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Rift Valley Institute

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This year in South Sudan (Part 2)

This blog post was written by Douglas Johnson and Guma Kunda Komey, the Co-Directors of Studies for the Rift Valley Institute’s Sudan and South Sudan Course, which will be taking place in Entebbe, Uganda from 25 June – 1 July 2016. This year’s course will look back into the history of both countries in order to look ahead.  The course will examine the range of explanations for enduring and interconnected conflicts and crises in both countries, asking why efforts to address these conflicts from within and without have so often failed and sometimes made things worse.  It will also consider how everyday life carries on in such circumstances, and how it is shaped by conflict. The RVI courses are designed for policy-makers, diplomats, investors, development workers, researchers, activists and journalists—for new arrivals to the region and those already working there who wish to deepen their understanding. For more information on the Sudan and South Sudan Course and RVI’s two other Field Courses—the Great Lakes and the Horn of Africa—please visit RVI Field Courses.


First Vice President Designate Riek Machar arrives in Juba, 19 April 2016, UNMISS.

Following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005, a common hope was that Sudan stood a historical chance for ‘attractive unity’, economic prosperity and socio-political stability. By the end of the transitional period in 2011, however, disunity (separation) had been made attractive, resulting in a ‘bitter and incomplete divorce’. The two rival Sudans now each face internal civil wars, economic collapse and political instability. The democratic transformation promised by the CPA has yet to take root in either country. The ruling National Congress Party (NCP) in Sudan has further entrenched its position against a divided opposition while intensifying its military offensives in Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. In South Sudan the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) has increasingly come to resemble the oppressive Khartoum regimes against which it rebelled, with its military responses to political dissent and regional discontent. The hesitant formation of a Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) in Juba has yet to create public confidence that the country will return to peace after two years of massive and violent conflict. Unresolved issues between Sudan and South Sudan include the border, the future of Abyei and sharing the shrinking proceeds of a troubled oil industry. Today, five years after the separation, there are few positive signs in the political, social and economic fronts. Instead, there are signs of further political, social and economic deterioration.

In the parallel universe that has become South Sudan, negotiations between the government and the political and armed opposition groups have been just as problematic as Sudan’s internal peace talks, although international mediation from the AU, IGAD and others has been more successful in brokering an agreement. Early in 2015 the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in Government (SPLM-IG) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in Opposition (SPLM-IO) of Riek Machar pledged to reach an agreement by March and establish a Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) by July. Both deadlines were missed. IGAD Plus—a consortium now including additional representatives from the African Union, the UN, the European Union, China, Norway, the UK and the USA—drafted a compromise agreement in July 2015. Under severe international pressure the SPLM-IG and SPLM-IO agreed to set up a power-sharing TGoNU on 17 August 2015 but became complicated when President Salva Kiir issued a list of reservations to the agreement on 26 August. These reservations seemed to have been resolved when he issued a Permanent Ceasefire decree on 27 August, and both Kiir and Machar endorsed the agreement at a high level meeting in the UN on 29 September. The agreement provided for power-sharing between the factions of the SPLM in the central government and a distribution of the ten state governorships between them. This portion of the agreement was then upturned with President Kiir unilaterally decreed the creation twenty-eight states out of the original ten on 2 October 2015. The SPLM-IO and SPLM-Former Detainees (SPLM-FD), two of the partners in the prospective TGoNU, condemned this initiative, as did other opposition groups and members of IGAD Plus. Despite this, the Council of States in Juba unanimously endorsed the new decree on 15 December 2015.

The year 2016 began with uncertainty about the state of security in South Sudan and the viability of the proposed TGoNU. The 2014 Cessation of Hostilities agreement was never really honoured by either side. Conflict between the SPLA, the SPLA-IO and other local armed opposition groups continued into 2016, despite Juba’s Permanent Ceasefire decree in August 2015. Factionalism within the SPLM/A-IO contributed to the instability of the ceasefire as commanders such as Peter Gatdet, who were opposed to any accommodation with President Kiir, withdrew from the movement. On the other side, mainly Bul Nuer militias sided with the government, defending the oil fields in Unity state from SPLA-IO attacks and committing atrocities against civilians from other Nuer communities. Some Nuer defectors from SPLM/A-IO returned to the government side, while others formed independent armed groups.

