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.
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.
Rebel leader Riek Machar and Sudanese President Bashir were among high-profile delegates who visited capital Juba 31 Oct for “peace celebration” following signing in Sept of Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS). Some rebel and opposition groups continued to reject new peace agreement. Clashes broke out in Yei River state in south between rebel groups National Salvation Front, which did not sign R-ARCSS, and Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO), which did sign; both groups accused each other of launching initial attacks. Despite cessation of hostilities, ceasefire monitors also identified hotspots for conflict at frontlines south west of Wau in west and in former Unity state in north. UN Security Council 11 Oct extended mandate of UN peacekeeping mission in disputed Abyei region (UNISFA) on Sudan-South Sudan border until 15 April 2019 and conditioned extension beyond that date on neighbours making progress on border demarcation among other measures.
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.
The 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan reached a milestone with the formation of a transitional government in Juba in April. Yet fault lines like those in the Equatorias remain outstanding. A committed, inclusive political response is vital to stop low-level conflicts continuing indefinitely.
If talks do not progress in the coming days, the parties may feel less compelled to adhere to a ceasefire [in South Sudan]. There are command and control issues as well as many forces that are not aligned to the government or Machar’s group. Even an effective ceasefire would only reduce some of the violence.
[South Sudan's] government raised issues with the fact that the [cessation of hostilities] agreement wouldn’t have allowed them to re-arm for any other purposes, such as domestic law and order.
Rebel groups and most Western countries want the [South Sudan's] forum to be a new mediation. The goal for them is to create a new power-sharing arrangement.
[There is] a much more chaotic situation on the ground [of South Sudan] than, let's say, two years ago, when [there was] one government, one armed opposition.
From the war's outset the UN never tried to maintain a death toll [in South Sudan]. Guesses vary from 50,000 up to 300,000. It demonstrates a shocking lack of humanity that no one has tried to establish the scale of violence.
The over-focus on a new peacekeeping mandate at the expense of political developments in the country [South Sudan] reflects international disunity and a lack of political strategy.
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.
China’s growing involvement in South Sudan’s civil war differs from its past approach to non-interference, though there is debate on the long-term implications as its role in African, and global, security affairs expands.
Originally published in South China Morning Post
For the first time in three decades, four countries, driven by war, verge on famine. Over coming weeks, Crisis Group will publish special briefings on Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria. Each conflict requires tailored response; all need increased aid and efforts to end the violence.