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.
With South Sudan’s peace process still far from secure, failure to renew a UN arms embargo set to expire this weekend could tip the country back into conflict. South Africa, sitting at the UN Security Council, should support its extension.
Originally published in Business Day
In major breakthrough, President Kiir and former rebel leader turned VP Riek Machar reached agreement on local power-sharing, while intercommunal violence persisted in east and centre, and tensions emerged within Kiir’s political base. Kiir and Machar 17 June reached consensus on appointment of state governors, ending three-month deadlock; Machar obtained appointment of governor of contested Upper Nile state instead of South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA); SSOA to appoint governor of Jonglei state instead. Kiir 29 June appointed eight of ten governors; Upper Nile state governor not appointed despite Machar reportedly submitting nomination; SSOA continued to debate appointment for Jonglei state. Deputy Interior Minister Mabior Garang de Mabior 3 June resigned to protest stalled implementation of transitional security arrangements; official body monitoring unification of armed groups into single army 10 June warned training and cantonment sites “near collapse” over lack of resources and logistical support. Intercommunal violence continued in Jonglei state in east. Notably, suspected ethnic Murle gunmen reportedly killed ten people in cattle raid in Jalle area 17 June; unidentified gunmen reportedly killed 12 people in Makuach area 19 June. Kiir 23 June formed committee to ease tensions between ethnic Dinka, ethnic Lou Nuer, and ethnic Murle. Intercommunal clashes also persisted in centre, allegedly killing 69 in Warrap and Lakes states 25-29 June. Rebel group National Salvation Front (NAS), which refused to be part of Sept 2018 peace agreement, 3 June claimed Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition had killed 15 civilians in Central Equatoria state in south 31 May. UN Mission in South Sudan 9 June and EU 11 June called on govt and NAS to abide by truce brokered in Jan. Tensions mounted within Kiir’s political base. relative of Kiir 3 June killed four civilians in clash over land dispute in capital Juba, sparking intra-Dinka tensions and prompting some 1,000 residents to take to streets same day; govt next day established investigative committee. Former political prisoner Kerbino Wol Agok, member of Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group, 5 June announced creation of new rebel group “7th of Oct Movement”; govt forces 14 June killed Agok during military operation in Lakes state, sparking public outcry.
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 disagreement between Kiir and Machar has endangered the gains made toward a lasting peace.
"[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.
Crisis Group's Senior Analyst for South Sudan Alan Boswell recounts what he found during his recent field trip to South Sudan.
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.
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.