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Sudan and South Sudan’s Merging Conflicts
Sudan and South Sudan’s Merging Conflicts
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Preventing Renewed War in South Sudan
Preventing Renewed War in South Sudan
A boy returning to this burnt family house in Leer. CRISIS GROUP/Jérôme Tubiana
Report 223 / Africa

Sudan and South Sudan’s Merging Conflicts

Talks led by East Africa’s IGAD offer the best chance to end South Sudan’s spreading war. International partners must put aside their disillusionment and rally to the regional body’s new IGAD-PLUS mechanism to help mediators reach a deal.

Executive Summary

For more than eighteen months, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the regional body mediating peace negotiations to end South Sudan’s civil war, has struggled to secure a deal in the face of deep regional divisions and the parties’ truculence. To overcome these challenges, it announced a revised, expanded mediation – “IGAD-PLUS” – including the African Union (AU), UN, China, U.S., UK, European Union (EU), Norway and the IGAD Partners Forum (IPF). The initiative is designed to present a united international front behind IGAD to the warring sides but so far it has failed to gain necessary backing from the wider international community, much of which is disillusioned with both IGAD and the South Sudanese. Rather than distance itself from IGAD, the international community needs to support a realistic, regionally-centred strategy to end the war, underpinned by coordinated threats and inducements. Supporting IGAD-PLUS’ efforts to get the parties’ agreement on a final peace deal in the coming weeks is the best – if imperfect – chance to end the conflict and prevent further regionalisation.

South Sudan’s war has brought underlying regional tensions to the fore. It is part of yet another chapter of the historic enmity between Uganda and Sudan, while rivalry between Uganda and Ethiopia over their respective influence on regional security has coloured the mediation process. Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan have dedicated envoys mediating the process while Uganda is only involved at the IGAD heads of state (HoS) level. Kampala’s military deployment in support of Juba creates facts on the ground and precluded it sending an envoy to the talks, while Addis Ababa seeks to control the mediation and eventual balance of power in the region. One of IGAD’s achievements has been to manage these tensions, thus contain the conflict, but rivalries prevented the HoS from agreeing on final aspects of power-sharing and security arrangements, enabling the warring parties to continue without agreeing.

Three major factors limited IGAD’s mediation and remain a challenge: 1) regional rivalries and power struggles; 2) centralisation of decision-making at the HoS level and related lack of institutionalisation within IGAD; and 3) challenges in expanding the peace process beyond South Sudan’s political elites. Following the oft-violated January 2014 Cessation of Hostilities agreement, the HoS mediation strategy focused on deploying a regional force to create conditions for peace negotiations. When the wider international community stymied the prospective regional force and the situation stabilised by June 2014, leaders could not overcome their divisions to agree on an effective alternate strategy. This undermined the IGAD special envoys, and the warring parties opted instead to engage directly with individual HoS in a series of initiatives in Kampala, Khartoum and Nairobi. IGAD itself had little leverage. For example, despite public threats, the warring parties understood some member states were reluctant to support sanctions, repeatedly called IGAD’s bluff and refused to compromise.

IGAD is important as a forum to regulate the regional balance of power, but it needs high-level support if the region is to reach a unified position on peace. IGAD-PLUS should become a unifying vehicle to engage the ever-shifting internal dynamics in South Sudan more effectively and address the divisions among IGAD members that enable the parties to prolong the war. In particular, the AU high representative might lead shuttle diplomacy within the region to gain consensus on the way forward. A dedicated UN envoy for South Sudan and Sudan should represent the UN in IGAD-PLUS and coordinate the various UN components’ support to the process.