Other armed groups have appeared in various parts of South Sudan. A separate Shilluk force called the Tiger Faction New Forces (TFNF) was formed to oppose the creation of 28 federal states. In Western Equatoria a youth militia informally called the Arrow Boys—originally raised to combat the Lord’s Resistance Army—formed the nucleus of the armed opposition, the South Sudan National Liberation Movement (SSNLM), who fought against the SPLA beginning in October 2015. A peace agreement between the SSNLM and the government was signed in April 2016. A small group calling itself the South Sudan Armed Forces/South Sudan Federal Democratic Party (SSAF/SSFDP), operating in Eastern Equatoria, aligned itself with SPLM-IO, while other groups who have also aligned with SPLM-IO have been operating in Western Equatoria and Western Bahr el-Ghazal. The irregularity of the SPLA-IO’s command structure has allowed Juba to deny that these other groups are party to the peace agreement and covered by the ceasefire, a position hotly contested by SPLM-IO. A Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) under former President of Botswana Festus Mogae was formed in January 2016, and its greatest challenge will be both monitoring outbreaks of violence and fostering the formation of some mechanism to both curb and bring an end to confrontations between the armed groups.

Among the most disturbing aspects of South Sudan’s own civil war is the widening circle of violence against civilians. This was first documented by the African Union towards the end of the first year of fighting, and has been reconfirmed in reports by the UNHCR and other rights bodies. Even civilians under the protection of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) have not fully escaped the violence, such as those in the Malakal UNMISS Protection of Civilian camp who were targeted in February 2016.

There has been a clear merging, or at least overlapping of Sudan and South Sudan’s civil wars in the border region. Refugees from South Kordofan and Blue Nile have fled to Upper Nile and Unity states, while some persons displaced by food shortages in Northern Bahr el-Ghazal have moved into South Darfur and Western Kordofan. JEM supported Juba in fighting in Unity state, while some SPLM-N soldiers were reported in Upper Nile. Khartoum has revived its old contacts with the SPLM-IO leaders Taban Deng Gai and Riek Machar, and some SPLA-IO troops were recruited to attack SPLM-N in Blue Nile. SPLA units in Abyei, frustrated by lack of support from Juba, threatened to join SPLM-N while Khartoum closed its border with South Sudan to official trade as early as 2011, contributing to food shortages in the region.

The implementation of the peace agreement proceeded in fits and starts. Salva Kiir formally reappointed Riek Machar as first vice-president in February as advance parties of SPLM-IO officials and SPLA-IO soldiers began to arrive sporadically in Juba. But there was a period of ‘will he, won’t he’ uncertainty about Machar’s return as his arrival in Juba was repeatedly announced and then delayed over arguments about troop numbers and weapons to be imported into Juba. SPLM-IO complained that they were being denied the finances to implement the return and accommodation of so many new officials and soldiers, while Juba admitted that it did not have the money to fully demilitarise the capital by removing excess SPLA troops to the countryside, making it clear that both sides expect the international community to fund their internal peace agreement. After a wrangle over transport, Riek Machar finally returned to Juba on 26 April 2016 in a passenger jet provided from Khartoum.

A combination of war, declining international oil prices and output from South Sudan’s oil industry and a general mismanagement of the economy has left the Government of South Sudan nearly bankrupt and the national economy in decline. Early in 2016, Sudan and South Sudan reached a new agreement over oil transit charges. In January, Sudan reopened its border with South Sudan but quickly closed it again when South Sudan accused Sudan’s air force of bombing sites in Upper Nile. Food shortages approaching famine have been reported in many parts of South Sudan while South Sudan allowed the South Sudan Pound (SSP) to float against the dollar, negatively affecting both government budgets and anyone whose salary was paid in SSP. South Sudan was finally admitted into the East African Community (EAC), a development that might open the country to greater investment but which many fear will make the country economically subservient to their more prosperous neighbours.

What next? Confrontation with armed opposition in both countries has taken on new levels of scale and intensity. In Sudan government by low-level war is now a well-established and partially successful strategy, but SAF has failed to make good on President Bashir’s promise to end all rebellions this year. In South Sudan the government’s former strategy of buying off defectors and rebels at high prices can no longer be sustained and both government and opposition are looking for international funds to pay for the tenuous peace agreement. Developments in South Sudan give Khartoum the upper hand in its dealings with Juba. The cooperation deal struck between both countries in September 2012 continues to hold, reinforced by a renewed agreement on oil-related fees and transfers, and a political cooperation agreement between the NCP and SPLM. But accusations of cross-border rebel support, aerial bombardment near refugee sites in South Sudan by the Sudanese air force, and Khartoum’s closure of the border to trade have created a poor climate for building stronger relations.

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