The South Sudan Peace Deal and Prospects for Peacebuilding
South Sudan’s relapse into war on December 15, 2013, came in the wake of President Salva Kiir’s allegations that Riek Machar, his one-time vice president, had masterminded a coup d’état against him. The civil strife this development triggered has lasted for twenty-two months.1 After previously refusing to do so, citing a number of reservations President Kiir finally caved in to immense international pressure and, on August 27, 2015, in the capital Juba, signed the Agreement of the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan,2 which Machar had earlier signed in Addis Ababa. Since the outbreak of civil war, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has led the mediation 3 between South Sudan’s warring factions; these efforts have been tortuous and convoluted, with ceasefire agreements breaking down on seven occasions.
South Sudan is a young state that attained independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011, after a protracted war of liberation. Six years previously, in 2005, the country had embarked on post-conflict statebuilding and reconstruction under the limited regional autonomy granted by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed with the Sudanese government. Many analysts had predicted South Sudan’s unresolved border issue and its formula for splitting oil rents with Sudan would spur further antagonism and violence between the two states.
Ironically, those lingering tensions were quickly forgotten, with South Sudan’s peacebuilding challenges instead stemming largely from parlous corruption and neopatrimonial decadence. Alex de Waal, an expert on South Sudan, writes that kleptocracy and a “political marketplace” system of governance was mainly responsible for the relapse to armed conflict.4 The country has grappled with high levels of corruption, ethnic tensions, and military elitism, and making the transition from war to peace—especially in such a fragile state—was always going to be difficult.5 The war that started in December 2013 was a culmination of the convoluted challenges of reconstruction and transition the country encountered.
President Kiir and Riek Machar were at the center of the grueling war, which, according to Oxfam, 6 caused many deaths and displaced 1.5 million people. It sent more than 100,000 in search of refuge at various UN facilities across the country and another 500,000 fleeing to neighboring countries. In the past year, as many as 4 million people have faced severe hunger and malnutrition.
In an effort to force the South Sudan government to broker peace, the international community—namely, the UN Security Council—imposed a number of embargoes and sanctions targeting senior government officials. At the forefront was the United States, demanding that the warring parties strike a peace deal, and, after months of deliberations, a team led by IGAD drew up an agreement on the resolution of the civil conflict.
The agreement acknowledged the suffering and distress caused in South Sudan by the conflict and committed to ending it by imposing a ceasefire.
The agreement also acknowledged the need for political inclusivity. One source of the antagonism between Kiir and Machar was military patronage, which had divided the army along ethnic lines. To address this, the agreement proposed the establishment of a transitional government of national unity (TGoNU) with a power-sharing arrangement to commence ninety days after the agreement was signed and with a thirty-month durational life span. Sixty days before the end of the transitional period, in 2018, the TGoNU would hold elections to establish a democratically elected government. The agreement proposed an executive comprising the president, a first vice president, a vice president, a council of ministers, and deputy ministers.
Viewing the Agreement from the Standpoint of Peacebuilding
Post-conflict peacebuilding and reconstruction present a complex challenge to any nascent state emerging from war. In South Sudan, negotiated tradeoffs among political elites were inevitable following independence. Although the war has had a devastating impact, the IGAD peace agreement offers a renewal and a platform for rebuilding the state. Pursuant to it, the TGoNU will restore peace—meaning it will expedite relief protection and offer rehabilitation and resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees—along with security and stability in the country. Although ambitious, the deal also envisions the consolidation of a permanent constitution.
A key aspect of conflict mitigation is the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) of ex-combatants and rebel forces into the national army. The deal offers DDR through a security sector transformation (SST) mechanism, which includes the unification of the army and security forces and reform of the security sector.
Also of great significance in the agreement are the issues of transitional justice, accountability, reconciliation, and healing. Power-sharing agreements have oftentimes clouded the need for justice and accountability, which are required for statebuilding in post-conflict situations, especially for victims who bore the brunt of violence and abuse. In South Sudan, both sides committed numerous atrocities during the armed conflict.
Something similar was witnessed in Kenya’s power-sharing arrangement, in which transitional justice was incorporated into the deal under the National Accord and Reconciliation Act (2008). 7 In South Sudan, the TGoNU will create legislation for the establishment of a Commission for Truth, Reconciliation, and Healing (CTRH), which will inquire into all aspects of human rights violations and abuses, breaches to the rule of law, and excessive abuses of power committed against all persons.
More significantly, an independent hybrid judicial body—the Hybrid Court for South Sudan (HCSS)8—as well as a Compensation and Reparation Authority (CRA), will be established. In conformity to international standards, the proposed court will have jurisdiction ratione temporis (that is, jurisdiction in terms of the time period when the crimes were committed) from December 15, 2013, through the end of the transitional period. The court will also have jurisdiction ratione materiae (jurisdiction in terms of the types of crime committed) with respect to crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes, and other serious crimes under international law. The deal also extends to guidelines and modalities for credible national elections.
President Kiir and Riek Machar have so far shown confidence in the deal, despite earlier reservations from hardliners in both factions. Without doubt, the agreement resets the platform for peacebuilding and state reconstruction for South Sudan. Endorsement of it by South Sudan’s parliament would be another major step toward rebuilding a country that has been blighted by the scourge of armed conflict for the better part of its modern history.
- Voice of America, “South Sudan Makes Progress on Cease-fire,” last updated October 26, 2015, http://www.voanews.com/content/south-sudan-makes-progress-on-ceasefire-after-rebels-sign-security-deal/3022956.html, accessed November 4, 2015. ↩
- Intergovernmental Authority on Development, Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 2015), http://www.sudantribune.com/IMG/pdf/final_proposed_compromise_agreement_for_south_sudan_conflict.pdf?utm_content=bufferbd37f&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer, accessed November 4, 2015. ↩
- Intergovernmental Authority on Development, Office of the IGAD Special Envoys for South Sudan, last updated October 28, 2015, http://southsudan.igad.int/, accessed November 4, 2015. ↩
- Alex de Waal, “When Kleptokracy Becomes Insolvent: Brute Causes of the Civil War in South Sudan,” African Affairs 113 (2014): 347–69. ↩
- Kenneth Omeje and Nicodemus Minde, “Stakeholder Perspectives on Priorities for Postconflict State Building and Peace Building in South Sudan,” Africa Peace and Conflict Journal 7 (2014): 14–29. ↩
- Oxfam International, “Crisis in South Sudan,” last updated September 16, 2015, https://www.oxfam.org/en/emergencies/crisis-south-sudan, accessed November 4, 2015. ↩
- National Council for Law Reporting, National Accord and Reconciliation Act, (no. 4, 2008, revised 2012), http://kenyalaw.org/kl/fileadmin/pdfdownloads/Acts/NationalAccordandReconciliationAct_No4of2008.pdf, accessed November 4, 2015. ↩
- A Hybrid Court of this nature is a judicial body composed of independent judges that combines predetermined rules and procedures of municipal and international law to adjudicate on alleged crimes punishable under international criminal law. The Hybrid Court will be established by the African Union Commission as an independent judicial court and shall investigate and prosecute individuals bearing responsibility for violation of international crimes. ↩