On August 5th, in South Sudan a power-sharing peace deal was signed between warring leaders President Salva Kiir and former Vice-president Riek Machar.
Salva Kiir and Riek Machar, along with representatives from other opposition groups signed a deal in Khartoum, Sudan in the presence of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Djibouti President Ismail Oma Ghuelleh.
According to the deal former VP Riek Machar will return to government along with four other vice-presidents, under a transitional government of national unity. President Kiir spoke out his confidence that the deal will not collapse this time.
August 6th was declared an unofficial holiday by the ruling party and numerous businesses were shut down in Juba, the South Sudanese capital to allow for people to celebrate the power-sharing deal that aims to end the five-year war. People, including women, traditional chiefs and youth gathered at Juba International Airport to welcome President Kiir after returning from the signing.
Mr. Kiir, after his return to Juba spoke to the masses, saying that the government and Machar’s followers should “rededicate ourselves to unite our people and work for a peaceful transfer of power through the ballot boxes rather than through bullets.” Machar, however was more skeptical, urging mediators of the deal to focus on the implementation because “devil lies always in the implementation.”
A statement by deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the signing of the agreement, saying that it was an “important step” in the n the revitalization of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS), which was signed on Aug. 17, 2015, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Furthermore he praised the leadership of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD)-led High Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) and the efforts of the Republic of Sudan to broker an inclusive political settlement of the conflict in South Sudan. However, the statement also warned: “Recalling earlier agreements signed between the parties, the secretary-general urges all parties to work in good faith and demonstrate their commitment to fully implement and to finalize the revitalized ARCSS as soon as possible.” He also reaffirmed the UN’s commitment, together with IGAD and the African union to support the achievement of fair, inclusive and sustainable peace for the people of South Sudan.
According to South Sudan expert Peter Martell, as cited by BBC: “This is essentially the same agreement that was signed in 2015 which collapsed a year or so later – with Mr Machar fleeing Juba on foot, chased by helicopter gunships. But this time around there is an impetus for peace, including from the elite on both sides of the conflict. They have run out of money and need cash to continue to hold on to power. If oil flow increases and more money goes into the economy, they will find a good reason to step back from war and to enjoy the profits of peace. The people of South Sudan are fed up with the conflict, and it will be wrong to take away any optimism they have shown about the deal. But building peace takes a lot more than signing a piece of paper.”
The signing of the power-sharing agreement has, however, met opposition in South Sudan. On August 5th, two groups from the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA) voiced their rejection of the deal. It comes as a result of Salva Kiir’s rejection to review the 32 states. The SSOA want a change of the territorial administrative system to be effective during the transitional period and not be settled through the Independent Boundaries Commission and ultimately a referendum if this special mechanism fails to settle it. Kiir further said that Machar had to drop his demand for the reestablishment of the 10 states and in return, he accepted to appoint him as the first vice president.
The disagreement between the government and the opposition was regarding the issue of self-rule that the opposition groups see as the best guarantee to protect themselves from the “Dinka domination.” They also reject the 32 states because they were unilaterally imposed by President Kiir, after the signing of the 2015 agreement. The opposition also rejects them because the 32 states do not protect the ethnic groups from the “stranglehold” of other ethnic groups that control power in Juba. They call for larger regional entities with more administrative autonomy and financial resources.
Regarding the security situation in the country. There have been past reform attempts, however there has been no political will behind them. One of the main destabilizing forces in the country, thus remains the security sector. On July 13th, the UN Security Council approved the US draft resolution introducing an arms embargo against South Sudan and personal sanctions on two military officials.
Former military chief Paul Malong and former deputy chief of general staff for logistics Malek Reuben Riak were added to to the UN sanctions blacklist thus becoming a target of the global visa ban and assets freeze.
The embargo is imposed until May 2019 and expressed “deep concern at the failures of South Sudan’s leaders to bring an end to the hostilities.”
