On August 26th, 2015 South Sudanese hopes were raised once again. The country, independent only since 2011, appeared to be emerging at last from a violent civil conflict which exacerbated divisions in the newly created country. Although the peace process is still underway, much of the initial hope and optimism has vanished. The process has been fraught with broken ceasefires, deadlines, and accusations of major human rights abuses.
The crisis was triggered in December 2013 as fighting broke out between President Salva Kiir and Vice-President Riek Machar over accusations that Machar was plotting a coup to overthrow the Kiir government. Although the conflict clearly began as political it quickly took on ethnic dimensions with fighting spreading across the country. Forces loyal to Kiir, a member of the Dinka ethnicity, and forces loyal to Riek Machar, a member of the Nuer ethnicity, remain tense even now that large-scale violence has stopped.
The Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS) in August of 2015 was the result of major pressure by the international community and regional actors. Numerous conflict management techniques have been applied in an attempt to end the conflict including: Ugandan military intervention on the side of President Kiir, UN peacekeeping troops (in place since 2011), sanctions, and intensive diplomacy. The agreement itself takes into account many aspects of power sharing.
Yet despite these numerous conflict management techniques, the peace process in South Sudan is halting and fragile.
The Tip of the Iceberg
Governance in South Sudan remains a major issue. Oil accounts for roughly 95% of government revenue and falling global prices, complications with pipelines, and a lack of production during the conflict have put extreme pressure on fiscal reserves. South Sudan also faces a major lack of infrastructure. Almost 60% of the country becomes inaccessible by road during the rainy season, complicating the deliveryof humanitarian assistance. This is especially significant as roughly half the population faces moderate or severe food insecurity. Literacy statistics remain among the worst in the world, with female literacy rates at only 16% and males at 40%. In addition to these structural challenges are issues resulting directly from or contributing to the conflict – ethnic mistrust, massive internal displacement, widespread corruption and ethnic patronage, and large numbers of armed civilians. Even if the peace agreement can resolve the situation between Kiir and Machar and provide assurances for ethnic security within the country, governance in South Sudan will not be a simple task for many years to come.
In Stephen Stedman’s seminal 1997 paper entitled “Spoiler Problems in Peace Processes” he provides a typology of spoilers and a theory of spoiler management that fits well in the South Sudanese context. Both Machar and Kiir appear to fit classification as greedy spoilers and the strategies pursued by international actors (custodians of the peace process in Stedman’s language) have largely aligned with those he proposed. These techniques, (inducement, socialization and coercion) have brought the parties to the negotiating table and pushed them back each time the peace process has threatened to derail. Yet despite massive efforts by the international community, this peace is not self-perpetuating – without the sustained involvement of custodians of the peace, a resurgence of violence is highly likely.
All of these reasons might be surmountable if it weren’t for the fact that the peace process did not address the root causes of the conflict. The agreement implements power sharing in South Sudan but largely returns the country to the status quo pre-civil conflict. One of the major changes – the creation of a truth commission and a hybrid war crimes court – is promising for building trust in the population but is likely increasing resistance by both parties to fully implementing the ARCSS for fear of prosecution. Without major reforms changing the power dynamics within the country spoiler management can only help prevent large returns to violence. It will not provide long-term peace.
What should be done?
Recommendation 1: Keep up the pressure on parties to the conflict to continue their engagement in the peace process. Negative peace is better than no peace.
Recommendation 2: Provide assistance to meet milestones within the agreement and the goal of a 2018 election (infrastructure, census, political parties).Although elections should not be rushed, the process needs to be continued for the government to be viewed with legitimacy.
Recommendation 3: Formalize and expand power sharing agreements within the permanent constitution. The final constitution must take into account criticisms of Presidential control and widespread allegations of corruption. Despite problems with preserving the status quo, power sharing agreements can help to rebuild trust in an ethnically and politically divided country.