8 August 2017

South Sudan: Will Entebbe Talks Deliver Peace?

Photo: Jason Patinkin
Civilians fleeing Kajo Keji county, toward the southern border with Uganda

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and two factions of the warring parties agreed a fortnight ago to hold unification talks with various groups of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement mediated by Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni to end divisions between leaders of the ruling party.

The Working Group meets this week to develop a matrix for the implementation of the Arusha Agreement along specified timelines.

The reunification talks were first initiated by the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (Igad) in April 2014, mediated by South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa of African National Congress.

Simon Bereket of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front and Tanzania's Chama Cha Mapinduzi picked up the initiative in September 2014.

While the government of Uganda and the Igad are cautiously optimistic that the talks will this time succeed in merging the warring SPLM groups -- SPLM-In Government, SPLM-In Opposition and SPLM of Former Detainees -- other parties are skeptical, and dismiss the Entebbe initiative as diversionary.

"Shifting the forum will now mean two additional things: First, minimum co-operation from regional countries. And two, a new process that goes on for another five years. Now, which one of these directions would we want things to go in South Sudan?" asked one of the people involved in the process.

The Ugandan government, however, says it is only picking up from where Arusha left, and believes that unification of the SPLM factions will make it easier to hold the national dialogue proposed by the regional peace process.

Kampala also argues that the SPLM unification talks have always gone on parallel to the national process and have little or nothing to do with other armed groups.

Officials involved in the talks say the fact that the parties turned up for the initial talks is itself a positive sign.

"They talked, hugged and agreed on the way forward. Unlike in the past, this time they were co-operative, and easily agreed on a communiqué. We were surprised," said a Ugandan official who attended the meeting.

According to sources, there are several factors pushing those in the opposition to agree to the reunification talks. These include the lack of a unifying opposition figure and economic hardship most former government officials in opposition are facing abroad.

However, what is said to have boosted the confidence of President Salva Kiir to resurrect the unification talks was the agreement by Rebecca Garang, widow to John Garang, one of SPLM founding fathers, to participate in the process.

Also the absence of Paul Malong, the war-torn country's powerful army general and former ally of ex-vice president Riek Machar has boosted the process.

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