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Let There Be Peace!

The international community, set a dead-line of August 17 for the leaders of the rival, military factions in South Sudan to reach a peace agreement.  Since fighting erupted on December 15th, 2013, there have been four previous signed agreements, plus several other less formal attempts, that simply were not effective. Meanwhile, according to UN agency OCHA, 1,606,385 people have registered as internally displaced while 600,800 have fled as refugees to other countries. Reliable public estimates of the number of people killed do not exist but my very rough estimate would be somewhere close to 100,000. On top of that, there are many reports of malnutrition and deaths from starvation. UNOCHA assert 4.6 million people need food assistance but claim to have reached just under half of that number.

This new agreement was signed by the opposition leader, Riek Machar, on 17 August, followed by the president, Salva Kiir on 26 August. Even then, Salva announced he had serious reservations and handed out 12 pages intended to be an annex to the peace deal. The international negotiators, however, made it clear these pages were not part of the deal. The Vice President of South Sudan, James Wani Igga, says President Salva Kiir has chosen the right direction to bring an end to conflict: ‘So I agreed with him, but of course with reservations. There are about 16 of them, so I am one of the people very reserved because IGAD has decided to impose Riek Machar on my head,’ he said. Under the agreement, Machar will become first Vice-President, above Wani Igga. The main opposition in government, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement for Democratic Change (SPLM-DC), led by Lam Akol, also welcomed the parliamentary approval of the peace agreement, despite having not been allowed to sign the deal.

President Kiir and his camp clearly have more to lose than former vice-president Riek Machar. Salva’s group go from controlling the whole government to merely a majority of it – and not even that in Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei states, where the government will have only 46% of the posts in the state legislature. The rebels will also name the governor in oil-rich Unity and Upper Nile states. Salva will also have to manage the anger of those who will now lose their jobs and of those who felt a deal should not have been signed. It seems divisions continue to exist in the government with senior political and military leaders opposing the peace agreement. Among those who publicly rejected the accord is the powerful chief of general staff, Paul Malong, who is believed to be more influential in the army than President Kiir.

So will the peace deal hold? President Kiir this week admitted that ‘his forces’ had been violating the peace deal and warned officers in the army of punitive measures against them for doing so. He said people who pretended to be loyal to him and his government were behind the ceasefire violations. The rebels have their divisions too. The recent defection of a dozen generals highlights that a serious split in the rebel ranks remains a real possibility. So while the leaders have agreed to peace, it is not clear how many generals, with their own militias, will continue to pursue a hostile agenda. After initially criticising strongly the peace proposal, the Jieng Council of Elders, a pro-government group of leaders from South Sudan’s largest ethnic group, the Dinka, has welcomed the step taken by the President to sign for peace. That is a good sign. This time, there seem to be real efforts to generate support for the peace deal.

Solidarity member, Fr Mike Bassano returned this week to live and work among the 48,000 people in the UN camp in Malakal. He reports that there is continuing tension between the youth from the different tribes. There are deep divisions among the people that will take time to heal. A Transitional Government of National Unity is to be formed by the leaders within 90 days and will be in office for 30 months There will be elections two months before the transition ends. A new Hybrid Court for South Sudan (HCSS) will be mandated to prosecute crimes including genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious crimes such as sexual violence. The court shall be established by the African Union. Most judges, prosecutors and defence counsels will come from African states other than South Sudan. For South Sudan to become a more stable and prosperous nation, issues of poor governance, corruption and the militarisation of the political sphere must be addressed. The economy is a shambles and deteriorating law and order is a serious concern. But the general mood is one of cautious optimism that at last, long last, we are beginning to move down the pot-holed road to a lasting peace.

– Br Bill