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South Sudan’s comprehensive peace deal, which was in the making for many months, is finally concluded, but 10 days later than its initial deadline of 17 August 2015. The only remaining but one of most important parties, President Salva Kiir’s government, expressed its agreement to the deal in a signing ceremony held in Juba on 26 August 2015.

It came after a great deal of cost, 20 months of brutal civil war; tens of thousands of civilian deaths and forced displacement of more than 1.6 million people.

To sign or not to sign: the choice that never was 

On departing Addis Ababa without signing compromise South Sudan peace agreement on the 17 August deadline, President Salva Kiir asked for and secured 15 more days to make final decision on signing the deal.

The additional15 days earned him no opportunity for securing a better deal his government was after. As all other signatories including the SPLM-IO and the former detainees signed the agreement during the 17 August signing ceremony in Addis Ababa, his refusal to do the same left his government isolated and cornered. In substantive terms as well, the only option available to him even with the additional 15 days was to sign the deal without any changes or amendments. The alternative option was made more costly with the UN introduction of a resolution for imposing new UN sanctions that the US proposed.

It thus came as no surprise when the announcement came from Juba that President Kiir would finally sign the deal long before the end of the 15 days. On 26 August in the presence of regional leaders and other invited dignitaries, he entered his signature to the compromise agreement.

President Kiir’s refusal to sign the deal on 17 August was in the main a result of deep divisions in his government. Major players in his government including some cabinet ministers and army generals and leaders of his support base were against various terms of the compromise agreement. If anything, the additional time only bought him time to shore up support for signing the deal and for consolidating his position vis-à-vis members of his government opposing the agreement.

The 72 page long peace agreement consists of eight chapters outlining, among others, the establishment of the transitional national unity government (TNUG) for a 30 month period of time and the formula for power-sharing; permanent ceasefire and transitional security arrangements; transitional justice, accountability and reconciliation; the parameters for the making of the permanent constitution; and a robust monitoring and implementation framework.


The power-sharing arrangement in the TNUG is in some ways return back to the status quo ante. While President Kiir maintains his position as President, his archrival Dr Reik Machar would return to Juba as the first vice president, a position not too dissimilar to the one he held before his dismissal in 2013. But the power-sharing under this agreement goes further and institutionalizes and nationalises the two warring parties. At the national level the ratio of power division as outlined in Chapter I is 53% for government, 33% for SPLM-IO and 7 % each for former detainees and other political parties. Apart from the 325 existing membership of the national assembly to which those lost their membership following the outbreak of the war will be reinstated, it will also add a further 50 additional members that the SPLM-IO will appoint, one by former detainees and 17 others to be nominated by political parties.

At the state level, two formula is applied one for the three conflict affected states and another for the remaining 7 states. In the three states of Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglie most affected by the war, the government gets the largest share of 46%, SPLM-IO 40% and former detainees and political parties 7% each. Additionally, the SPLM-IO is to nominate the governors of Unity and Upper Nile and the government Jonglie’s governor. In the other seven states of South Sudan, the SPLM-IO gets 15% government portfolios and seats.

Ceasefire and security arrangements

On security arrangements it provides, among others, for at least 18 months out of the 30 months of transitional period for completing the integration of the two rival forces loyal to president Salva Kiir and the armed opposition under Dr Machar. In a framework on which President Kiir’s side expressed strong opposition, the agreement stipulates that the two principals will separately be the commanders-in-chief of their respective armies, pending completion of the integration process.

In another security arrangement that attracted the opposition of President Kiir’s government, South Sudan’s capital, the agreement requires that all military forces within Juba shall be redeployed outside a radius of 25km from the centre of the capital Juba within a maximum of 90 days starting a month after the signing of the agreement. All state security actors allied to either party, including Ugandan forces deployed to South Sudan for supporting the government, would have to leave the country within 45 days except in Western Equatoria state, where Ugandan forces have been operating on the basis of a regional arrangement for combating the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Transitional justice mechanisms

The agreement also addresses itself to the grievances that the civil war exacerbated or created, the social animosity it resulted in and the serious violations of human rights perpetrated. Most notably, it provided for the establishment in six months time of a Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing along the lines proposed by the AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan. The Commission, combining South Sudanese and other African personalities, will investigate into all aspects of human rights violations and abuses, breaches of the rule of law and excessive abuses of power, committed against all persons in South Sudan by State, non-State actors, and or their agents and allies.

Most notably, it stipulated for a Hybrid Court for South Sudan as a measure for establishing accountability and fighting impunity. The Hybrid Court is tasked with the responsibility of to investigate and prosecute individuals bearing the responsibility for serious crimes including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

It is stipulated that no official capacity is a ground to avoid criminal responsibility. Equally, individuals indicted or convicted by the Hybrid Court will be ineligible for participating in the transitional or subsequent government or will lose their membership in government if already in government.

A firm promise for peace or another false dawn?

Certainly, the signing by President Kiir of the peace agreement marks a progress. It signals sparkle of light at the end of South Sudan’s conflict tunnel. Indeed, if followed through, not only that it will end the brutal fighting that inflicted a great deal of destruction and suffering to the people of South Sudan but may also create the ground for undertaking various reform and transitional processes for rectifying some of the structural issues underlying the civil war.

However, contrary to expectations the signing by President Kiir of the peace agreement was not a celebratory moment. As it became clear from his speech, President Kiir’s camp, not unexpectedly, has not fully embraced and welcomed the agreement. He signed the agreement grudgingly and expressing dissatisfaction. He told the attendees of the signing ceremony that ‘with all the reservations that we have, we will sign this document’.

