South Sudan leaders are back to the negotiating table in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in an effort led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) seeking to end the conflict, now in its fifth year.
Donors and development partners have warned that this High Level Revitalisation Forum is the last chance for lasting peace. Should these talks aimed at the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan fail, there is a real danger that the world could abandon the country to focus on other pressing international matters.
Unfortunately, there were already indications that these latest talks could stall, particularly following reluctance by the government to agree to an accountability clause. The rebels have also shown signs that they might not sign a final agreement until Dr Riek Machar is released from house arrest in South Africa.
Failure of the talks would be disastrous to not only South Sudanese, who continue to suffer from the war, but also to countries in the region, whose economies are suffering from reduced business, insecurity and growing number of refugees.
Already, various Kenyan banks operating in South Sudan have drastically reduced their operations due to insecurity and a difficult business environment. These banks are also staring at huge business losses should the US and European Union impose sanctions on more South Sudanese nationals who trade with them.
Donor fatigue is setting in and the main donors — the US, UK, and Norway — might just look elsewhere after spending billions of dollars on an endless circus of war and hardline stance by the warring parties.
Two weeks ago, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, announced that Washington was giving up on President Salva Kiir, and called him “an unfit partner.” The US is troubled that after spending over $11 billion since South Sudan’s Independence in 2011, the country is sliding towards a failed state status.
There is also danger that South Sudan could lose $96 million the European Union has set aside from the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa to support the basic needs of people affected by the conflict.
It is a shame that power struggles between South Sudanese political elite have resulted in one of Africa’s worst humanitarian crisis, consuming funds that could have gone to cater for the basic needs of the young nation. For instance, the annual bill for humanitarian assistance to South Sudan is in the range $1 billion, with the US alone contributing over $700 million annually.
The UN peace keeping mission costs another over $1 billion annually, besides the cost of humanitarian relief to the two million South Sudanese refugees in neighbouring Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan.
In 2017, Uganda asked for $2 billion in support of the one million South Sudanese refugees it’s hosting. Obviously, it is unsustainable to spend billions of dollars on humanitarian relief alone with no end in sight, yet it is far much cheaper and cost effective to fix South Sudan now.
But most important, countries in the region that have vested political and economic interests in South Sudan must reassess their positions because they are a hindrance to long term peace.