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.
This week on The Horn, Alan Boswell welcomes Dr. Luka Biong Deng Kuol, a South Sudanese former minister and academic, to reflect on South Sudan’s trajectory since achieving independence ten years ago and whether it can still change course toward a more stable future.
Originally published in Foreign Affairs
A rebellion in Equatoria, South Sudan’s southernmost region, is undermining the already troubled peace between the main belligerents in its civil war. Mediators should push for a wider compact that accommodates Equatorian grievances and includes the insurgent general in talks about the country’s political future.
Ten years after independence, South Sudan is faring poorly, beleaguered by political and socio-economic ills. The civil war’s two main antagonists have an uneasy peace, but others fight on. The country needs a reset rooted in power sharing and devolution of authority from the centre.
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.
There is still no sign of a broader reset in South Sudanese politics [...] instead, the divisions just keep mounting.
[South Sudan] is just, unfortunately, in a much worse spot than it was 10 years ago. Whenever I talk with various diplomats from different countries [...] they all fear cutting humanitarian aid to South Sudan would just cause more misery. Both the South Sudanese and the outside world feel a bit stuck at the moment.
Disarmament in South Sudan resembles an abusive counterinsurgency operation, not an orderly collection of arms, which the local militias often resist giving up.
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.
This week on The Horn, Alan Boswell is joined by Betty Bigombe, Uganda’s special envoy to South Sudan, to discuss the South Sudan peace deal, why it has not been fully implemented yet and how regional mediation needs more South Sudanese participants.
Few nations have seen their dreams and hopes dashed as quickly and ruthlessly as South Sudan. As the country approaches its 10-year anniversary, the risk of a return to full-blown conflict is never far away.
Originally published in World Politics Review