After 20 months of fighting, on and off negotiations, South Sudan’s political leaders finally signed the compromise peace agreement that was mediated by IGAD-plus at the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
Rebel leader Riek Machar and former detainee Pagan Amum signed the peace deal on August 17, while President Salva Kiir signed the agreement on August 26 in Juba despite having reservations on some of the provisions of the peace deal.
The agreement was imposed on warring parties by IGAD-Plus after President Barack Obama issued directives that gave both parties up to August 17 to agree and sign the deal or face sanctions that would target individuals who are perceived to be obstructing peace.
The United Nations Security Council had at that time already passed a resolution to unanimously impose sanctions on South Sudan if the warring parties failed to sign a deal by President Obama’s deadline.
The parties did not agree on contentious issues such as power-sharing ratio, security arrangement, structure of the government and system of governance during the transitional period. However, options became limited for both and they had to sign an agreement that they and their supporters perceived as an imposed one.
Now that the peace deal is signed, all eyes will be on the leaders to see how they implement the agreement.
But, what does the peace deal mean for the common citizens of South Sudan? Reading the compromise agreement, it is imperative to note that there are opportunities inasmuch as there are challenges that will constrain the transitional government during its 30 months in power.
If implemented to the letter, the deal will provide citizens with some rare opportunities. Key among them is devolution. The agreement has stipulated that resources will be devolved to the states and counties to improve service delivery.
For the past 10 years, 80 per cent of the country’s national budget has been spent in Juba and only 20 per cent spent in the states. Perhaps this will be an opportunity to revisit John Garang’s philosophy of “Taking towns to the people.”
The agreement has empowered communities with natural resources to have a right to participate in the decision-making process and in negotiations for contracts for exploration, development and production. This will ensure grassroot participation in resource management.
The constitution-making process will provide an opportunity for ordinary citizens to participate and determine how they want to be governed. The process will open up the debate on federalism.
Institutional reforms will provide the basis for how institutions such as the army will be made professional and for recruitment to reflect the diversity of the country.
The Bank of South Sudan will be independent in order to formulate monetary policies and promote price stability, while the anti-corruption commission and national audit chamber will be independent of the executive to ensure checks and balances.
Demilitarisation of Juba is very unpopular among the rank and file of the SPLA. The military considers demilitarisation an infringement on the sovereignty of the country and a betrayal of their hard-won Independence.
This could undermine the implementation of the peace deal because the military may not agree to leave Juba and if they are forced to do so could mutiny.
Power sharing is seen as rewarding the rebellion. Government supporters questioned the rationale behind the decision of the mediators to give rebels the governorship of the two oil-rich states of Unity and Upper Nile, which are largely under the control of the government.
The split within the armed opposition is also a threat to the peace deal. The breakaway factions of Peter Gadet and Gathouth Gatkouth voiced their opposition to the compromise deal saying they will not recognise the transitional government headed by President Kiir and Dr Machar.
It is highly expected that the two generals will remain in the bush.
With all the pros and cons of the peace agreement, the future of South Sudan lies in the hands of its leaders. They need to forgo their individual interests and that of their tribes to implement the peace deal for the interest of the common man.
Michael Thon is a former host of Wake up Juba, a political talk show at Radio Bakhita