has already failed. It’s time to pivot.
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.
Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for South Sudan Alan Boswell recounts what he found during his recent field trip to South Sudan.
In 2019, the African Union faces many challenges, with conflicts old and new simmering across the continent. To help resolve these crises – our annual survey lists seven particularly pressing ones – the regional organisation should also push ahead with institutional reforms.
Amid growing regional unrest, a fragile peace deal brokered between the warring parties in South Sudan has not won a broader political settlement. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2019 for European policymakers, Crisis Group advises the EU to take a lead in negotiations and put conditions on its monitoring of the agreement.
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.