Kampala, Uganda — On Oct.31, happiness and joy filled the South Sudanese capital, Juba, when several high profile leaders in eastern Africa joined President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Dr. Riek Machar, to celebrate the "return of peace to South Sudan."
News of Machar's return to Juba for the first time in two years added to the excitement. Almost two months earlier, on Sept. 12, the two former allies-now-turned foes had appended their signatures to a peace agreement made possible by a painstaking mediation led by the regional body the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan, Somalia's Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo Mohamed, Eritrea's Isaias Afwerki, Ethiopian President Sahle-Worke Zewde and Egyptian Prime Minister; Mostafa Madbouly, were also in Juba for the celebrations.
The peace agreement signed under the theme: "Celebrating the dawn of peace, appreciating friends, cherishing reconciliation and unity" signaled the latest effort to end a civil war which erupted in 2013, just two years after the newest independent state on the continent seceding from Khartoum.
Before the outbreak of violence, Kiir and Machar squabbled over what observers of the conflict referred to as unequal distribution of power in the government with Machar reportedly feeling shut out from power in his role as South Sudan's vice president.
At one point Kiir accused Machar of masterminding an attempted coup d'état. When Kiir eventually sacked him in 2013, Machar took up arms against Kiir later that year.
Museveni preaches peace
In his address to thousands of South Sudanese gathered around Dr. John Garang's Mausoleum in the capital, Museveni; who is one of the guarantors of the peace, cautioned the South Sudanese leaders against the dangers of dividing people along sectarian lines; including tribalism and religion, and forgetting development and economic transformation.
"Am sure this is the end of conflict in South Sudan," Museveni said. He described how war is wasteful and advised that political arguments can be solved by discussions or free and fair elections. Meanwhile President Kiir congratulated Machar and other opposition leaders for agreeing to come and celebrate peace. Kiir said their presence is strong testimony for peace in South Sudan. "The war era has ended, peace and prosperity has come," he said. Then he apologized for being part of the war that has raged on for five years. He said it was "a total betrayal against the people of South Sudan."
Ateny Wek, the spokesperson of the government of South Sudan called the agreement "the final, final" deal to emphasize a determination not to return to war. But it was not lost on anyone that this is the 12th such peace agreement for South Sudan since 2013.
So even with the excitement on the streets of Juba; many observers say it is hard to believe that the current peace deal will prevent the country from sliding back into civil war.
It might take months or even years, but war will erupt unless the mode of policking in South Sudan changes fundamentally. "With the signing of the revitalized agreement, we should publicly acknowledge it is one step on the road to peace, but one which lays the foundation for all that follows," David Shearer, the head of the UN mission in South Sudan told The Associated Press, moments after the signing of the treaty.
The International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI) has even produced a report on South Sudan titled "We do not honour agreements." Thijs Van Laer, the programme director for Prevention and Resolution of Exile at the IRRI and author of the report told The Independent on Nov. 09 that Museveni should this time use his influence over the South Sudanese elite, including President Kiir, to make sure that they stop their military offensives and commit to meaningful reform.
"Museveni and his regional colleagues have the responsibility to see this agreement through," he said. He said provisions on monitoring the agreement have not improved compared to the previous agreement, and there are still no built-in sanctioning mechanisms for spoilers. He told The Independent that fighting is still ongoing in different parts of the country, by signatories as well as by those who refused to sign the agreement.
"While steps are being taken to prepare the implementation of the power-sharing parts of the agreement, which was the main focus of the discussion in the talks, I've seen little commitment to other parts of the agreement, such as on accountability, government reform or the reform of the security sector."
Van Laer said although there have been significant events since the signing of the September agreement, more needs to be done to convince people that this time around, the parties are really committed to implementing the agreement and making sure steps are taken towards a sustainable political settlement.
He noted, however, that this time it appears some regional countries, including Uganda, are more supportive of the agreement than in the past, when they felt western countries had pressured parties to sign. "Also for these regional actors, focus on power-sharing is not sufficient, they should also monitor the implementation of the whole agreement that they brokered, and sanction those that refuse to do so."
Released just days after the Juba celebrations, the IRRI report was based on research done earlier. At the time, there was an ongoing High-Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) created by the InterGovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to revive the 2015 peace deal.
The report released on Nov.5 noted how respondents regretted the lack of implementation of the 2015 agreement, which the majority blamed on the current government of South Sudan, while others blamed the rebel faction SPLM-IO.
The respondents also criticized IGAD for not sufficiently steering the High Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) and its member states, especially Kenya and Uganda, and for its bias towards the South Sudanese government.
Several mentioned the reluctance of the government during the talks and its reservations when signing under international pressure; saying it was a precursor to the breakdown of the agreement in July 2016 when fighting erupted again in the capital Juba.
They also pointed to a lack of followup on the agreement by regional and international actors, and to a lack of pressure on the parties, especially the government, to implement it. Likewise, respondents were unanimous in their criticism of President Kiir's national dialogue process announced in 2016.
Most respondents said it was important to have a countrywide dialogue initiative to collect citizens' views. According to the report, as soon as minimum requirements related to security and political space are in place, and when those responsible for atrocities are held accountable, getting the views of the people could prevent further violence and address the country's many structural problems.
There was general consensus that such a forum could go beyond the narrow focus on power-sharing that has dominated the latest regionallyled discussions, and could address contentious issues, such as the number of state or localized conflicts, from escalating.
Going forward, the report recommends that IGAD should press parties to the September 2018 agreement to respect the ceasefire provisions and implement all of its provisions in a timely manner, consulting with citizens about their views.
"IGAD should also ensure independent and adequate monitoring of the 2018 agreement including the ceasefire and security arrangements, and regularly publish its results as well as impose targeted sanctions on actors responsible for obstruction of peace efforts and for atrocities."
According to IRRI, the African Union should ensure continuous high level diplomatic engagements with all parties to the 2018 agreement while the donors need to support South Sudanese civil society actors in disseminating the 2018 agreement to South Sudanese citizens in and outside South Sudan, in monitoring its implementation as well as in sharing their findings with regional and international actors.
IRRI has also asked donors to support the organisation of a wider national dialogue process based on inclusivity, minimum security requirements, and the acceptance of its facilitation, complementarity with the 2018 peace agreement and a clear mandate and timetable.
"In order to ensure that citizens feel that there will be significant improvement for them this time, setting up a wider dialogue about such issues, this time beyond power-sharing and really including South Sudanese citizens, would be helpful."