President Kiir’s lack of enthusiasm for the agreement he signed did not end with him declaring unspecified general reservations in his speeches. In a sign that revealed much deeper and stronger qualm to important portions of the agreement, President Kiir, before signing the agreement, initialed a 12-page document detailing a list of 16 reservations. Although he wanted this document to be annexed to the agreement, IGAD leaders declined his request for adding their signatures.

There were a number of people in President Kiir’s camp who consider the power-sharing arrangement as involving too much concession to the opposition with some describing it as amounting to a sell-out. If reports of a walk out by the Minister of Information from the signing cermoney and the conspicious absence of the chief of staff of the army at the event are anything to go by, not every one in his government is behind President Kiir’s acceptance of the agreement. Certainly, for such members of President Kiir anything short of outright military victory or keeping the government’s supreme dominance in the TNUG is acceptable. Even the production in writing of the list of reservations, which mostly reflects their perspective of a peace deal that meets their expectations, would be insufficient. The resultant deep fracture in President Kirr’s house and the power struggle it may trigger is a cause for concern. As far fetched as it may sound, the risk that the factionalism may descend into a coup or mutiny should not be discounted.

As it turned out, the reservations President Kiir declared on signing the agreement extend to the establishment of a position of first vice president, the 46-40-7 power-sharing ration in the three conflict affected states, the 15% share of the SPLM-IO in the other seven states and the nomination of governorship by SPLM-IO for Unity and Upper Nile.

With respect to security arrangements, the issues on which the government extended its reservations include the redeployment of all security forces from Juba, the designation of Juba as one of the areas for cantonment of forces previously in combat and the reference to disarming of the Sudanese Revolutionary Forces.

The government registers further substantive reservations on the supervisory role assigned in the agreement to the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission and the stipulation for two-thirds vote of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission in the stringent procedure for the amendment of the agreement and the provision in the chapter on Transitional Justice, Accountability, Reconciliation and Healing for the establishment of a Reparation and compensation commission.

In legal terms the effect of such reservations does not reach to the point of nullifying the essence of the agreement. In a statement she issued soon after the signing of the agreement, US National Security Advisor Susan Rice stated that the US does not ‘recognize any reservations or addendums to that agreement.’ However it manifests in political terms strong lack of commitment on the part of the government to the agreement it signed.

Certainly, President Kiir’s camp is not the only group expressing misgivings to the peace agreement. Military factions that recently splintered from the SPLM-IO also expressed not only their opposition to the deal but also their plan to continue fighting. While the seriousness of the challenge that such divisions is difficult to gauge, it manifests the fragility of the alliance in Mr Machar’s camp.

It emerges from the foregoing that the context surrounding the signing of the deal is such that it is not strong enough as a firm promise for peace. The answer as to whether it will be another false dawn is ‘it depends’. It on depends on what happens in the coming days and on the implementation of the terms of the agreement. This further depends on whether the forces of peace and the costs of continuing with the war or derailing the peace remain stronger and higher.

Apart from and perhaps due to the foregoing issues, the Achilles’ heel of this agreement lies in the effective implementation of all of its parts including humanitarian assistance and socio-economic reconstruction dimensions. The area where the peace agreement faces the first major test concerns the observation of the timelines and provisions of the ceasefire and transitional security arrangements. While repeated breach of previous ceasefire commitments offers no ground for optimism, if the parties cease hostilities as stipulated in 3 days and disengage, separate and withdraw their forces as provided it will be the first simple but important step to boost confidence and facilitate implementation of other aspects of the security provisions.

As the history of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement shows, those who campaigned for, facilitated and supported the peace processes (partners of South Sudan or guarantors of the peace deal) should not leave implementation of the agreement to the parties to the agreement. Indeed, President Kiir himself in his speech before signing the deal admitted that ‘I warn you regional leaders you will stand with us in the implementation; otherwise we may spoil it if it is left to us’.

Apart from the challenge that the factionalism and divisions in both camps presents to the peace agreement, due to their potential of descending into further splintering or even military showdown taking the form of a coup or mutiny, the tendency of each side to short change the other during the implementation process can seriously derail the transition. There should be a very strong, active and dynamic oversight and (formal and informal) dispute prevention and settlement mechanisms. The guarantors of the peace agreement should also maintain as much, or even more, active and continuous engagement. This should be in a much more cohesive, unified and coordinated way (based on agreed upon procedures alongside and within the framework of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC)).

It is therefore upto the partners of South Sudan to shoulder the greatest responsibility. This is crucial at all stages of the implementation process but more so at this initial stage when the peace remains fragile and susceptible to all sorts of issues that can easily derail it. While fully assuming their active role as stipulated in the chapter on the  JMEC, partners should also consolidate supporters of the peace agreement in the government, the armed opposition and the political establishment. They should also further mobilise and assist the emergence of national constituents of support for the peace agreement from various other sectors of society including religious communities, traditional authorities and women groups. Such effort should include lending various forms of support for existing community level peace and reconciliation efforts and the launching of others both at national and local levels.

Despite the plethora of challenges including the inertia of past failures this is indeed the moment not to be lost if South Sudan is to be ‘lucky’ this time around. One hopes that South Sudanese, regional and international stakeholders would display the required leadership and willingness to seize this moment.