South Sudan Expert Reeves - 'The Agreement Won't Be Enough'

interview

Photo: Voice of America
South Sudan President Salva Kiir.

South Sudans rebels and the government have signed a peace deal. In an interview with DW, South Sudan analyst Eric Reeves says he hopes the pact will end fighting which has killed thousands of civilians and soldiers.

DW: The government and the rebels have agreed on a ceasefire - they are pledging to hold the fighting within 24 hours. South Sudan's government has agreed to release the 11 officials close to Riek Machar who were detained after fighting broke out. Eric Reeves, do you think the deal will work? Do you think it will stop the fighting?

Eric Reeves: I wish I could say I did, but I don't. There have been many misunderstandings in part because of some serious misreporting. And I think the notion that Riek Machar somehow is a counterweight or an equal to Salva Kiir and that he in some sense commands rebel forces is deeply mistaken. I don't believe he commands even a small fraction of the rebel forces. It's only an accident that he got away and the other detainees did not. It's arguable that he and only a couple of other people really represent a kind of hostility to Salva Kiir and the government of South Sudan that would produce ongoing violence. Unfortunately, that won't be enough. And we have so much displacement; we have so many people in desperate need. People in desperate need often do desperate things and I' m afraid we are going to see more and more of that.

So in other words you don't think the fighting will cease?

I don't know how it can. For one thing communication is going to be extremely difficult to some of the more remote locations. The other thing to remember is that the SPLA - the Sudan People's Liberation Army - which is split in half now was itself never fully integrated. It was always in some sense a collection of militia forces. Now they allied for the purposes of bringing about peace with the north, but the danger of fragmentation has always been there. And under the stress of violent conflict, I think we will see very bad fragmentation there.

There have been persistent reports of abuses since the conflict started in mid-December. Do you expect the perpetrators will eventually be brought to justice as a part of the peace process?

Again, I wish I could say yes - I don't believe so. Those who are responsible in Juba are not going to permit themselves to be held accountable. We will have difficulty assigning culpability in places like Bor, Malakal, Bentiu. Which have also seen tremendous massacres and atrocities against civilians. There would be an awful lot of accountability and I don't believe South Sudan could withstand a full accounting of all the bloodletting that's occurred over the last six weeks.

From what you know of the country, how do you think the people of South Sudan are going to respond to this deal that has just been signed in Addis Ababa?

This is my greatest hope - that the people see a signed agreement and begin grassroots pressure on elements of the SPLA to which they are bound by tribe or family or community. As a couple of observers have noted in the last few days, this peace, if it's going to work, has to be built at the grassroots level. It cannot be another top-down agreement or we will have some replication of the present dysfunctional governance that we see in Juba at present. My one hope is really that the people of Sudan who are sick of war and are already extremely frustrated and dismayed by the fighting they have seen and terrorized as well, they want an end to this. And this agreement gives them a starting point at which to try to bring various elements - piece by piece - into the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement.

What are the long-term issues that need to be addressed before permanent peace can come to South Sudan?

I think one of the first things - and here the international community is rather irresponsible - is clear transparent oversight of oil revenues. Much of the mess that we are seeing in governance is a function of corruption which is a function of oil revenues that were never properly accounted for. If there had been an international scrupulously honest accounting or oversight we would have been spared much of this. That's step number one - those oil revenues have to become transparent.

Secondly, there needs to be an overhaul in the governance. The government of South Sudan right now reflects more than anything else the structure of the guerrilla movement known as the Sudan People's Liberation Army. But it's not a guerrilla movement anymore, it's a government of an independent country. And it needs to start acting like that. And it needs to reform governance in ways that make it much more democratic than it presently is.

Eric Reeves is a professor of English Language and Literature at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. He has spent the past 14 years working full-time as a Sudan - and more recently South Sudan - researcher and analyst.

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