Ethiopian Ambassador Tekeda Alemu criticized the arms embargo saying that it could undermine the diplomatic efforts to stabilize the country. Criticism also came from the Russian Foreign Ministry, the statement said that “this decision is capable not only of undermining the negotiating process but also of doing considerable damage to the United Nations’ relations with the mediating regional organizations, which runs counter to our Western colleagues’ repeated claims concerning the importance of strengthening the partnership with them.”
South Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011, when President Salva Kiir assumed power. However, in December 2013 President Kiir accused Riek Machar of plotting a coup. Since then the country has been in a five-year civil war, which has before August 6th showed no signs of ending. The August 6th signing was the 12th ceasefire and 2nd power-sharing agreement between the warring parties.
The US and Israel actively supported the of an independent South Sudan. The US still remains one of the biggest providers of aid to the country. Since 2011, Washington, Tel Aviv and London have remained one of the most influential foreign players in the African country.
South Sudan has the third-largest oil reserves in Sub-Saharan Africa. Oil exports, however, depend on the pipelines, refineries and facilities of the Port Sudan in Sudan. There is, furthermore, a growing need to establish a strong country has prompted the South Sudanese government to attempt to implement an independent policy. This, however, prompts South Sudan’s beneficiaries in the face of US-, Israeli- and UK- affiliated businesses to defending their interests. Thus, the July 13th embargo may hurt the attempts to establish peace in the country, however it furthers the US-Israeli-led neocolonial policy mandated by them in the country. So, to that end, Washington and its allies are pressure the Sudanese government to move against its own interest.
Economical independence and strength are of utmost importance for South Sudan. The war has left the oil-rich country’s economy in a crisis. The agriculture is heavily disrupted.
According to the African Development Bank Group, South Sudan is the most oil-dependent country in the world; oil accounts for the bulk of its exports, approximately 60% of GDP and more than 95% of government revenues. Half of the oilfields in the country have been destroyed in the conflict, in addition to global conditions which also add to the crisis in the country.
The combination of the sharp drop in oil prices (from $110 per barrel in 2014 to roughly $50 in 2017) and the reduction in oil production following the outbreak of the ongoing civil war sharply reduced the growth rate. Real GDP contracted 5.3% in 2015 and 13.1% in 2016 and declined 6.1% in 2017.
Economic prospects for South Sudan may improve only in the case of resolution of political, social, and economic fragilities and continuing global headwinds.
The US, Israel and the UK are not the only parties interested in South Sudan. China receives only 2 to 5% of its annual oil imports from South Sudan. That is not a large amount, however oil is a top concern for Beijing. The volume may appear small; however, its geopolitical and political significance is not. Sudan was the Chinese industry’s first overseas success and its of symbolic importance. It does not only come down to oil, many other companies also followed. Bilateral trade reached $534 million in 2012; by 2013, roughly 100 Chinese companies were registered in South Sudan, covering energy, engineering, construction, telecommunications, medical services, hotels, restaurants, and retail. Some saw South Sudan as a “paradise for investors”: a country rich in oil income, with huge infrastructure needs, nearly no industry and no Western competition. Operational costs, with cheap rent and labour, were low and profit margins were as high as 50 per cent before the current economic crisis.
After the beginning of the 2013 war, Beijing decided to test-run the boundaries of its non-interference principle. However, China does not directly interfere, it just slightly assists, leveraging its political and economic influence to bring parties together. Its flexibility in providing aid has helped ensure the quick release of small in-kind donations covering transportation and accommodation for participants in negotiations. For example, when in 2015 tensions were rising between Sudan and South Sudan, Beijing sent Foreign Minister Wang Yi to convene a “special consultation meeting” in Khartoum that included South Sudan’s warring parties, Ethiopia, Sudan and IGAD. It used its longstanding ties with the Sudanese government to leverage the negotiations.
Furthermore, Russia has also expressed interest in expanding trade and economic relations as early as 2014, after a statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. However, Moscow’s position has been similar to China’s, as Lavrov said: “Russia is confident that African problems should be solved by Africans themselves,” thus showing that there is no wish for direct interference.
Russia and China are also one of South Sudan’s biggest weapons supplier, the July 13th embargo would lead to large losses.