African Union, UN seek political solution for South Sudan

Wednesday May 24 2017

The inter-ethnic war in South Sudan is escalating and making more citizens into refugees as they flee to neighbouring countries. FILE PHOTO | AFP

The African Union and the United Nations are seeking a political solution to the South Sudan crisis, after the August 2015 peace agreement failed and the East African region appeared to lose interest in the peace process.

African Union Commission chairperson Moussa Faki and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres have now taken the lead in lobbying the world to help South Sudan, where the war that started in 2013 has morphed into multiple inter-ethnic conflicts.

Since taking over the chairmanship in March, Mr Faki has been in talks with the AU High Representative for South Sudan, former Malian president Alpha Oumar Konare, on a new initiative that would involve Igad and the UN.

Mr Guterres has been pushing for the deployment of a 4,000-strong regional protection force.

The implementation of the peace agreement has stalled; the National Government of National Unity is dysfunctional and the National Dialogue initiated by President Salva Kiir in December has been suspended indefinitely due to lack of funds.

The inter-ethnic war is escalating and more refugees are flocking to Uganda. South Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries now total two million people, while three million people are internally displaced. On May 15, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said it needs $1.4 billion for refugees from South Sudan.


Observers say that the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) — which brokered the peace agreement — has vested interests in South Sudan and is no longer capable of leading the peace process. But they differ on the way forward, with some agreeing with the position of rebel leader Riek Machar that the agreement needs to be renegotiated among the signatories. Others say the emergence of ethnic militias and rebel groups has rendered the agreement invalid and the only solution is a new political settlement.


Biel Boutros Biel, a South Sudanese lawyer and human-rights advocate based in Uganda, said that frontline states do not prioritise resolving the conflict, which some of them helped fuel by taking sides, and there needs to be renegotiation of chapters on security arrangements and leadership.

“It is an obvious fact that President Kiir and Dr Machar can no longer work together as per the agreement unless external forces execute threats against the two leaders and their allies. It is now obvious that the chapters on leadership need to be reassessed; however, the entire agreement should not be renegotiated because it has a lot of good reform initiatives,” said Mr Biel.

However, Steve Paterno, a research consultant based in South Africa and an expert on South Sudan, said that renegotiation cannot work because the situation has changed with the fragmentation and proliferation of armed groups, who each have different demands and are operating under different circumstances.

“There is a localisation of conflict, which will require to be addressed locally, since the grievances are more local than national. There is also the National Dialogue that is being launched, to address some of the issues such as land and ethnic boundary disputes, which are fuelling conflict,” said Mr Paterno.

The Troika, which comprises the United Kingdom, Norway and the United States — who are the main funders of the South Sudan peace process — are putting diplomatic pressure on both Juba and Igad to have the peace process move forward.

According to Norway’s special envoy to South Sudan, Erlen Skogonsberg, the country has organised a reconciliation conference between the South Sudan government and armed opposition leaders in Oslo in June, as a first step in moving the peace process forward and implementing the August 2015 peace agreement.