As all partners to South Sudan’s peace deal heaved a sigh of relief on news of a deal on Thursday, it also emerged that opposition leader Riek Machar compromised on his demands to beat the February 22 deadline to form a unity government with President Salva Kiir.
Nevertheless, the agreement in principle, ended days of anxiety for all South Sudanese people, the region and the international community. After a meeting that lasted one hour at State House Juba on Thursday, the two principals agreed to form a government, but they had no deal on the Cabinet, security arrangements, number of states and governorship allocation.
Dr Machar “didn’t change his position” on the three controversial administrative areas created by President Kiir, but pressure from envoys representing international partners forced Dr Machar and his Sudan People Liberation Movement-in Opposition (SPLM-IO) to defer demands and “negotiate from inside” the revitalised transitional government of national unity (R-TGoNU).
The three ‘’administrative areas” are Pibor, Ruweng and Abyei.
SPLM-IO’s deputy spokesperson Manawa P. Gatkuoth said; “He didn’t change his position on the issue of the states and security arrangements. None of our concerns has been met, but Dr Machar didn’t want to miss the deadline.’’
“There have been efforts from international partners…we have had several meetings with the Troika ambassadors who urged Dr Machar to form the government and negotiate from inside,” said Mr Gatkuoth.
International support is critical as it guarantees funding for Juba. On February 14, Dr Machar released a statement rejecting the proposed three administrative areas, which he described as creating “a Pandora’s box,” arguing that President Kiir’s move to retain the three administrative areas “cannot be referred to as reverting to 10 states” and therefore “cannot be accepted” by the opposition.
A government source in Juba said that Dr Machar’s position “appears to be a fight for control of South Sudan’s oil resources” as the former vice president demanded governorship of the oil-rich states, namely Upper Nile, Unity and Jonglei, as well as the strategic Eastern Equatoria state that borders Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia. Ruweng is at the centre of this fight, with neither side willing to see it under the control of a rival. With four oil fields, Ruweng produces nearly 80 per cent of the oil from South Sudan.
But the demands for the four governorships and the ministerial positions for the influential ministries of petroleum, mining, interior and Cabinet affairs are both on hold, to be addressed once the R-TGoNU is in place.
“We will table the issue in the council of ministers for discussion and resolution. The council will decide the allocation. The criteria for selection of ministerial positions will also apply for governorship,” said Mr Gatkuoth.
Just before President Kiir and Dr Machar agreed to form the coalition government, the African Union Peace and Security Council – a group of 26 ambassadors chaired by the Djibouti envoy to the AU – held a meeting with the SPLM-IO leader to thrash out the security arrangements to be effected after the formation of the unity government, sources said.
The security arrangements – a key condition in the agreement and which caused the postponement of the unity government in November – involving the retraining and merger of all forces has not been finalised.
Shawn Duthie, of Kampala-based political risk advisory firm Inyani Intelligence, however doubts Dr Machar will gain much by “negotiating from inside.”
“He has the same leverage he had before. Kiir needs to form a government with Machar to keep international support for ‘his’ government. Unfortunately, I don’t think a lot is going to change in the near future. After the ‘unity government’ is formed, they will pick a new date to solve all these pending other issues, and the same will continue.”