South Sudan’s Warlords Cozy Up and Make Nice… For Now
But peace could be short-lived
But the agreement does little to address the underlying deficiencies and tensions within the South Sudanese political elite. Former Vice Pres. Riek Machar and the rebels he claims to represent still want a deal that would put them back into positions of influence in the government.
This arrangement would leave many questions about the future of the young country unanswered.
Regional pressure and sanctions
The current deal is largely the result of substantial international pressure to halt the violence before the rainy season makes handing out humanitarian aid impossible. The United Nations believes millions inside the country need assistance.
South Sudan’s neighbors and the broader international community have steadily prodded Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir to resolve their differences peacefully. The fighting has produced a humanitarian disaster over the last five months. There conflict could also have a destabilizing effect on the entire region.
The pressure has come in many forms. South Sudan’s economy depends almost entirely on other countries.
The country’s national income is derived mainly from exporting oil. But South Sudan is landlocked and every drop of crude has to pass through the Republic of Sudan to the north.
South Sudan is also working with Kenya on an additional pipeline that would send the country’s oil into tankers in the Indian Ocean. The fighting has delayed oil shipments and the pipeline project—and neither Sudan nor Kenya are thrilled about the influx of refugees.
The United States?—?a major ally of the fledgling nation — also sent a warning shot to both Kiir and Machar. Washington leveled sanctions and asset freezes against a single close supporter of each politician.
The pressure has also been directed at actors outside the country. International pressure has also squeezed Uganda for intervening on behalf of South Sudan’s government.
Uganda eventually agreed to withdraw its forces after receiving strong criticism from its neighbors and others. The country’s military probably wasn’t keen on being bogged down in a drawn-out conflict either.
Leaving the country in limbo
All of this combined pressure has shown results, but the success shouldn’t be overstated. A power sharing deal could lead to peace — but only temporarily if it doesn’t address any of the larger issues.
Al Jazeera footage of the recent signing ceremony shows Kiir and Machar refusing to shake hands or even exchange as much as a nod. This meeting to sign the new peace agreement was the first time the two have met since hostilities broke out last December.
The rainy season is also coming whether the violence stops or not. The international community and humanitarian groups dread the torrential downpours because it makes providing relief a nightmare.
Roads and refugee camps quickly become submerged and impassable. U.N. peacekeepers have already had to move refugees to higher ground.
Fortunately, it also makes pursuing a coordinated military campaign nigh impossible. This fact might actually explain why the government and rebels were able to agree to a new ceasefire.
The deal could very well fall apart once the monsoons end. But Kiir and Machar could also use the time to overcome their professional differences and return to a working relationship.
The problem is that this would fit neatly with the prevailing model of conflict management in South Sudan: If you are unsatisfied with your political position, take your men out into the bush and hold out for a better offer.
This has happened frequently before and after the independence of South Sudan. Machar’s rebellion is only the latest and most extreme incarnation of the long tradition.
The current deal doesn’t do anything to help solve the serious problems in South Sudan’s political system. It will also leave the same people in power without tempering the ambitions that caused the crisis in the first place.
Next year, South Sudan is slated to hold national elections. It will be a high stakes affair and both Kiir and Machar will want to see their names on the ballot. The loser is unlikely to accept a defeat without trying to fight his way back to the table.