Home | Comment & Analysis    Saturday 3 July 2021

No peace, no war state in South Sudan


Ngor Arol Garang

In August 2018, conflicting parties in South Sudan, both armed and non-armed signed a peace agreement meant to bring stability to the beleaguered nation. Yet in recent months and counting, the country continues to experience a state of no peace, no war. Violent groups, including those in a loose alliance with groups in the coalition government, have frequently unleashed attacks on humanitarian organizations, pedestrians on public roads and their presence is spreading into the rural areas.

In urban areas and towns, the situation is dramatizing and being convoluted by the activities of an appearance, an elite created and financed unknown gunmen, a moniker which media and the government claim was coined by the other to depict and incriminate. This could not be more evident than when a newly elected Roman Catholic Church of its diocese of Rumbek at his residence in Rumbek was attacked and badly hurt by a group in April, bringing back memories of a similar incident in the same Diocese of Rumbek, when on 15 November 2018, a Kenyan Jesuit priest, Fr. Victor-Luke Odhiambo, the Principal of Mazzolari Teachers’ College in Cueibet was shot and killed by assailants at his residence.

The attack caught everyone unaware and shook the authorities who have now put all officials and workers, who, until the incident, was at the residence of the bishop and diocesan office, including clergy, under investigations, while highlighting the level of insecurity and fragility with which the country continues to guarantee security. It was one of the 25 incidents in the month of April alone following the killing of an aid worker in January of the same year in the state of Upper Nile in a country that reported nine other attacks and the killing of nine aid workers in 2020, bringing the number of aid workers killed to 122 since 2013 when the conflict broke out.

Such high-profile attacks and killings feed into a widespread assumption that many of the crimes in urban centres and towns are committed with knowledge or by those in the organized forces. In some cases, members of the security forces themselves are blamed by senior government officials, including the president. In others, police, or members of the Army who go for months without pay yet expected to perform their national duties on an empty stomach, are often the prime suspects of involvement in illicit activities, some of whom allegedly rents out their guns and uniforms for a share of the outcome of the illicit activities conducted at night in places where no immediate attention could be given. This adds to the talks of independent criminal groups operating without being distinguished from security forces.

And As the human organizations and the United nations pay more attention to monitoring and reporting on violations of human rights or working closely with the new institutions under the peace agreement, it is hoped this would be an opportune time for a reality check about the effectiveness of the global support for the peace process. The African’s young nation and her people need more hands-on help from the international community to overcome entrenched obstacles to peace than ever before.

Figuring out what to do next should start with an examination of how the 2018 peace agreement has – and has not – been implemented. Signed following the country’s 2013 civil war, halted by the 2015 peace agreement revitalized in 2018 after violence resumed in 2016, the agreement was supposed to rebuild a unified national army and decentralize political power and decision-making, paving the way for a more stable, secure country. But the process of translating the agreement into reality is gridlocked and, amid the political foot-dragging and brinkmanship, dashing prospects for full implementation.

While the agreement is far from perfect, it holds the core features necessary to resolve the grievances at the root of multiple conflicts since independence. In principle, the signatories – both the pre-and post-2013 governments, as well as the civil society organizations and members of the regional bloc, IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) – still support it. The international community, which pushed hard for the agreement and committed to supporting implementation should now focus on urgent measures to break the gridlock and keep this important pillar of peace in the country and potential bulwark against violent contagion in the region from falling by the wayside.

First, the coalition of countries and guarantors that brokered the agreement should launch a renewed, high-level diplomatic effort, backed by international senior military advisers, to work with the government and the civil organizations to develop a blueprint for a unified national army.

The army’s inability to secure and control the proliferation of weapons in the hands of the civil population and the apparent reluctance to quickly embark on disarmament, demobilize and integrate the ex-combatants as prescribed by the peace agreement, has created a security vacuum in the rural areas and in some urban areas. Left out of the national army, the armed groups are consolidating an apparently new, parallel security structure, presenting a real security challenge and threat as they insist on guarantees to protect their lives and properties. While issues which such group raise appear genuine, their activities are mimicking an emerging rival to the national defence and security forces and have at times appeared resistant to integrating them and weaponry intonational forces.

The integration of armed groups into national forces is a prerequisite for sustainable peace, while the creation of a unified national army would strengthen the ability to address threats from violent hardline and organized crime groups. After years of one step forward, three or more steps backwards, it is time for all sides to agree on the structure and makeup of the unified army and to begin to put it in place.

Second, the immediate neighbours, who are increasingly threatened by the metastasizing violence, should play a more prominent role in spearheading efforts to overcome specific roadblocks to the agreement’s implementation and in addressing shared vulnerabilities. After 2013 and again following the events of 2016, the IGAD member countries with special attention and involvement of Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Kenya responded with determination, pressing for stoppage of violence conflict and return the country to a peaceful path. Concerted encouragement and pressure are just as necessary to help the signatories breakthrough on long-stalled power-sharing arrangements, justice, and economic development provisions in the agreement, many of which are core demands of the ordinary people and have remained largely unaddressed.

Finally, guarantors and partners need to push the signatories to explain the agreement’s potential benefits to the public and to understand citizens’ perspectives on it. Many South Sudanese distrust, misunderstand or oppose the peace agreement because they have not seen results from it and because political actors have largely mischaracterized it. Although outreach efforts have begun, more is needed, including opening space for public debate, which could be supported by the international community. With access to information, public apprehensions should diminish, and accountability improve.

A fundamental change, of course, is needed for a peace agreement to remain viable. International partners and friends of South Sudan have long seen themselves in a supporting role in the peace process, assuming the government could take responsible, corrective action to address the country’s problems. The delay in appointing members of the council of states and the state legislators call into question that assumption and underline that the parties need to be renewed, focused international support to fulfil the promise of the agreement and address the issues at the core of the violence that has plagued the country since 2005 when the war between the north and south ended. Reinvigorated, decisive action by the agreement’s international supporters could provide the support the parties need to move forward. Short of such action, the agreement will continue to wither and the prospects for sustainable peace – and the region – recede.

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