South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar have signed a peace deal to share power in a transitional government in the latest bid to end an almost five-year civil war that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
The signing in Addis Ababa on Wednesday came after months of negotiations and preliminary pacts. It seeks to end the conflict that began in December 2013, which has caused near-economic collapse and forced more than a third of the country’s estimated 12 million citizens from their homes fuelling the world’s third-largest refugee crisis after Syria and Afghanistan.
The deal, which has international and regional backing, grants rebels and other opposition figures major positions in an expanded South Sudanese government, with Dr Machar returning as vice president.
It won’t be enacted until next May at the earliest, and is the second attempt to form a transitional administration with the rebel leader after the first collapsed weeks into its implementation in 2016.
The head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, David Shearer, hailed the agreement while warning that the “greatest challenges are yet to come.
“We need to be persuaded by the demonstration of collective political will of the parties to implement an agreed and realistic implementation plan,” he said at Wednesday’s signing.
“The key ingredient still lacking is trust. Those signing the agreement are former friends and foes. From my discussions with the parties, suspicion is widespread,” he said.
Despite the deal, peace in South Sudan remains shaky. Unlike the 2015 agreement that was met with jubilation and celebrations in the whole country, the signing of the Revitalised Peace Agreement did not elicit much excitement. Most South Sudanese have adopted a wait and see stance.
Many of the concerns stem from the Troika — the US, UK and Norway — the major funders of the South Sudan peace process and the key donors to the country. The three countries did not guarantee the agreement as they did in 2015.
Jervasio Okot, a South Sudanese political analyst based in Kenya, said that the sceptical mood in Juba is an indication that the citizens do not trust the politicians to implement a permanent ceasefire, and that the refusal by the Troika to guarantee the deal points to donors withholding funds for its implementation.
Just hours after the signing, the government forces engaged with Dr Machar’s forces in heavy fighting in Kendiri and Mangalotore in Kajo-Keji County of Yei River State, which borders Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Key highlights of the new agreement include a proposal for the establishment of a Compensation and Reparation Authority within six months in recognition of the destructive impact of the conflict to the citizens of South Sudan.
Second, the Hybrid Court will hold individually responsible those who planned, instigated, ordered, committed, aided and abetted, conspired or participated in war crimes and crimes against humanity, and has the power to order the forfeiture of the property, proceeds and any assets acquired unlawfully through the war.
The Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) deputy military spokesperson, Col Gabriel Lam, told The EastAfrican that government forces had brought in ammunitions by aeroplane from Juba to Yei airstrip.
“These are indicators that the regime is launching an all-out war in Yei River State and other parts of the country, which sends negative signals whether the peace will hold,” he said.
But James Morgan, the South Sudanese Permanent Representative to the African Union, is optimistic that the agreement will hold and that the fighting in Kajo-Keji is just like the “last rains of the season.”
The SPLM-IO and the SSOA signed the agreement after the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development leaders agreed to their demands on the number of states and in the Cabinet.
Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda will deploy troops to South Sudan to ensure the full implementation of the new peace agreement.
--Additional reporting by Bloomberg