South Sudan’s leaders on Thursday signed a two-year extension of the transitional government, in a move foreign partners warned lacked legitimacy.
Cabinet Affairs Minister Martin Elia Lomuro said the decision was taken “to address the challenges that impede the implementation of the peace agreement” signed in 2018.
“The implementation deadline was not met due to several challenges. If the requirements were met, elections would have been held. Unfortunately, the provisions were not met, and thus we agreed to the 24-month extension up to December 2024,” he added.
This is the second time the parties have extended the transitional period.
Speaking during the signing ceremony in the capital Juba that was boycotted by Troika countries, the United States, Britain and Norway, President Salva Kiir Mayardiit described the extension as the only option, so the nation does not relapse to war.
“We don’t want to rush you to elections that will take us back to war. I have been fighting since I was 18, and you can see now how old I am. The extension is better than war, and so we have extended the period to implement the pending provision,” he said.
The President also called on “our hold-outs to come back to South Sudan and collaborate with us in creating a conducive environment for durable peace. Pagan Amum and Thomas Cirillo should come back home and join hands with us.”
Mr Amum is a former SPLM secretary-general who lives in exile, from where he heads the SPLM-Real, which former political detainees formed after a split from the ruling party.
Cirillo, a former general, leads the opposition National Salvation Front (NAS).
South Sudan, one of the world’s poorest countries despite large oil deposits, has suffered from war, natural disasters, hunger, ethnic violence and political infighting since it gained independence in 2011.
The South Sudan peace deal was reached with rival Riek Machar and signed by other political parties in 2018.
Together with President Kiir, they formed a unity government in 2020, with Dr Machar becoming the first vice president, among four others.
On his part, Dr Machar Thursday appealed for smooth implementation, adding that there is a need for more political space for parties to interact among themselves to build confidence and trust.
“When the President presented the extension roadmap to us, it didn’t take us long to agree. And I said, we only have two options; we either clash come the elections or extend the transitional period because a lot more needs to be done that we couldn’t implement in the remaining four months,” said the First Vice President.
“72.7 percent of the agreement has not been implemented. So we had to choose, but we never had a choice but to extend because any move would take us back to square one. We didn’t extend the transitional period to stay in power, but we did to make things smooth,” he explained.
The troika of the United States, Britain and Norway, donors of the peace process, boycotted Thursday’s announcement, pointing out that the government had not consulted all the parties involved in the 2018 deal before announcing the extension.
Dr Machar noted that while the troika raised real concerns, South Sudan is still in need of help. “...we still appeal to you to support us all. We appeal to the United States who has withdrawn its support to the peace monitoring body”.
Gabriel Changson, the representative of the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA), one of the peace deal signatories, called for implementing the mechanisms for constitutional making and the unification of security forces to avoid post-election violence. “If we don’t implement this agreement, our generation will always be blamed,” he warned.
“My appeal to the international community is, don’t abandon us, give us support so that you can achieve your interest, don’t just sanction us,” he added.
Deng Alor, a representative of the Former Detainees, stressed the unity of all political parties, including those in exile. “I appeal for us to unite this time and implement the agreement we have signed jointly; this can’t be successful if there is no unity of purpose.”
Civil society representative Edmund Yakani called for a commitment to implement the peace deal. “South Sudanese are suffering. This agreement is our making, not imposed again as stated previously. Can peace parties implement this agreement comprehensively? The question to you leaders is, what miracle do you have for us regarding the peace deal?” Mr Yakani posed.