South Sudan and IGAD: Seize the Day
South Sudan and IGAD: Seize the Day
Floods, Displacement and Violence in South Sudan
Floods, Displacement and Violence in South Sudan
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyetta (front L) at the 27th Extraordinary Summit IGAD Heads of State and Government at the National Palace in Addis Ababa, 25 August, 2014. AFP
Commentary / Africa 3 minutes

South Sudan and IGAD: Seize the Day

The upcoming Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to be held on 30 January, is a rare window of opportunity for the regional body, and its partners, to compel South Sudan’s warring parties to make the compromises necessary for peace. 

Pressure is increasing on the parties to sign onto a power-sharing deal amidst an uptick in troop movements, military skirmishes and hostile rhetoric about impending offensives. But this pressure is not yet enough. Without a sufficiently detailed agreement on power-sharing and security arrangements by the end of the IGAD summit (which will be held on the sidelines of the African Union (AU) summit), the entire IGAD peace process will be in jeopardy, with a likely return to intense conflict and deepening regionalisation of South Sudan’s war.

Following the inconclusive round of talks in late December, IGAD and its partners, particularly the U.S., have increased pressure on President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar (the former vice president) to accept a power-sharing deal, but done relatively little to alter the calculus for war decisively. Despite its weaker military position, Machar’s Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement/Army-In Opposition (SPLM/A-IO) is unwilling to compromise on key aspects of a power-sharing deal and hoping the government (suffering huge revenue shortfalls with the drop in oil prices) will weaken over time, while many in the government hope that battlefield success will minimise the needed concessions to conclude the peace negotiations in Addis Ababa. This brinkmanship, based on the belief there is more to be gained by war than peace, is possible due to the competing interests of South Sudan’s neighbours, international allies and other private actors.

Even as the summit approaches, there are multiple, overlapping and, at times, contradictory processes, including: the IGAD mediation – led by mediators from Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan – the AU Heads of State committee, the Tanzanian-led process to re-unite the competing factions of the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM), Chinese hosted meetings with the SPLM/A-IO in Sudan, a sidebar Kenyan effort, and dialogue between the Ugandans and the parties in Kampala, among other ad hoc initiatives. Meanwhile, the report of the African Union Commission of Inquiry, investigating atrocities committed by both sides, is expected to be acted upon at the AU Heads of State summit in late January.

Unfortunately, while international pressure is the strongest it has been in months, these processes are not operating under a united strategy. IGAD has not taken a visible lead in marshalling disparate actors behind a defined strategy, creating the space for the proliferation of processes. This is undermining the pressure that is being applied and allows for forum shopping.

New initiatives are going over ground already covered in the IGAD process, giving the parties opportunities to backtrack or stall on commitments made in Addis Ababa rather than move forward with difficult compromises. The sophistication of the parties’ tactics is often underestimated by the new initiatives and their backers, who have not adequately familiarised themselves with the IGAD process, struggle with the nuances of the South Sudanese context, and forget that the South Sudanese have been negotiating peace deals for decades. These initiatives are quickly becoming an obstacle to a genuine process. Parallel processes should be put on hold and there should be better clarity with respect to the relationship between the IGAD mediation and complementary processes. An international contact group (or similar structure) including IGAD, the AU, the UN, the Troika (the U.S., UK and Norway), the European Union, China, Tanzania, South Africa and Egypt should be established to reinforce and support the IGAD lead of the mediation.

Most critically, the U.S. and China – South Sudan’s biggest international patrons – need to work together in building consensus between divided regional states, with whom they have influence, to ensure that the mounting pressure finds traction at the summit. China’s efforts with Sudan and the SPLM/A-IO should be matched by the U.S. with Uganda. Sustaining this unity of purpose is also fundamental to the equally hard work of turning an agreement between elites into peace on the ground.

To take advantage of the IGAD summit’s window of opportunity, the following should happen:

  • IGAD should take a more visible lead in coordinating international actors behind a single, well-defined strategy through the formation of an international contact group or similar structure;
  • the international community should halt efforts that could undermine the overarching IGAD process and clarify the relationship between complementary processes and the IGAD mediation;
  • the U.S. and China should continue to work toward harmonising the regional approach to South Sudan.

The coming weeks will be decisive for the trajectory of South Sudan’s war and the international community must not allow yet another opportunity for peace to pass.

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