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 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.
President Kiir took steps to consolidate his power and sideline potential rivals, and intercommunal violence persisted in centre. Amid calls for Kiir to step down, latter 10 and 16 April reshuffled key political and security positions, notably replacing Presidential Affairs Minister Nhial Deng Nhial, army chief Gen Johnson Juma Okot, external intelligence chief Gen Thomas Duoth and Deputy Defence Minister Gen Malek Reuben Riak with perceived hardliners and loyalists. Presidential Press Secretary Ateny Wek Ateny 14 April announced general elections initially scheduled for 2022 would be postponed to June 2023 due to delays in implementation of transitional agenda, drawing immediate criticism from VP Riek Machar’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition. Meanwhile, clashes erupted between Dinka sub-ethnic groups in Lakes state (centre), leaving at least 14 dead in Rumbek North county 7-9 April; 23 killed in Rumbek East county 17-18 April; eight dead in Cueibet county 21 April; and at least 13 more in Yirol West county next day. In Unity state (also centre), suspected armed youths from neighbouring Warrap state 4 April killed at least 18 people in cattle raid in Mayom county. UN Panel of Experts 26 April warned of risk of renewed war amid widening political, military and ethnic divisions. Following late March-early April spate of deadly attacks against commercial truck drivers on South Sudan’s main trade routes with Kenya and Uganda, truckers from two neighbouring countries 3 April went on strike over insecurity, temporarily halting imports and triggering brief trade crisis. Uganda drivers 10 April resumed work after govt deployed military forces along roads to provide additional security. Holdout rebel group National Salvation Front (NAS), which govt accused of carrying out ambushes on trucks, 1 April denied responsibility, blaming govt-affiliated forces. Unidentified assailants 20 April reportedly assaulted Gen Abraham Wana Yoane, military chief of holdout splinter rebel group South Sudan National Movement for Change/Army (SSNMC/A), allied to NAS leader Thomas Cirillo, in Ugandan capital Kampala; Yoane 22 April died from his injuries and SSNMC/A same day claimed govt was responsible.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
The Horn of Africa faces myriad crises. Beyond the potentially devastating impact of COVID-19 on politics and the economy, the region is grappling with deeply troubled transitions, cross-border jihadism and remains a playground for great power competition. This week on The Horn, Host Alan Boswell joins five Crisis Group analysts to analyse the pandemic's political and economic implications.