Negotiations on the implementation of the South Sudan peace deal will resume in Khartoum from August 27 and run to September 3 after a break on August 19 for the Eid al Adha celebrations.
Among the pending issues are the number of states the country should have; judicial reforms and the creation of the Constitutional Amendment Committee; the creation of five new ministries and their dockets, and the powers of the president and the five vice-presidents.
The mediators must reach a consensus on these before deciding on the modalities for implementation within the eight months pre-interim period and the three-year interim government.
The parties signed a preliminary agreement in Khartoum on August 5, but the negotiating team remained behind to work out the details and timelines for implementation, plus how to incorporate the new chapters on the security arrangement, power-sharing and reorganised transitional government into the 2015 peace deal.
The most difficult issue is how to share the powers of the presidency between President Salva Kiir, his designated first deputy Riek Machar and four other vice-presidents who will also include Taban Deng Gai and James Wani Igga.
“There is the question of whether the five vice-presidents will be operating as equals or whether there should be a hierarchy. Secondly, the opposition groups are still pushing for the devolution of more powers to the states, especially in the management of resources,” said James Oryema, Dr Machar’s representative in Kenya.
The other issue is the number of states the country should have. President Kiir maintains that the 32 states he created after the 2015 agreement should be retained; the South Sudan Opposition Alliance wants the country to revert to 10 states; while Dr Machar’s side has been rooting for 21 states.
Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir — who together with Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni are the new guarantors — had proposed that the country return to the original three regions: Upper Nile, Bahr-el-Ghazal and Equatoria.
Information Minister Michael Makuei, who is also the government spokesperson, said the negotiating teams are examining and amending the six chapters for conformity.
Another challenge that could slow down implementation is the fact that the main opposition leaders, including Dr Machar, will not be able to travel back to Juba for the next five months as regional countries instruct specially trained security personnel for them.
The National Pre-Interim Council, which will oversee the implementation of the peace deal for the eight-month pre-interim period, will also be based in Addis Ababa for the five months before moving to Juba after security measures have been concluded.
Before the break on August 19, the negotiating parties issued a joint statement reiterating their commitment to full implementation of the new agreement for a united, peaceful and prosperous society based on justice, equality, respect for human rights and the rule of law.
In the meantime, former Botswana president Festus Mogae, who headed the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission responsible for overseeing the implementation, will resign at the end of September.
Mr Mogae, in a letter to the Igad chairperson, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, said he wants to give room for fresh hands to oversee implementation after the negotiations are over.
Mr Mogae, who was the third president of Botswana from 1998 to 2008, has faced criticism from the opposition for his inability to single out and punish those who they claim violated the ceasefire and subverted the 2015 agreement.
In an interview with The EastAfrican last year, Mr Mogae appeared frustrated by the parties’ blatant disrespect for the agreement they had signed and his resignation seemed imminent.