Mistrust threatens Kenya-led peace talks on South Sudan

Sunday March 17 2024

Head of the delegation of South Sudan to the Sant’Egidio Rome initiative talks Barnaba Benjamin making his address at Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nairobi, Kenya on March 12, 2021. PHOTO | NMG


Doubts among some hold-out armed groups in South Sudan is threatening the start of peace talks to be mediated by Kenya President William Ruto in Nairobi.

A section of the hold-out groups, named so for refusing to sign the 2018 peace deal, is demanding the talks to be returned to Rome to first decide on whether all the parties can trust President.

The Society of Sant Egidio in Rome had led the talks between the government and those armed groups until last year. Later, President Ruto accepted to mediate what could be an addendum to the 2018 peace deal between the ruling South Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) under President Salva Kiir and several armed groups.

But Emmanuel Ajawin, who is also chairperson of the National Democratic Movement Patriotic Front (NDM-PF), maintained that the pre-discussion has not started because they have not yet received a response from President Ruto since their request.

Read: Kenya to lead S.Sudan peace mediation

“Since we wrote a letter to President Ruto on 27th January, to date we didn’t receive any response from him (sic).


“The envisaged pre-negotiations consultations haven’t yet started. We can’t start direct talks before the proposed pre-negotiations consultations process,” Ajawin said in a March 11 a statement.

In December 2023, President Kiir requested President Ruto to take over the mediation lead from the community of Sant Egidio in Rome complaining that the talks had taken long in Rome’s hands without resolution.

In February, President Ruto accepted after consulting with the community of Sant Egidio in Rome.

Charles Keter, Kenyan special envoy to South Sudan, said the acceptance letter by President Ruto “contains the framework for resolving the differences between Juba and the holdout groups.”

NDM-PF’s assertions, however, have been disputed by the head of government delegation. Mr Albino Mathom Ayuel maintained they have been had pre-negotiations with the hold-out groups.

Read: Kiir wants Ruto to mediate in Rome’s stead

Another group, the National Salvation Front (NAS) led by Gen Thomas Cirillo, has been skeptical maintaining that the government of President Kiir has never been interested in negotiating with the hold-out but has sustained a campaign of enticing their members to defect.

However, the South Sudan United Front (SSUF) of former Army Chief Paul Malong, and Real-SPLM led by former SPLM Party Secretary-General Pagan Amum, have lately shown willingness for unconditional negotiations.

Garang Malual Deng, SSUF spokesperson, issued a statement saying it was prepared to engage in negotiations with Juba whenever the Kenya government so required.

The group — a coalition of opposition parties in South Sudan that did not sign the 2018 revitalised peace agreement under the umbrella, the South Sudan Opposition Movement Alliance — and Juba have been in peace talks known as the Rome Initiative since 2020.

It is a coalition of opposition parties in South Sudan that did not sign the 2018 revitalised peace agreement. The talks have been dragging on for four years without much success due to a series of divisions within the hold-out group.

But even as the two parties try to close ranks before the December 2024 elections, the main armed opposition, Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO) led by Dr Rik Machar have threatened to boycott the elections on grounds that the polls would violate the 2018 peace agreement.

Read: S.Sudan risks delayed 2024 polls due to ‘stuck’ deal

According to SPLM-IO deputy chair, Oyet Nathaniel Perino, the prerequisites for a “peaceful, transparent, democratic, free, fair, and credible” vote have not been met.

They include the unification of the rival forces, the enactment of a permanent constitution, holding a population census, settling refugees and internally displaced people, and addressing transitional justice.

“This signifies a renewed commitment towards promoting regional peace and stability,” Keter said.

“We are preparing and ready for the talks anytime the Kenyan government call us for it,” said Garang Malual Deng, SSUF spokesperson this week on Tuesday.