Peace partners in South Sudan agree to unify security command structures

The parties to the R-ARCSS have signed, on 3 April 2022, an agreement to unify the security command structure.

Photo: UNMISS
Photo: UNMISS

The parties to the Revitalised Agreement on Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) have signed, on 3 April 2022, an agreement to unify the security command structure. The deal, which was brokered by neighbouring Sudan, is significant in that it allows for the integration of armed opposition commanders and forces from the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army In Opposition (SPLM/A IO) and South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA) into the South Sudan People’s Defence Force (SSPDF).

Despite the delays in the implementation of the R-ARCSS, the peace deal remains a window of opportunity to transform the governance system, security architecture and economic and financial management institutions.

The deal is important because the security sector in the country will finally be managed under one command structure, with President Kiir being the Commander-in-Chief, deputised by Dr Riek Machar. According to the deal, the opposition commanders will be integrated into the armed forces within a week. This will be followed by graduation and deployment of unified forces to be implemented within a period not exceeding two months. According to chapter two of the R-ARCSS, the training and redeployment of the necessary unified forces should have been completed in the first eight (8) months of the pre-transitional period. However, it was delayed for a long time as training of forces underwent difficult logistical challenges including shortages of food, water, medicine and other needs. This led to cases of death among trainees, which forced some soldiers to desert cantonment sites.

Background

South Sudan attained its independence from Sudan on 9th July 2011, following a referendum held in January the same year, after more than 50 years of struggle for emancipation and freedom from the social, economic and political domination of Sudan. However, in December 2013, leadership wrangles and tensions within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) led to the outbreak of armed conflict between the SPLM in government and the opposition movement that became known as the SPLM-IO.  The conflict continued in July 2016 despite the peace deal signed in August 2015, which later collapsed. The violent conflict has created one of the worst humanitarian crisis in modern times. Many lives and properties were lost. Armed violence is characterised by defections and re-defections where political and security actors change loyalties from one party to another to grab political and economic opportunities provided by peace deals. 

In September 2018, a revitalised peace deal was signed between the rival parties. However, its implementation has been faced with many challenges including limited political will, funding and ongoing deadly communal clashes. By now, the agreement life span only has 10 months left before the general election, which are due in February 2023, but most of the provisions remain un-implemented. It is important for the unity government and the national parliament to expedite the approval of the permanent constitution making bills, amend security laws, political parties and elections acts, reconstitute specialised commissions including the Judicial Service Commission in line with the R-ARCSS to pave the way for holding free, fair and credible elections in South Sudan.

On 24 March 2022, SPLM/A-IO led by Dr Riek Machar withdrew from the security arrangement mechanisms. The withdrawal, and subsequent suspension, was a protest to the accusation they made against SSPDF forces, under the leadership of President Salva Kiir, for attacking their forces in the Upper Nile region. This created tensions and fear of renewed clashes in Juba. Fortunately, peace partners and the guarantors engaged in a dialogue, which resulted in this new 3 April 2022 agreement to merge the forces.

Armed violence is characterised by defections and re-defections where political and security actors change loyalties from one party to another to grab political and economic opportunities provided by peace deals.

Prospects for Peace

While the agreement on unification of security command structures, graduation and deployment of unified forces are significant steps towards the political, security and economic stability of the country, the timely implementation of the security deal, trust deficit between the political leaders and the political will to fully implement the agreement could still be a challenge.  For instance, prior to the recent signing of the security deal, the president ordered the release of a declassified report entitled, ‘Pushing the reset button for South Sudan’, that implicated senior opposition leaders who serve in his government. The report claims that the 2013 and 2016 conflicts were triggered by an attempted coup, led by Dr Riek Machar, contrary to the findings of the African Union Commission of Inquiry Report, which found no evidence of this narrative. On 6 April 2022, the President launched consultations for the Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing (CTRH), which were long overdue. The African Union (AU), in collaboration with the government of South Sudan, should also expedite the long awaited process for initiating legislation to establish and operationalise the Hybrid Court for South Sudan as required by chapter five of the R-ARCSS.

Despite the delays in the implementation of the R-ARCSS, the peace deal remains a window of opportunity to transform the governance system, security architecture and economic and financial management institutions that can deliver the needed social, and development services to the impoverished people of South Sudan. The national government and legislature should ensure that revenues generated from oil and non-oil sources are prioritised towards addressing prevailing poverty, improving social and development services such as quality healthcare, education, construction of tarmac roads and dams as well as transforming and maintaining the security sector and the rule of law. 

The government should also improve the opening up of civic and political spaces to create a conducive environment for ordinary people, civil society and political actors to contribute effectively to nation building. The people of South Sudan have been held hostage, without enjoying peace dividends for too long. The parties to the agreement, civil society, guarantors, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), AU and the international community should therefore take serious steps to ensure effective implementation of the peace agreement to prevent and mitigate the risks of renewed fighting between the parties and armed holdout groups. Fortunately, the civil society, guarantors, Troika countries (United States of America, United Kingdom and Norway) and the international community have played key roles since the start of the peace process in 2014 through to the signing of R-ARCSS on 12 September 2018. For example, the Voluntary Civil Society Taskforce for the Implementation of the Peace Agreement (the Taskforce), in a bid to defuse the recent political and security tensions, issued a press statement which called for parties to immediately seize hostilities, adhere to ceasefire agreements and engage in dialogue to resolve the stalemate over the unification of command structures, graduate and redeploy unified forces. Other peace partners also issued similar statements. 

Dr. Moses John, PhD is a nonviolent action and peacebuilding civil society activist.

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