South Sudan peace talks collapse: 5 things that can be done next - all likely to fail

The world might have to look, of all places, to Somalia, to find what to do with South Sudan next.

SOUTH Sudan’s warring leaders failed to reach a deal to end more than a year of civil war, mediators said Friday, with the latest collapse in peace talks paving the way for possible sanctions.

Ethiopia’s prime minister said South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar missed a deadline to reach a peace agreement by midnight Thursday, and that further talks on Friday “did not produce the necessary breakthrough.” 

“This is unacceptable, both morally and politically,” Hailemariam Desalegn said in the statement issued by the east African regional bloc IGAD, which has been trying to mediate a peace deal. 

Hailemariam also gave IGAD’s harshest criticism yet of Kiir and his former deputy Machar, whose personal feud has exploded into ethnic massacres, gang rapes and the forced displacement of civilians, pushing the country to the brink of famine. 

“Continuing a war flagrantly disregards the interests of you, the people,” he said, addressing the people of South Sudan, whose country only gained independence from Khartoum in 2011 after a long, bitter war. “It is an abdication of the most sacred duty leaders have to you, their people: to deliver peace, prosperity and stability,” the Ethiopian premier said of Kiir and Machar, both of who have been implicated in atrocities. 

Coup claim
South Sudan’s civil war started in December 2013 when Kiir accused Machar, who had been sacked as vice president, of attempting a coup. 

Over two dozen armed forces - including government soldiers and allied militia backed by Ugandan soldiers on one side, and a range of rebel factions on the other—have been battling it out since. 

Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict, two million have been uprooted and 2.5 million are in desperate need of food aid. In a bid to force a deal, the United Nations this week passed a resolution threatening sanctions against individuals deemed to be undermining peace efforts.  

Possible targets include leaders or officials who obstruct peace talks, impede humanitarian aid deliveries, recruit child soldiers or attack UN peacekeepers. 

According to diplomats close to the peace process—which has so far cost at least 20 million euros and earned the peace delegates scorn for drawing out their stays in luxury hotels—IGAD is likely to pull in the weight of the African Union, the 54-member pan-African bloc. 

The next steps:

In media commentaries, and public discussion, five ideas have been suggested, though analysts doubt any of them will work. M&G Africa looks at the most radical and extreme of them:

 •UN stewardship: One, which some consider to have some “promise” is a suggestion that South Sudan be handed over to UN trusteeship, a status with similarities to Namibia’s before independence. The UN would manage the country on behalf of the international community for about five years, and hand it back to the South Sudanese. 

•The AU overlordship: Borrow a leaf from the African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, AMISOM, and send an AU force in South Sudan, which would disarm Kiir and Machar’s troops and other militias, and organise an election in three years in which neither of the war leaders stand. 

Again, many doubt this is practical; if only the AU would struggle to raise a peacekeeping and there would be funding problems.

•Really tough sanctions: Sanctions now seem all but inevitable. However, unsentimental analysts have observed that South Sudan has now become all but a shell, even its oil pipelines are being looted and falling apart, and so it has no economy. In short, South Sudan has nothing to lose. In such a situation, sanctions are a mere formality. 

•Let it die: Because of the sharp social, economic and ethnic divisions, there is a view that South Sudan needs to plunge into an even deeper crisis, possibly even a complete state failure, creating a situation that will lead to a rise of committed patriots who will sweep away the Kiir-Machar class of leaders, and built a new lesson shaped by the bitter lessons of history from the ashes.

But after gaining independent following nearly three decades of war in which close to 3 million died, and a refugee problem in the region, Africa and the world have lost the stomach to see South Sudan suffer more. Beside, neighbouring countries seem to have had enough with refugees. 

•Puntland-Somaliland option: Outside Kiir’s Dinka strongholds, and Machar’s Nuer inhabited lands, most of South Sudan is actually peaceful, essentially ruled as autonomous “states” by autocratic, but often development, governors and warlords. In Eastern Equatoria, there is a sense of exceptionalism, in which they see themselves as “different” from the rest of the squabbling and ever-warring regions. 

There are murmurs that a Puntland and Somaliland option, in which parts of South Sudan peel off and try to create functioning mini states that provide services to and protect the people, might be a worthwhile option. In the goodness of time, there will be bits of South Sudan that are not broken, and can form the basis for rebuilding a federal state—or even new nations. 

However, Somalia is a coastal nation, and has a vast Diaspora that essentially help hold bits of it together. South Sudan doesn’t have any of those advantages.  

The next few weeks will be decisive.

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