Two key sponsors of the South Sudan peace process are organising roundtable talks next month in Doha, Qatar, between the government, the rebel movement and other stakeholders to review the August 2015 Peace Agreement.
The talks being organised by two Troika members — United Kingdom and Norway, who have been the main funders of the peace talks together with the United States since the war broke out in December 2013 — are expected to begin in early February to look at the Peace Agreement and challenges facing its implementation.
The EastAfrican has learnt that the main agenda is to bring back rebel leader Riek Machar as a key partner in the peace talks.
The new efforts were initiated by the UK and Norway in conjunction with the African Union. The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad), which mediated the peace agreement, will be represented as an observer, but will not be an active participant.
This is because key Igad partner states such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, with the support of the US government, have actively participated in sidelining Dr Riek Machar after intensive lobbying by President Salva Kiir’s government. But the Troika feels that this has not improved security in South Sudan.
President Kiir’s government had declared that Dr Machar, who was replaced as first vice-president by Taban Deng Gai in August last year and is currently living in South Africa, should stay out of South Sudan and await the next elections, which is supposed to be held in 2018.
Mr Gai recently confirmed that regional countries have denied Dr Machar entry in their territories and he will be locked out for a foreseeable future.
The new initiative comes after both the government and the rebels concurred that the August 15 peace agreement had broken down – when war broke out again last July – and needs renegotiation.
But on December 14, President Kiir came up with the idea of a National Dialogue that will start at the grassroot. The rebel movement is sceptical about its success, especially without a permanent ceasefire.
Jimmy Deng, the South Sudan deputy ambassador to Kenya, said that the government is aware that Troika has initiated plans for fresh negotiations, but Juba is yet to be officially contacted on the issue.
Mr Deng, however, said that the government’s position is that there is no need for fresh negotiations because the August 2015 peace agreement is implemented.
“The National Dialogue Committee and top government officials are currently at the grassroots talking to people and promoting peace and national unity. We want the church leaders and chiefs to be involved because they represent the view of the grassroots, while the opposition is free to come back to the country because they have been given amnesty,” said Mr Deng.
President Kiir sacked Dr Machar from the Government of National Unity and replaced him with Mr Gai but this did not end the war.
Mr Gai’s biggest challenge is that he does not have sufficient following within the rebel movement to implement security arrangements such as the cantonment and the integration of soldiers from both sides as per the agreement.
Struggling to restructure
According to the latest report by the International Crisis Group, Mr Gai faces an uphill task to gain wider domestic credibility and bring armed opposition groups into the Government of National Unity.
The report says that since most cadres of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) rejected his elevation, the rebel movement, without an internationally recognised leader able to negotiate on its behalf, is struggling to restructure.
In the meantime, the government has been pushing for a military option.
The SPLM-IO presentative in Kenya Lam Jok said that the armed opposition is willing to dialogue with anybody anywhere, but first the security arrangement provision must be implemented if the talks are to bear fruit.
“Any efforts for peace, including the National Dialogue called by President Kiir, are good, but we must first silence the guns because you cannot talk while there is fighting,” said Mr Jok.
The SPLM-IO maintains that future talks should be preceded by the withdrawal of the Mathiang Anyor militias that fight alongside government forces, from the villages of Equatoria and Western Bharel Ghazal, where, according to UN Special Advisor on Prevention of Genocide Adam Dieng, genocide looms.
Fighting has continued in the three Equatorias — West, Central and East — Bahrel Ghazal and of late in Upper Nile State, which had not experienced major fighting since the new conflict erupted in July 2016.
The United Nations Humanitarian Agency (OCHA) reported towards the end of December that the number of South Sudanese fleeing to Uganda continues to grow, with 3,046 new arrivals recorded daily from December 13.
President Kiir had proposed National Dialogue in three phases: Consultations at the grassroots to record grievances; regional peace conferences to discuss outstanding inter-communal conflicts; and the National Conference in Juba to come up with resolutions that would guide the country on the way forward.
But Dr Machar is proposing that the African Union and the international community support a new political process with a reviewed agreement to provide the roadmap for any national dialogue.