South Sudan President Salva Kiir’s agreeing to sign the latest deal to restore peace has raised a glimmer of hope for the people of a country that has not known peace since fighting broke out in December 2013.
The United States announced on Thursday last week that President Kiir told Secretary of State John Kerry he had decided to sign the peace agreement after “a couple more days of consultation,” a position the US described as “encouraging.”
“President Kiir assured the secretary that he has every intention of signing the peace agreement,” spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
“He said he needed a couple of more days of consultations but he made it very clear it was his intention to sign, which is encouraging.”
President Kiir declined to sign the peace deal proposed by regional leaders earlier in the week, saying he required more time.
The peace deal, officially known as Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan, entails a power-sharing arrangement that gives the government 53 per cent at the national level and 33 per cent to the armed opposition led by Dr Riek Machar, seven per cent to former detainees and seven per cent to other political parties in the transitional government of national unity.
The transitional government will be in place within 90 days of the signing of the agreement and will last 30 months.
Another key condition of the agreement is that the warring forces, with the exception of the presidential guards, police and guards protecting the barracks and warehouse, withdraw from within a radius of 25km of Juba 30 days after the signing.
The agreement, seen as a compromise position, is a climb down from an earlier proposal that had given Dr Machar 53 per cent in the three war-ravaged states of Upper Nile, Jonglei and Unity.
Under the new proposal, the armed opposition will get 15 per cent in the seven states not affected by war but which were previously left entirely in the hands of the government.
President Kiir had declined to sign the deal on August 17, prompting calls for an arms embargo against Juba, asset freezes for the political class and travel restrictions.
The US circulated a resolution on the sanctions to be passed by the Security Council that would kick in should President Kiir not sign the document by September 1 as he pledged during the signing session in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
However, with the change of position, the South Sudan leader is now seeking an assurance from the international community that any peace deal it appends its seal to will be enforceable in the wake of a split in the rebel ranks that could complicate its policing.
“At the end of the day, the president will sign the deal, but the question is if he signs the deal, will the guns fall silent? We don’t want a situation where we sign a deal today and start another peace process tomorrow,” said the South Sudan ambassador to Kenya James Morgan.
The United States draft sanctions document calls upon the UN Security Council to impose selected individual sanctions against more top ranking government officials, and refer those who commit crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court.
The draft document had given Juba up to September 1 to sign the Inter-Government Authority on Development (Igad) compromise agreement or face expanded sanctions.
“In the event, the August 17 agreement has not been signed by the Government of South Sudan by September 1, 2015, the UN Security Council will expeditiously designate additional individuals, including the senior political leaders of the government of South Sudan, as well as individuals or entities that violate the terms of the ceasefire set forth in the agreement, for the travel ban and asset freeze,” it says.
It calls upon countries neighbouring South Sudan to tighten inspection of their seaports and airports once the sanctions come into force on September 6, that all cargo to and from South Sudan comply with prohibit under the sanctions.
President Kiir had declined to sign the compromise peace agreement because of four reasons, among them a split in the rebelling camp in which the splinter group of 13 generals led by Peter Peter Gatdet Yaka and Gathoth Gatkuoth have vowed not to recognise it and continue waging the war.
In an interview with The EastAfrican, the group’s political leader, Gabriel Changsan Chang, said he joined Dr Machar after three months in the UN camp in Juba because he felt that there was need to address the Juba massacre in which over 10,000 members of the Nuer community were killed.
“Our main objective was to address the Juba massacre, but later we have realised that it was orchestrated by the SPLM leadership and the two leaders cannot reconcile and lead the nation to a lasting peace,” said Mr Chang, a former chairman of the resource mobilisation in the rebel ranks.
Another group, the Revolutionary Movement for National Salvation, has also disowned the peace agreement. The group-led by Major Joseph Lasuba and based in Western Equatoria, broke away from the government last year to launch a fresh rebellion in Yambio.
President Kiir also disagreed with the proposal to demilitarise Juba, which he argued was tantamount to surrendering the country’s sovereignty.
The government is also opposed to the proposal to maintain two-commanders-in-chief and two armies in the country for 18 months.
The agreement says that upon signing, the parties are to establish the shared Unified Command of the National Defence Forces of South Sudan to undertake the unification of the armed groups within 18 months.