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A fickle peace in South Sudan


Salva Kiir, president of South Sudan. Stein Ove Korneliussen under a Creative Commons Licence

The warring parties in South Sudan finally penned a peace deal last week, on 26 August, despite President Salva Kiir expressing reservations. While signing the deal at Freedom Hall in Juba, the capital, he urged regional leaders to help in its implementation and co-operate with each other.

President Kiir signed the deal in the presence of leaders from the region, with reports emerging that fighting was continuing in Magwi County between government and rebel forces.

‘With all those reservations that we have, we will sign this document,’ Kiir said, adding that some parts of the document were not in the interest of just and lasting peace.

‘We had only one of the two options: the option of an imposed peace or the option of a continued war,’ he said.

There are reports that many senior officials on the government side were strongly opposed to the deal, saying that the president should only sign it if the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) includes the government’s reservations in the document.

The minister for information and broadcasting, Michael Makuei, is said to have walked out of the hotel where the peace-signing ceremony was taking place, apparently not in agreement with its contents.

Earlier, it was unclear whether the president would put his signature to the peace agreement, after unconfirmed reports emerged that the military high command in Juba had threatened to rebel if Kiir signed the deal, which it felt was not in its favour.

Joseph Oduha, a journalist in Juba who attended the function, also expressed reservations.

‘My view is that the peace signed today is not a lasting peace. It may break at any time. As for now in Juba, it is like there is nothing important happening today… many officials were unhappy with the president for signing the document,’ he said.

‘There is information that the minister [for information] left the hall just as the president was inking the document. So, there is no guarantee for sustainability of this peace,’ he added.

Samuel Marial, a religious leader, wrote on social media that it was necessary for the two sides to agree before signing the deal, saying that a peace induced from outside will not hold.

‘If it is a peace agreement, then the warring sides have to agree first before signing; but this is like a forced marriage with an interest to get a huge bride price. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement [signed in 2005] held on and bore fruit because it was amicably negotiated,’ he said.

Earlier in the month, rebel leader Riek Machar, of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition, signed the peace document in Addis Ababa, while President Kiir refused to sign, saying he had to consult with his people first.

Machar, now designated first vice-president, told local media that his group also had reservations, but had signed the peace agreement for the sake of peace, further calling on the president to agree to the signed document.

The peace agreement outlines what role the international community and the regional actors should play in the implementation of the peace process. The document states that Juba will be demilitarized within a radius of 25 kilometres, with the formation of a joint integrated police force from both sides, with assistance from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

According to the agreement, a permanent ceasefire is to take effect within 72 hours of the signing of the deal. President Kiir issued a decree a day after the peace-signing ceremony, declaring a permanent ceasefire which came into effect at midnight on 29 August.

The Special Envoys of IGAD, the regional bloc that mediated the peace process, welcomed the peace deal and hailed the two leaders for signing the agreement. The regional leaders who witnessed the signing ceremony – Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Hailemarian Desalegn of Ethiopia – said the move will improve security in the region.

The peace deal comes after US warnings that there would be dire consequences for any side that decided to go back to fighting. US President Barack Obama, while on a tour of Africa this July, gave the two sides 17 August as a deadline to sign for peace.

But signing the peace deal was the easy part of the process. Implementing it may be more challenging, if the mistrust between the two sides persists.

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