Unease as fragile ceasefire holds in South Sudan

President Salva Kiir (L) and Dr Riek Machar. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

The ceasefire in South Sudan remains fragile as regional states and other partners in the peace process seek to provide solution to the new crisis.

Most foreign missions continue to evacuate non-essential staff with strong indication that the ceasefire was a temporary lull before an all-out war, given that it came only after serious diplomatic pressure.  

Signs that the crisis was not over came on Wednesday when Dr Riek Machar called on the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC), led by former Botswana President Festus Mogae, to facilitate the transportation of his remaining 1,540 troops to Juba as per the agreement.

According to security arrangement, Dr Machar was entitled to a total 2,910 security personnel including, personal guards and police, while only 1,370 were in Juba before his return on April 25.

However, Jervasio Okot, a South Sudan political analyst said that though JMEC had the responsibility of transporting Dr Machar’s remaining soldiers, it would be difficult at this point because the monitoring body would be seen as perpetrating war.

The sacking

President Salva Kiir has rejected the proposal by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) council of ministers to deploy forces from the region to act as a buffer zone in Juba.

The President immediately sacked the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Cirino Hiteng, who attended the Igad council meeting in Nairobi that made the decision for the deployment.

Dr Hiteng—who belongs to the former detainees group—told the Africa Review that the sacking was illegal because the August 2105 agreement did not give the President the power to remove a minister appointed by one of the peace signatories.

With the earlier uneasy working relations between President Kiir and Dr Machar having been aggravated by the four-day war—in which the latter was kicked out of the official cantonment area in Jebel Kujur—experts were concerned that the transitional government could be in its death bed unless the international community asserts more pressure.

South Sudanese government attack helicopters hover over the Checkpoint district of the capital Juba, near the Jebel area which has seen some of the heaviest fighting, on July 11, 2016. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Such is the bad blood that on Thursday afternoon, Dr Dhieu Mathok Ding, the Secretary-General of the SPLM-IO, who is also the Energy Minister, was arrested at Crown Hotel where he was staying. He later said he was tortured, with pictures he released showing bruises on both knees.

Dr Machar was forced to move base from southern Juba when his residence was also bombed and destroyed by helicopter gunships.

One of the Igad technocrats who mediated the peace talks, Dr Mohammed Ali Guyo, said that the international community, especially the UN, must now change the rules of engagement by enhancing the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to include peace enforcement until the restructuring of the two armies is complete.

“Juba should be turned into a purely demilitarised zone then the politicians can implement the agreement without the security threat and uncertainty that the city residents are currently experiencing,” said Dr Guyo. 

Ethnic animosity

The Igad-driven peace agreement, with the support of the Troika—the UK, Norway and the US—appears to have failed in South Sudan where historical ethnic animosity does not provide a conducive environment for power-sharing.

The power-sharing experiment was tried in Kenya and Zimbabwe, leading to peaceful co-existence, but ended up weakening the opposition as the incumbents continued to enjoy unfeterred power. 

In South Sudan, President Kiir was given the upper hand in terms of military numbers, maintaining 5,000 soldiers and police personnel as opposed to Dr Machar’s 2,910.

According to Jacob Chol, the head of political science department at Juba University, the two leaders have totally lost trust in each other and have no capacity to work together in the transitional government.

The solution is for the regional leaders and the international community to put pressure on these leaders through individual sanctions and arms embargo, while mopping up guns in the wrong hands,” said Mr Chol.

Economic interests

But frontline states such as Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan have been resisting any form of sanctions that would harm their vested political and economic interests.

Kenya, Sudan and Uganda perceive South Sudan as a prime market for their products, while Ethiopia was keen to end the war, lest the young nation becomes an operational base for bitter rival—Eritrea.

Sudan was interested in ensuring that South Sudan is not used as a training ground for rebels.

The Troika group —that has been pushing for sanctions—was keen to have access to South Sudan's vast natural resources, including oil currently dominated by China. 

The oil sector

The US Assistant Secretary and State Department Spokesperson John Kirby, said Washington was determined to ensure appropriate measures were taken to hold accountable those responsible for continuing fighting and violations of international humanitarian law, including attacks on UNMISS, targeting of civilians.

China on the other hand, has been pushing for peace in South Sudan because of its huge investment in the oil sector. China has financially supported the peace negotiations in Addis Ababa as well as sending a record number of troops to join UNMISS.

The 2012 records show that China consumed over 80 per cent of South Sudan’s oil exports.

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