Restart of South Sudan Talks Critical to Avert End-March War Threat
Restart of South Sudan Talks Critical to Avert End-March War Threat
A Vicious Cycle: Climate and Conflict in the Horn of Africa
A Vicious Cycle: Climate and Conflict in the Horn of Africa
Statement / Africa 3 minutes

Restart of South Sudan Talks Critical to Avert End-March War Threat

Another round of South Sudan peace talks mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) (The members of IGAD are Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya and Uganda) in Addis Ababa has failed. The regional organisation was unable to alter the domestic and neighbouring nations’ military, political and economic calculus favouring further war, because its own divisions prevented it from applying concerted pressure for compromise. Its limitations laid bare, IGAD now calls, sensibly, for mediation to be led by an expanded “IGAD Plus” group that may include the African Union (AU), China, the U.S., UK, Norway and European Union (EU). But talks are dangerously suspended until April. Meanwhile, fracturing within both the government and the opposition coalitions threatens to substantially expand and complicate the war. The government has offered Sudan Peoples Liberation Army – In Opposition (SPLA-IO) members an amnesty until 31 March, after which a major offensive is likely. It is thus critical to restart preparatory talks and intense diplomacy before the end of this month.

The government’s army, the SPLA, has been gaining ground since May 2014 thanks to major arms purchases, improved tactics and the influence and presence of the Ugandan army. Many in the SPLA increasingly see little reason for concessions to the SPLA-IO. The amnesty is unacceptable to most in the SPLA-IO, who would be expected to return to the SPLA without political guarantees and with their former ranks, while many officers who remained with the government have been promoted. The government feels urgency to push for victory, as a looming fiscal crisis threatens its fragile coalition, much of which is built upon patronage networks running short of cash. Disgruntlement in important parts of the country – the Equatorias and Bahr el Ghazal – is mushrooming into new opposition groups, only some of which are affiliated to the SPLM-IO, where tensions over military and political strategy as well as personalities threaten the movement’s hard-forged unity. 

The priority for IGAD Plus must be to secure peace between what for the moment at least are still two broad groupings. No time should be lost engaging hardliners on both sides so as to stop those not in Addis Ababa from spoiling the process. To deter emerging anti-Juba groups from joining the war, a final agreement must have provisions for governance reform that address their grievances. All this requires substantial, coordinated work by IGAD Plus in the region as well as in South Sudan. In particular, giving it special observer status might facilitate Uganda contributing to the negotiations more systematically than at the Heads of State summits. The new mediation should also more carefully weigh how to use both the forms of pressure at its disposal – such as personal sanctions, asset freezes, travel bans, an arms embargo, criminal accountability and use of force – and the types of incentives that might be provided (and by which partner) to encourage compromise. 

Monitoring and upholding the cessation of hostilities agreement – one of the IGAD talks’ few successes – is vital; there are frequent skirmishes, but it has prevented return to full-scale war.  However, the beleaguered IGAD Monitoring and Verification Mission (MVM) needs urgent improvement; its reporting is not timely and does not regularly identify individuals responsible for violations. Finally, the new UN Security Council sanctions regime needs to be used carefully to support the peace process –  flawed information has already led at least one individual who was not present during an atrocity to be targeted for EU sanction. 

To prevent full-scale war taking hold again while the mediation is being restructured, IGAD Plus, including existing envoys, must: 

  • pre-empt a government offensive by immediately beginning preparatory work – including with both warring parties – in South Sudan and the region before the next round of talks;
  • utilise the preparatory period to establish IGAD Plus’s mediation strategy, including how and by which member to mix pressure and incentives;
  • pay specific attention to the conflict’s regional dimensions, including by giving special observer status to Uganda;
  • prioritise dialogue with hardline military commanders on both sides to stop those not in Addis Ababa from undermining the process; and
  • significantly reform the IGAD MVM to: 
    • enable the SPLA-IO to rejoin, which may require establishing an operational base in the SPLA-IO’s Pagak headquarters and moving the Joint Technical Committee from Juba to Addis Ababa; 
    • report violations to IGAD Plus and the Security Council within 72 hours; and 
    • identify individuals, not just armed groups, responsible for violations, so the Security Council can better justify potential individual sanctions.


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