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.
The African Union has been taking a larger role of late in addressing questions of peace and security on the continent. Our annual survey identifies eight situations where the organisation’s timely intercession could help resolve, mitigate or ward off conflict.
President Kiir and main rebel leader Riek Machar failed to close gap between their positions on outstanding issues raising risk that they fail to reach agreement by 22 Feb deadline to form unity govt potentially triggering new violence; govt struck ceasefire agreement with armed groups that did not sign Sept 2018 deal; fighting continued in west. Deadlock persisted over number and borders of states: Kiir insisted on maintaining or increasing existing 32 states, while opposition groups pushed for 23 states plus Abyei. South African deputy president David Mabuza, invited to mediate by Kiir and Machar, 16 Jan proposed that 90-day arbitration committee of foreign, regional, and international representatives settle issue; South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSAA) and Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) rejected proposal, demanding issue be resolved before formation of unity govt. Unification of govt and rebel forces into national army made some progress with SPLA-IO troops early Jan starting to move to cantonment sites in Jonglei, Torit and Wau states. Govt and opposition coalition South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance (SSOMA), who refused to be part of Sept 2018 peace deal, 13 Jan signed Rome Declaration in Italy, agreeing to cease hostilities, discuss mechanisms to resolve differences, and guarantee humanitarian access. Ceasefire took effect 15 Jan, no major violations by end month. Kiir 29 Jan granted amnesty to all SSOMA factions. Second round of talks expected in Feb. Fighting continued between govt forces and armed groups in Maiwut county, Gambella region near border with Ethiopia. Suspected nomadic Misseriya herders from Sudan 22 Jan reportedly killed 32 people and burnt houses in Dinka village of Kolom, in disputed Abyei area. U.S. 8 Jan imposed sanctions on VP Gai for allegedly ordering murder of opposition figure Aggrey Idri Ezibon and human rights lawyer Dong Samuel Luak in 2017.
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.
"[South Sudan president Kiir and former rebel leader Machar] still have much to work through, but Machar was unlikely to extract more significant concessions before forming the government.
[In South Sudan] the dispute over the configuration of states became a major impasse blocking the peace process from moving towards a unity government.
The U.S. has gone from South Sudan’s chief backer to its main naysayer.
The intensity of the violence shows just how great South Sudan’s challenges remain even in a best-case scenario of the national peace process solidifying.
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.
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.