South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and rebel commander Riek Machar have signed an agreement committing them to end the engagement which has challenged the country since December 2013. The agreement specifies the adjournment of further talks until February 19th ahead of a final peace pact on March 5th. The negotiations were held under the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) which includes Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Uganda, Sudan and South Sudan as members.
South Sudan, the world’s newest state, has experienced a challenging beginning which the peace breakthrough might change. South Sudan gained independence from Sudan as a result of a referendum in January 2011 in which a majority of South Sudanese voted to secede.
In December 2013 President Salva Kiir disbanded his cabinet and alleged that former deputy Riek Machar was involved in an attempted coup. This led to military engagements, which in turn led to the passing of thousands and more than 800,000 people being displaced. The recent peace agreements may enable those displaced to return to their homes in the future. The state stands to receive the majority of Sudan’s oil revenue. Whilst levels of production have been affected by the engagements within the country, these levels may rise with a successful peace plan.
President Salva Kiir was formerly Vice-President of Sudan under power-sharing arrangements until South Sudan’s independence. Following independence he was made President of the country and has since attempted to make government more transparent through plans to subject government contracts to procurement legislation and by making officials publish their assets and earnings. In mid-2013 President Kiir changed his entire cabinet – including Vice-President Riek Machar – and in December made allegations of Machar’s involvement in a planned coup. This led to the challenging circumstances of military engagements in which South Sudan found itself until these recent peace agreements.
The peace talks may result in President Salva Kiir retaining his office with Riek Machar being reinstated as Vice-President. The talks have been adjourned until the 19th February so as to allow the different factions to consider potential power sharing arrangements. According to the chief mediator Ambassador Seuym Mesfen of Ethiopia; to protect the peace agreement any engagement by the factions will warrant as yet unspecified consequences from both the African Union and the United Nations Security Council. The peace is hoped to calm relations between the ethnic groups of the Nuer, whom many consider Machar to be leader, and the Dinka, whom Kiir receives support from.
The people of South Sudan have experienced challenges during these engagements and the peace agreement might bring relief as well as the opportunity for those displaced to return to their homes. Equally, if the agreement is adhered to, it may bolster attempts to distribute aid into the country. The success of a future permanent peace plan may rely on the willingness of the government to reach a power-sharing agreement that could strengthen unity between the different ethnic groups within the country.
The agreement might do much to stabilize the country whilst also boosting the South Sudanese economy through allowing higher levels of oil production. Furthermore, a power-sharing arrangement may increase the representation of the different ethnic groups and may create a stronger more unified government.
An important characteristic to the negotiations is the involvement of countries from the region and the role that they played in mediation. Although the UK and US were supportive of the terms the involvement of other African countries in the talks may have lent it more credibility. The precedent of heavy involvement in mediation and peace-brokering in Africa may allow other challenging situations to be resolved in the region.
Whilst the talks are still ongoing, the ending of military engagement in the country may allow President Kiir to continue with his attempts to increase transparency within the government and might go some way in improving living standards in the world’s newest country.
How might the peace bring productive benefits to South Sudan and the region?