Slippery South Sudan deal inked - why Kiir held out even as rebel chief Machar quickly signed, and what next

What's in the deal? Rebel leader Machar reinstated as first vice president. The government will get 53% of power, the opposition will share the rest.

HIS back to the wall, South Sudan president Salva Kiir finally ran out options and appended his signature on the dotted line of the war-ravaged country’s peace agreement Wednesday.

But even before the ink had dried Kiir was already warning that the deal could go the way of at least seven other peace agreements between his government and rebels that were quickly violated.  The current deal, he said, “has so many things we have to reject.”

Such reservations, if ignored, would not be in the interests of just and lasting peace,” he said, as he annexed a list of reservations that would have to be addressed for the agreement to take hold.

Whether the objections are out of genuine concern or just gamesmanship, the new layer of uncertainty will not end the extreme suffering being experienced in Africa’s youngest country. 

This informs the new demand by the UN Security Council on Wednesday that gave South Sudan President Salva Kiir less than a week to get fully behind a peace deal after he signed the accord with reservations.

“The deadline for him is September 1,” said Nigerian Ambassador Joy Ogwu, who chairs the council this month. “He has room to play,” she told reporters, adding: “We’ll wait.”

The deal, witnessed by at least three heads of state, reinstates armed opposition leader Riek Machar to government, as first vice president, alongside the current deputy. Essentially, the country is back to the status quo, as it was the two leaders’ bitter falling out in July 2013 that set the country on its way to its near-two year nightmare, and immediately raises the question of what the deadly power struggle really achieved.

Tens of thousands of South Sudanese have been killed, and over two million people displaced, as the overwhelming goodwill the country had gained since independence rapidly dissipated into regional exasperation.

Vested interests

Kiir’s intractability has owed much to his international backers, from Uganda president Yoweri Museveni who sent troops to prop him up; to the economic interests other countries have; then there were the regional multinationals that have been lucratively expanding into the country; to China which has been steadily lapping up South Sudan’s oil. 

A UN report to be published shows just how much progress has been lost—the country prepared a budget of nearly 15% of its gross domestic product to squash the rebellion, the recalcitrant hopes by both sides of a battlefield victory helping to keep the conflagration alive. 

But in recent months backing either horse has become too toxic, leading to a hardening of stances by its neighbours, who had been negotiating under the umbrella of the eight-nation Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and by its international partners, including the US - which to a large part midwifed the new country - and the UN.

But with the elusive deal signed, an understanding of what it contained will help gauge if it will hold and shed some light as to why Machar signed rather fast, earning him some mileage, and what next for an agreement that depends a lot on outsiders policing it—an early inherent weakness.

Known as the compromise peace agreement, attempts to broker it have been taking place in Ethiopia, home to the headquarters of the African Union, and from where images of delegates living the good life in luxury hotels as South Sudanese suffered drew even more international ire.

The Addis Ababa University-based Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS) ahead of the deal prepared an analysis of what to expect: 

The sticking points: 

The IGAD-backed document had five sticky points that both parties were opposed to even before the August 17 deadline laid before them by the international community. These were the claim by the government that the rebels, operating as the South Sudan Liberation Movement– In Opposition (SPLM-IO) were in disarray, the percentages involved in power sharing, the control of oil rich areas, the amalgamation of the rival parties, and federalism as a governing system.

Concerning power sharing, the agreement had proposed that Kiir’s government would no longer control 100% of seven of the 10 states as the armed opposition under Machar would now get 15% of seats in each of the seven states: Warrap, Lakes, Western Bahr el Ghazal, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Central, Western and Eastern Equatoria.

Similarly, Machar’s faction will no longer control 53% of the governments of the three states of Jonglei, Upper Nile and Unity. In the three states, the government will get 46%, SPLM-IO 40% and former detainees and political parties 7% each. While SPLM-IO will nominate governors of the two oil-rich states of Unity and Upper Nile, the government will nominate the governor of Jonglei state.

At the national level, the power sharing ratio remained as the original proposal of 53% for government, 33% for SPLM-IO and 14% split equally between former detainees and political parties.

