23 December 2017

South Sudan Parties Sign Pact, but for How Long?

South Sudan's warring parties have signed the cessation of hostilities agreement, raising hopes of a lasting peace after four years of destructive war. But will it hold?

That was the question in the lips of most experts on South Sudan as over 15 stakeholders signed the document to end the war in the evening of December 21 in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.

The ceasefire agreement that came as result of High Level Revitalisation Forum designed by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad), has attracted both optimists and sceptics in equal measure.

Optimists say that the ceasefire could hold because it involves many armed groups that were left out in the August 2015 peace agreement, which collapsed in July last year adding that the majority of South Sudanese and the international community are tired of the war.

"A majority of South Sudanese have come to realise that they need to collectively evaluate what went wrong since independence in 2011 and are considering the revived process as an opportunity to correct the wrongs," said Jervasio Okot, an analyst based in Nairobi.

Non-implementation

But on the other hand, there is concern that the history of the former larger Sudan is peppered with many failed agreements that are violated soon after signing.

There are also concern that the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) led by former president of Botswana, Festus Mogae, is weak and has been unable to clearly point out non-implementation and violations of the agreement in the past two years.

Agreement

According to the agreement, the ceasefire is set to begin on December 24. The warring parties also agreed to silence the guns and those of their affiliate militias, allow unfettered access to humanitarian assistance, release all prisoners of war, political prisoners and abducted women and children.

The agreement prohibits all hostile military actions, which include; attacks aimed at dislodging, capturing ground or equipment, ambushes, and killing one another; reconnaissance operations against each other; laying of mines of any nature including anti-tank and anti-personnel mines; and use of proxy militias to provoke or attack one another.

Others actions prohibited include recruitment and enlistment, including from Protection of Civilian sites (PoCs) and refugee camps; recruitment and enlistment of children; sexual violence; and interference and jamming of one another's field military means of communication.

Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior - the widow of Dr John Garang - was the first sckeptic when she told the congregation that the conflict in South Sudan would never be resolved unless President Salva Kiir steps down. She maintained that President Kiir's government is "ineffective and should be replaced."

Col Gabriel Lam, the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO) Deputy Military Spokesperson, told The East African that his rebel group led by Dr Riek Machar will respect the agreement but doubted whether President Kiir will do the same.

"We want our civilians suffering in the refugees camps outside the country and the protection of civilians camps in South Sudan to go back home. So the SPLA-IO is keen not to break the agreement," said Col Lam.

But the South Sudan Permanent Representative to the African Union James Morgan, maintained that the agreement is a "Christmas gift" by President Kiir to all South Sudanese.

Sustained pressure

Sources who attended the meeting revealed that the government came under sustained pressure from the mediators given that Juba, through its diplomat was busy lobbying the donors against some of the armed groups, which they consider as mere criminals that do not deserve a place on the table.

Juba was also busy lobbying against any form of renegotiation of the August 2015 agreement and the reconstitution of the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) to include new players.

The government insisted that TGoNU should not be reconstituted, but experts say that the real challenge will be in January 2018 when negotiations will begin in Addis Ababa.

Col Lam said that TGoNU collapsed when Dr Machar was forced to leave Juba in July last year and therefore there is a need for reconstitution to include new players such as Gen Thomas Cirillo, who defected mid this year to form the National Salvation Front and former governor of Western Equatorial, Col Bangasi Joseph Bakosoro of the National Movement for Change.

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