The official admission of South Sudan to the East African Community on April 15 and the arrival of Dr Riek Machar in Juba just days later are two landmark events in a space of three days that should signal a turning point for the world’s youngest nation.
Dr Machar’s return as South Sudan’s First Vice President-designate, on Monday, April 18, has caused both hope and tension as it should, since he is central to the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU).
Of what significance are these two events?
Although EAC is not a guarantor to the “Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan” Dr Machar signed with President Salva Kiir nine months ago, the bloc has had a hand in advancing the formation of South Sudan as we know it today.
The EAC partner states reserve a higher responsibility to ensure that the agreement not only holds, but also delivers enduring peace, stability and progress to South Sudan.
The formation of the TGoNU bears the mandate to deliver not only on the promises of the agreement but also broadly, the hopes and aspirations of all South Sudanese. Undoubtedly, the most immediate of these is the alleviation of the suffering and displacement they have endured over the past three years. True, the agreement is not perfect but it presents the best opportunity for South Sudan to restore peace and stability.
The formation of the transitional government was delayed by counteraccusations between Dr Machar’s side that of President Kiir. This finger pointing has resulted in many unnecessary deaths and untold suffering, which deserve the strongest condemnation.
But more importantly, the suffering South Sudanese needed a new platform on which to launch their journey into the future. What a better platform than South Sudan acceding to EAC, which offers brotherhood, deeper trade, integration and economic development?
The time for the brinkmanship that all too often characterises South Sudanese politics is gone. Now more than ever, the people of South Sudan should take centre stage in any discussions and the decisions that come out of it. All effort should be trained on the country’s immense prospects.
As the country’s partners have already pointed out, there is an immediate need for trade policies and programmes that can quickly contribute to restoring the social capital already destroyed by the conflict.
But to expect South Sudan’s transitional government to do all these by itself is to expect too much from it. That is why the country’s regional and foreign partnerships will be critical as it navigates the 36-month transitional period and beyond.
In all, the partnership with the EAC is, for all intents and purposes, South Sudan’s most essential. As such, Juba should be encouraged to affirm its relations and seek interventions from immediate neighbours who have more to benefit from its stability. Equally, the EAC as a bloc needs to seize the moment and ensure the transitional government succeeds in its mission.
South Sudan presents an opportunity to apply regional solutions to regional problems that the EAC should not pass up.