Missed Opportunities for Peace in the First Decade of Independent South Sudan

The 9th of July 2021 marks the first decade of independence of the Republic of South Sudan and the challenges of nation-state building. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) paved the way for separation of Southern Sudan from the Sudan in 2011 through a referendum for self-determination. Though the parties pledged to make unity of the Sudan attractive, the people did not believe.

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Photo by Daniel X. O’Neil
Photo by Daniel X. O’Neil

Separation was the end-result of the CPA implementation. There was great hope for betterment and viability of South Sudan. However, the optimism did not last long as power struggles and tribal politics ignited the civil war in 2013 with serious setbacks to the well-being of the population of over 12 million. The region and international community pressured the leaders of the warring parties to make peace in 2015 and form the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) for a 3-year period. The deal collapsed in 2016 and civil war resumed. 

Tweet: The disconnect between national and subnational levels of governance and public administration has been identified as another serious challenge to peacebuilding

The warring parties were pressured again to embrace peace talks and come up with the 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) and establish the Revitalized Government of National Unity (RTGoNU). They agreed to implement the resuscitated peace deal within the revised timeline of 42 months with focus on reforms of the four pillars: security and defence, governance and administration, economy and development, and humanitarian and reconstruction. However, many benchmarks of peacebuilding were missed from the start of the implementation phase of the eight chapters and annexes of the R-ARCSS. The laxities in the revitalization processes appeared through the dodged institutional reforms, neglected humanitarian reconstruction, mismanaged economy, delayed transitional justice, ignored people-centred constitution making process, deferred electoral preparations, disvalued monitoring recommendations, and disrespected supremacy of the R-ARCSS in running the public affairs. These gaps have been exacerbated by the entrenched adversarial attitudes and failure to put competently qualified officials in the right public offices.

The riskiest of all these is the intentional delays to jointly train and graduate the necessary unified forces so that they get deployed across the country for confidence building and safeguarding of the citizens as they recuperate from the shocks of destructive conflict. The most powerful commanders from the side of government and opposition have held closely and unilaterally to their forces in contravention of the R-ARCSS. They did not trust the cantonment for disarmament, screening, joint training, and re-integration of their forces.  They preferred to maintain the status quo with disregard to the R-ARCSS provisions and the rule of law. For example, the Chief of General Staff of SPLM/A (In Opposition) and other formidable field commanders have refused to go to Juba and have continued to operate in the countryside with no links to the First Vice President who is their Commander-in-Chief. The holdout armed groups that refused to be part of 2018 R-ARCSS have also been carrying out insurgencies in the countryside, especially in the porous areas bordering Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Their subversive activities have prevented the displaced civilians from going back home and reconstructing their livelihoods.

The missed opportunities in implementing the R-ARCSS in accordance with the agreed timelines have been blamed on lack of political will, availability of resources, and the unforeseen emergence of #COVID-19

Though the Presidency was reconstituted in February 2020 to accommodate incumbent President Salva Kiir, First Vice President Riek Machar, and the other four Vice Presidents who represent the other parties to the R-ARCSS,  a lot has remained to be desired in discharging their mandate of implementing the R-ARCSS. They only met three times  in two years and COVID-19 was used as a card for justification of the gaps. The same challenge was faced by the Council of Ministers where the members of Presidency and 35 ministers have been accommodated. Most of the national commissions and other specialized mechanisms have not been reconstituted to be supervised by Vice Presidents in line with clusters of the Council of Ministers. New ones have not been established apart from the security arrangement mechanisms  whose operations were paralyzed by lack of funding and misappropriation of the scarce resources by those who were put in charge. Though the Transitional National Legislative Assembly was reconstituted and expanded to accommodate 550 members, this came late in 2021 and has remained dysfunctional due to complaints on some appointments without consensus within the parties. The National Council of States has not been reconstituted to complete the composition of the national legislature with equal representation of the 10 states of South Sudan. The judiciary has also been operating on the old model and in disregard of reforms required for R-ARCSS implementation, including establishment of independent mechanisms for transitional justice against the gravest crimes committed in South Sudan since December 2013. All these delays have had a negative bearing on the required oversight and checks of the executive wing of the RTGoNU.

The disconnect between national and subnational levels of governance and public administration has been identified as another serious challenge to peacebuilding. The principal political leaders in Juba, the seat of the national government, have rarely visited the countryside to have first-hand information on the status and extent of implementation of the R-ARCSS. Such avoidances had reflected negatively on the devolution of powers and resources to local units, which have been neglected and abandoned in some cases due to the abscondment of national responsibilities and communal anarchy of armed youth. There has been a lot of bickering by the parties to show weight and relevance in local politics by claiming partisan allegiances therein for capture of power but without bothering about people-centred development and service delivery.

The political situation tells us that peacebuilding is not easy, especially when dealing with militarized politicians who do not believe in the power of civilians but only in liberation credentials for leadership entitlement

Without completing the agreed national structures of governance and public administration, the RTGoNU will remain partial for any commendable progress in peacebuilding in post-conflict South Sudan. A lot of challenges will still be faced in carrying out institutional reforms, enhancing the rule of law, improving the economy, responding to humanitarian needs, and addressing the conditions required for drawing up a people-centred federal constitution on the basis of which genuine democratic elections can take place. The missed opportunities in implementing the R-ARCSS in accordance with the agreed timelines have been blamed on lack of political will, availability of resources, and the unforeseen emergence of COVID-19. The combination of these negative factors has made the citizens lose hope for a lasting peace in South Sudan, making the 10-year anniversary of the declaration of the independence less meaningful to the suffering citizens. The political situation tells us that peacebuilding is not easy, especially when dealing with militarized politicians who do not believe in the power of civilians but only in liberation credentials for leadership entitlement. Reforms for change is still a long wait for South Sudan.

James Okuk is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Strategic and Policy Studies (CSPS) in Juba.

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