President Ruto appoints Lazarus Sumbeiywo mediator for South Sudan peace process

Friday March 29 2024
Lazarus Sumbeiywo

Lazarus Sumbeiywo, the newly appointed mediator for the South Sudan peace process. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


Kenya's President William Ruto has named former Army Commander Lazarus Sumbeiywo the chief mediator in the conflict in South Sudan between hold-out groups and the government in Juba.

President Ruto said Sumbeiywo will be deputised by veteran diplomat Mohamed Ali Guyo.

Both have been assigned at the request of President Salva Kiir of South Sudan, according to a dispatch from State House, Nairobi.

They are supposed to “facilitate talks in Nairobi with opposition groups and other sections of society in that country.

Read: Machar urges mediated talks over S.Sudan polls

“These include ‘holdout opposition groups organised under the rubric of South Sudan Opposition Alliance, religious groups and civil society.’


Sumbeiywo is not new to the conflict Sudan, and Ruto himself said he was turning to him because he understands the problem.

"Based on your wealth of experience and invaluable contribution in negotiating and the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, I appoint you as the Chief Mediator from April 1, 2024, and June 30, 2025," Ruto said.

Sumbeiywo was Kenya’s Special Envoy on Sudan between 1997 and 1998 before President Daniel Moi later assigned him the role of mediating between the government in Khartoum, under Omar al-Bashir, and the late John Garang's Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).

The mediation led to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 which gave southern Sudan autonomy and later led to a referendum for independence in 2011, which created South Sudan.

In an earlier interview, Sumbeiywo spoke of how he had to travel to both sides to gain acceptance before launching a mediation programme.

“I went to the parties first of all. The SPLM and President al-Bashir agreed to accept me as a mediator. I went to the US, the UK and Italy, who all supported me,” he said back then.

At some point, the warring parties would disagree on the wording of proposals or even discontinue the talks. 

Read: Mistrust threatens South Sudan peace talks

Eventually, the two sides signed the CPA in Naivasha. Garang signed for SPLM while Ali Osman Taha, then Vice President of Sudan, signed for the Sudanese government.

Fast forward to 2024. Both South Sudan and Sudan are facing conflict. South Sudan needs stability to hold planned elections in December. Juba has been trying to mediate in Sudan, nonetheless.

Yet the talks with hold-out groups had somewhat stalled. Initially, the Catholic Church, under the Society of Sant Egidio in Rome had led the talks between the government and the armed groups until last year when President Kiir sought President Ruto's help.

The talks are meant to attain consensus ahead of the planned elections.

However, some of the hold-out groups have voiced lack of trust in Nairobi.

Emmanuel Ajawin, who is also the chairperson of the National Democratic Movement Patriotic Front (NDM-PF), last week said the pre-discussion has not started because they have not yet received a response from President Ruto since they inquired on the issue.

NDM-PF assertions, however, were disputed by the head of the government delegation. Mr Albino Mathom Ayuel said they have been engaged in pre-negotiation talks with the hold-out groups.

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

Read: South Sudan likely to extend transition again

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 of late shown willingness for unconditional negotiations. 

Garang Malual Deng, SSUF spokesperson issued a statement saying they are ready to engage in negotiations with the South Sudanese government whenever the Kenyan government requires them to.

Sumbeiywo and Guyo are expected to provide “the day-to-day leadership of the South Sudan Mediation Peace Process and will report directly to President Ruto. Sumbeiywo will also update all the stakeholders.

In 2018, President Kiir and various armed groups including Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in-Opposition led by Riek Machar signed a peace deal that was mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

This led to the formation of a coalition government 18 months later with elections initially slated for 2022.

However, the polls would be postponed by two years due to delayed implementation of some clauses of the peace deal.

As a result, there have been sporadic clashes between the hold-out groups and the government forces.