IGAD-PLUS is the proposed bridge between an “African solution” approach and concerted high-level, wider international engagement. If it is to overcome the challenges that bedevilled IGAD, its efforts must be based upon regional agreement and directly engage the South Sudanese leaders with greatest influence through both pressure and inducements. To end this war, a process is needed that seeks common ground, firmly pushes the parties to reasonable compromises, builds on rather than is undermined by the Tanzanian and South African-led reunification process within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM, the dominant political force in South Sudan), and whose outcome is guaranteed by IGAD, the AU, the U.S and China. The coming weeks will require concerted international action, coordinated with IGAD, to take the final, necessary steps to secure an agreement. Failure to do so will lead to further violence and fracturing in South Sudan and leave the region without an effective mechanism to mediate its own internal divisions, with devastating consequences for the people of South Sudan and the region.

Troops of the South Sudanese army (SPLA) wait for the arrival of members of the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM) at the Pillbam military base in Juba, 16 April 2016. AFP/Albert Gonzalez Farran
Statement / Africa

Preventing Renewed War in South Sudan

The honeymoon period is now over for the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan, which formally ended the civil war in August 2015. Its guarantors need to act urgently in the next days to save it and prevent the country from returning to full-scale combat.

The agreement successfully enabled the return of Riek Machar, leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO), to Juba and the subsequent formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity in April. However, the formerly warring parties are now flouting it and increasingly preparing for widespread conflict. Implementation is stalled and fighting is already proliferating around the country. Unless something is done, it is a matter of only a little time before there is a return to war, and the agreement collapses.

For the moment, the permanent ceasefire, though increasingly strained, continues to hold in the civil war’s major conflict theatre. From the perspective of many in Salva Kiir’s wartime government, it applies only to the Greater Upper Nile region, therefore the proliferation of conflicts in Greater Equatoria and Bahr el Ghazal, such as the recent deadly clashes in Wau, does not affect their commitment to the peace agreement. However, the increasing number of discrete conflicts in other regions could trigger renewed fighting in Greater Upper Nile or Juba and lead to a far more explosive return to a broad civil conflict. 

While the SPLA-IO in Greater Upper Nile is not as strong as it was in early 2014, when many army divisions split and soldiers defected to the rebels, its presence in Juba and recruitment of forces and allies in Greater Equatoria place the capital under a renewed threat, particularly its civilians, who are at risk of ethnically-targeted violence.

In the nine months that the ceasefire has been observed, forces have simply paused hostilities while remaining in close proximity: there has been no joint security oversight or move toward unification or demobilisation. This would be an untenable status quo even if there were political progress, which there is not.

Renewed conflict would be devastating for South Sudan. It could also quickly lead to the regional contagion experienced in 2014, when the Ugandan military intervened in favour of Juba, and Sudan supported the SPLA-IO – and could reverse the nascent rapprochement between Uganda and Sudan. The risk of regional war motivated the mediation efforts of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). It, as well as other international actors, put enormous pressure on Kiir and Machar to sign the peace agreement and establish the transitional government. The collapse of the agreement could have serious implications for the regional stability that IGAD’s Heads of State worked hard to protect.

At the African Union summit in Kigali within two weeks, IGAD has a chance to prevent a return to full-scale war. The Heads of State should consider the points of dispute and give the parties clear directives to salvage the agreement and prevent war. This should include:

  • using IGAD’s authority, as the agreement’s guarantors, to re-affirm the warring parties’ commitment to the ceasefire and rejection of further violence;
  • asserting that IGAD member states are fully aware of the deterioration of the political situation and prepared to expend resources on mediation and diplomacy with key actors;
  • maintaining that IGAD member states are committed to the peace deal and will act through IGAD to secure regional stability if violence breaks out again; and
  • directing the parties to act on key tenets of the agreement and IGAD resolutions, including IGAD’s directions for a detailed plan on cantonment of forces and clarification of the terms of reference for the committee to resolve outstanding issues related to the government’s expansion of the number of South Sudan states from 10 to 28.

Against the odds, the IGAD Heads of State came together last year and in effect forced an agreement on the parties. Their current lack of focus on peace implementation allows the parties to prevaricate and avoid implementing aspects they do not like. If the Heads of State do not take decisions that reflect the seriousness of the situation and follow up with action, their two years’ peacemaking work could amount to little.