South Sudan: Widening Kiir-Machar Fault Lines Dampen Peace Deal

President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar (file photo).
3 November 2019

South Sudanese protagonists have drifted apart barely 10 days to the deadline to form a unity government, threatening to reopen fissures in Africa's youngest nation.

Just 14 months since they signed the improved peace deal, key parties have yet to agree on how to draw regional boundaries, how many regions to administer, how to maintain soldiers in camps or even share government positions.

Differences on these issues have meant that the signatories have missed the May deadline. It has been extended to November 12.

WORRY

Their differences have become so loud that diplomats in neighbouring countries like Kenya and Ethiopia are worried they may have to endure another season of refugees, should violence break out yet again.

Alarmed by the widening gulf, Ethiopian diplomat and special envoy for the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) to South Sudan Ismail Wais, his Kenyan counterpart Kalonzo Musyoka and the Sudan special envoy to South Sudan Jamal el Sheikh met in Djibouti last week and vowed to push parties for a compromise.

"Mindful of the delay in the implementation of the agreement, the envoys resolved to better coordinate efforts in engaging stakeholders and mobilising support for the peace process in South Sudan," they said.

KIIR'S STAND

On Friday, President Salva Kiir's side insisted the unity government under the Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (RACSS) would be formed as planned.

"The government and other parties signatory to the revitalised agreement will go ahead with the formation of the unity government on the designated date. It is hoped that Riek will change his mind and join the rest. The ball is in his court," South Sudan's Permanent Representative to the Africa Union James P. Morgan told the Nation.

Morgan was referring to former Vice-President Riek Machar, who now heads the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO).

While the President says the government will be formed, there has been no clarification on who will take what positions among the opposition groups.

MACHAR'S STAND

On Saturday, Machar's group indicated it won't be party to the administration, arguing that key points of conflict have been papered over and ignored.

"The SPLM-IO wants critical components of the deal addressed. That is why we are of the opinion that we should begin with unification. The rest of the process can follow, at least to make our soldiers rest assured that something will be done," Machar's aide James Oryema told the Sunday Nation.

"We do not want an extension... just for its sake because a previous one did not work. We want the activities of the critical remaining tasks marked with dates and strictly followed."

KEY ISSUES

The disagreements when Kiir and Machar signed the initial peace agreement in 2015 are still cropping up in the new deal that includes parties that had been left out and now known under an umbrella group of South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA).

The issues include security for opposition leaders, merging the military and demands that the country return to the initial 10 regional states from the current 32 created during the civil war. SSOA has suggested a two-month extension.

"Formation of the unity government before putting together the necessary force would mean... multiple armies. That would be a tinderbox waiting to explode," said Lam Akol, a former political detainee and founder of the National Democratic Movement and chairman of the SSOA.

"We saw what happened when these issues were glossed over. We also get amused when the same people say so in the name of our suffering masses, whose security, not only that of the VIPs, the agreement was aiming to safeguard. Are we not repeating a failed experiment?"

PRESSURE

South Sudan descended into civil war in December 2013 when Kiir and Machar's loyalists fought.

In August 2015, under pressure from Igad and Western donors, the two signed an agreement in Addis Ababa.

Kiir initially put his initials on the deal but with reservations. He would later sign the agreement in Juba, but it only opened a fresh conflict.

Machar refused to return to the capital until June the following year, demanding security assurances.

But his guards and those of Kiir fought again while he met Kiir, just a month after the unity government was formed.

The injured Machar fled to South Africa through the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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