A united nations Security Council delegation headed by the permanent representative of South Africa to the UN, Jerry Mathews Matjila, last week visited Juba and met with parties to the 2018 Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS), including President Salva Kiir and SPLM/A in Opposition leader Dr Riek Machar.
The delegation insisted that the South Sudan parties should form a unity government by November 12 as per the Agreement, with no delay. The Troika (the US, the UK and Norway) and the African Union have also made the same call.
The unity government was supposed to be set up since May 2018, but due to delays in the implementation of several pre-transitional activities the parties decided to extend the formation to November 12, 2019.
One of the tasks of the unity government is to initiate and oversee a permanent Constitution-making process during the Transitional Period “which shall be based on the principles of: Supremacy of the People of South Sudan; Initiating a Federal and democratic system of government that reflects the character of South Sudan in its various institutions taken together, guarantees good governance, constitutionalism, rule of law, human rights, gender equity and affirmative action.”.
The Agreement also provides for, inter alia, the unification of armed forces, several institutional and legal reforms, transitional justice, accountability, reconciliation and healing, and general elections towards the end of the transition.
Speaking during the meeting with the UN delegation, Dr Machar said the parties “may need to extend” the formation of unity government beyond the set deadline, saying he will not join a unity government until critical pending tasks in the peace deal are addressed.
“If the government will be there on the 12th, we the SPLM/A-IO won’t be there because we do not want to put the country into crisis. We would opt out and contain the troops,” Dr Machar told them.
“We have a volatile situation that we want to control. We want this country to be peaceful,” Dr Machar told them, adding that after meeting the security services, together with President Kiir, they found out that “what is on the ground cannot be completed within three months.”
Dr Lam Akol, Secretary-General of the South Sudan Opposition Alliance and the leader of the National Democratic Movement also rejected formation of the unity government by November.
“We saw and lived what happened when these issues were glossed over not too long ago. We get amazed when some people tell us that these matters can wait to be resolved after the TGoNU is formed,” Mr Akol said.
Joint Defence Board
“This time the security situation will be more serious. Formation of the TGoNU before putting together the necessary unified force would mean, not two armies as was the case in 2015, but multiple armies.”
Dr Machar’s SPLM/A- IO has called for a six-month extension of the pre-transitional period, to allow for the resolution of pending tasks, while Mr Akol has called for two months.
However, the head of the UNSC delegation to Juba, pointed out that the international community does not see good reason to delay the formation of the transitional government in South Sudan, saying; “We do not anticipate that the remaining problems are so huge as to (make) South Sudan (not able) to move on, on November 12.”
The R-ARCSS provides that training and redeployment of “necessary unified forces” shall be completed within a period that shall not exceed eight months commencing from the date of the signature of the Agreement in September 2018.
However, that failed to take place and for that reason, among others, in May, the parties to the agreement decided to extend the pre-transitional period by six months.
While making the extension, the parties acknowledged that the “unification of necessary forces is the most critical determining factor for the formation” of the unity government.
According to the chairperson of the South Sudan peace monitors, the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission Augustino Njoroge, some progress has been made on the cantonment of forces.
“Out of the 25 designated cantonment sites for the opposition and 10 barracks for government forces, 24 cantonment sites and 6 barracks are operational,” he said last week.
Last week also, another source familiar with the process said that out of the at least half of the 83,000 Necessary Unified Forces required by the IGAD Council of Ministers to “be cantoned and barracked, trained and deployed before the end of September.”
Some 60,000 soldiers have registered and will “soon be trained” though without mentioning how soon.
“On Monday, the chairman of the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring and Verification Mechanism Maj. Gen. Desta Abiche Ageno said no training of the Necessary Unified Forces—including the VIP Protection Force—has taken place.
He, however, said that Training of Trainers has been completed at Maple and Luri, adding that “Approximately 1,500 trainers graduated, with around 960 more trainers undergoing training at Malakal.”
The second most critical task is the lack of agreement on the number of states and their boundaries.
In 2015, the South Sudan government under President Kiir partitioned the country into 28 States (and now 32 States). Since then, the opposition groups and the government have remained deadlocked over the move.
So far, it is reported that President Kiir told the UNSC delegation that he may consider dropping the 32 States and return the country to the previous 10.
According to an earlier analysis by Radio Tamazuj, the then proposal by President Kiir to divide the country into 28 states would make his own ethnic group (Dinka aka Jiang) the prevailing ethnic majority in administrative areas covering 42 per cent of the country, according to maps of the proposal.
“In comparison, in the current situation, the Dinka are the prevailing ethnic group in only 26 counties, approximately 25 per cent of total land area, according to maps,” Radio Tamazuj said.
Last week’s meeting co-chaired by President Kiir and Dr Machar directed the Joint Defence Board to hasten the training of the Necessary Unified Forces—especially the VIP Protection Force—within the remaining weeks, the South Sudan Presidential Press Unit reported.
Roger Alfred Yoron Modi, a South Sudanese journalist, is a former editor-in-chief of Radio Bakhita and managing editor of Juba Monitor newspaper living in exile. E-mail: [email protected]