The current 325 membership of the national parliament in Juba will be maintained with rebel members reinstated to their respective parliamentary seats before December 15, 2015. SPLM-IO will pick 50 additional parliamentarians, former detainees an additional member, and political parties 17 lawmakers. The two parties will also retain control over their own armies until the amalgamation process is undertaken. 

As the deadline had approached, the main sticking point became the official disintegration of the SPLM-IO. Days before August 17, two generals, identified as Peter Gadet and Gathoth Gatkuoth, defected from the South Sudan rebel side and fled to Sudan. 

Peter Gadet was one of those who abandoned Machar.

“The move by the generals had affirmed the argument by many that IGAD’s peace negotiation should have not only focused on leaders but also included the generals on the battlefields,” IPSS South Sudan research fellow Sunday Okello said. 

“Concurrently this also cemented the claim by Kiir that the opposition is disintegrated and that he does not know with whom to agree with…”

The weakening of the rebel side had seemed to give Kiir the advantage. “Fractures in the opposition are always a strength to the government both in times of war and peace,” said Okello.

Kiir’s “umbrella tent” policy of embracing anyone who decamped could have caused the delay in signing, where he requested 15 more days possibly as a strategy to further split the rebels and emerge victorious after the peace agreement, even as Machar, aware of his reduced weight signed on. In the event, Kiir caved in, signing in only half the time he requested.

What else is in there?

The 72-page agreement provides for a a “permanent ceasefire” beginning three days after the deal is signed, the departure of all foreign troops and militias within weeks, and the release of child soldiers and prisoners of war.

According to news agency AFP, no troops are allowed within a 25-kilometre (15-mile) radius of the capital Juba. Only presidential guard members, police and guards protecting infrastructure can remain in the city.

A “transitional government of national unity” will take office 90 days after the signing of the deal and govern for 30 months, while polls must be held 60 days before the end of the transitional government’s mandate - meaning early 2018.

AFP also adds that a Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing will be set up to investigate “all aspects of human rights violations”, while a “hybrid court”, set up in collaboration with the African Union, will try crimes, including possible genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Additionally, the two principals must “apologise unreservedly” for the suffering caused.

The way forward: Implementation

While intense pressure by the international community may have forced a reluctant Kiir to sign, ensuring implementation of the deal looks the priority; given the two parties’ recent history of ditching previous agreements reached under IGAD and returning to war. 

Even though the composition of IGAD Plus which included the troika, China, the African Union, and the United Nations was thought to provide the necessary deterrent for the parties not respecting the terms of the CA, reports on the ground indicate that hostilities remain strong, as rebels alleged government forces had instigated a fresh offensive, and Kirr at the signing counter-accused Machar forces of attacking him. 

The weakening of the rebels before the peace deal was signed is also another major setback in the implementation process.

“Machar was willing to sign the CA, but with his generals already defecting…it is doubtful if he would be able to implement the agreement. However to definitively anticipate a possible failure in the implementation process, we still need to clearly identify the extent of influence Machar is left within the SPLM-IO,” said Okello.

Beware the warlord

“Even after a peace deal, there is still a possibility of relapse to warlordism in South Sudan,” added Okello. 

“We have never heard of a unified national army in the country. There are groups of militias that subscribe to their commanders who in turn subscribe to the ideologies of the SPLM, which is currently divided in two.

“If armies are supposed to be in their different zones in the peace agreement and with the conception of belonging to SPLM as a unit but also in parallel faced with other contending interests like oil and federalism, it becomes a major problem to the security of the country. 

“The militias and commanders will be left in their locations and they will not be able to be deployed from one region to another as a national army would. If they stay in their locations, war-lordism will surely be promoted. 

“The soldiers will establish themselves as if they are armies in their own areas taking salaries and controlling the wealth in their areas,” Okello said.

Which all goes to show that South Sudan is not by a long shot out of the woods, despite the extraordinary international force of will brought to bear on the signing of a new deal. The focus must remain on addressing the underlying tensions if any deal is to be sustainable.

—This article has been amended to reflect the correct name of IPSS’s South Sudan research fellow as Dr Sunday Okello.

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