analysisBy Liesl Louw-Vaudran
Analysts have warned that talks between the South Sudanese government and rebels, which resume in Addis Ababa this week, will fail if the political dispute within the ruling elite is not addressed.
Deep-seated political cleavages within the South Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and its various breakaway factions date back almost two decades.
Thousands of people have been killed and up to 800 000 displaced in the war between the government forces, led by President Salva Kiir, and rebels, led by former vice-president Riek Machar, which broke out in mid-December last year.
On 23 January a ceasefire agreement was signed, but observers say this has already been broken several times by both sides.
Speaking at a seminar at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), Senior Researcher Andrews Atta-Asamoah said the current conflict had escalated due to the dissatisfaction of those within the SPLM who believe that Kiir was 'closing down the political space.'
Atta-Asamoah explaines: 'Kirr did well in terms of reconciliation after independence, but then the issue of corruption and the filling of positions with perceived anti-Garang people came to the fore [referring to former SPLM leader, John Garang].' A cabinet reshuffle in mid-2013 saw Machar lose his job and a 'coalition of dissenting voices gathered around Machar.'
International Crisis Group (ICG) consulting analyst Casie Copeland said while a ceasefire is critical, the talks in Addis Ababa should also focus on political issues within the government of the fledgling state.
'The next step is putting together a framework for a political dialogue. We're concerned that if we continue to see delays on this front it will undermine the success of the ceasefire and the talks may lose some steam.'
The talks are being mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) rather than the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), which is also present on the ground but have their hands full trying to protect tens of thousands of refugees scattered across the country. 'There seems to be no desire among the parties to see the UN playing this role,' says Casey.
According to Copeland, the choice of players around the negotiating table is an indication of the priority of the mediators, IGAD.
Uganda, which had sent troops to help President Kiir's army, is not present - even though it is a member of IGAD. 'This lends additional credibility to the process,' says Copeland. Importantly, she says, civil society and religious groups should also be invited to the talks.
The African Union (AU) - often accused of being slow to intervene in crises - also has an important role to play in trying to establish peace in its newest member state.
The organisation has launched an investigation into the reported widespread human rights abuses in South Sudan, with a 90-day mandate.
'Interestingly, the investigation is not only intended to report on human rights violations, but also to make recommendations in terms of accountability and justice,' says Copeland, explaining that this is an opportunity for the AU to define action in situations of mass atrocities elsewhere on the continent.
The AU has also threatened sanctions against those violating the ceasefire and obstructing humanitarian efforts.
But will this be enough? Most analysts seem to believe that divisions in the country are almost beyond repair and that only a 'big symbolic gesture,' such as a presidential pardon by Kiir, would be able to mend relations.
Lauren Hutton, a senior fellow at the Netherlands Institute for International Relations (Clingendael), emphasised the fluidity of the current situation, saying it is difficult to determine alliances within the complex political configuration in South Sudan. 'The future is very uncertain and actors are constantly positioning themselves.'
Hutton also stressed the impact of longstanding divisions within the SPLM, which go as far back as 1991 when Machar and Lam Akol created a group that broke away from the SPLM, led by Garang. 'A lot of the dynamics today date back to this time,' Hutton explains.
The two later rejoined forces in the struggle against the enemy in the north, Sudan - which had become a unifying factor within groups that were often defined by ethnic affiliation. Garang was also accused of authoritarianism, just like Kiir is today.
Hutton said the armed wing of the SPLM, the South Sudanese Liberation Army (SPLA), was never fully transformed into a professional organisation after South Sudan's independence in 2011. 'The SPLA-SPLM and the state became one, so a crisis in the army becomes a crisis in the state.'
Neighbouring countries and the larger international community also played a role in selecting some other actors in South Sudan while sidelining others.
Atta-Asamoah and Copeland both emphasised that the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) reinforced divisions within the leadership.
It basically outlawed other armed groups (OAGs) and, through the signing of the 2006 Juba Declaration, forced some of the OAGs to integrate into the SPLA. This ended up excluding groups such as the South Sudan Defence Forces (SSDF) as only the SPLM of Garang was represented opposite the ruling National Congress Party of Omar al-Bashir.
Atta-Asamoah warned that in a situation where factions and communities have long memories, the current fighting could leave a lasting legacy that would be very difficult to untangle.
One of the 'narratives' marking the history of South Sudan is the 1991 killing of Dinka civilians by Nuer fighters in the town of Bor, which has become known as the Bor Massacre. Machar has publicly apologised for his role in this event.
Today, some local media are conversely talking about the 'Juba Massacre' of Nuer people by Kirr's government forces on 15 December 2013.
'The killings have been of a far greater scale than anyone expected. If another narrative now emerges, it will be very difficult to unite the country,' says Atta-Asamoah.