A new consensus needed to move the South Sudanese peace process:

19 November, 2020

On 19 November 2020, IPSS in collaboration with Oxfam and the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) convened the fourth roundtable on the “Transitional Government, Peace, and Security in South Sudan.” The virtual event was comprised of an esteemed panel that included: H. E Ambassador James Pitia Morgan, Ambassador of Sudan to Ethiopia; Mr. Rajab Mohandis, Executive-Director of South Sudan Civil Society Forum; Mr. Edmund Yakani, Executive Director of Community Empowerment for Progress (CEPO); and Caroline Kibos from the South Sudan Civil Society Forum. In addition, representatives from the African Union (AU), RECs, think-tanks, civil society, international organizations, and the diplomatic and donor communities also engaged in the roundtable.

Following the conclusion of the National Dialogue Conference on 17 November in Juba, the panel delved into the credibility, contents, and outcomes of the Dialogue. For most of the participants, the National Dialogue was taken as a positive avenue for the expression of citizen needs and expectations of government. However, concern was raised that a timeline and work plan for the implementation of the recommendations was absent furthermore, the national authorities did not commit themselves to any of the recommendations. On its credibility, key figures including First Vice-President Dr. Riek Machar, and Mr. Lam Akol questioned the legitimacy of the Dialogue and declined to participate.

There was a general acknowledgment that the peace process and the implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) had significantly stalled and were in urgent need of a new consensus on the way forward. At present, the transitional government was only partially formed, and the critical formation of a unified national army remained unfinished. Panelists argued that conflicting and diverging interpretations of the provisions by the Parties contributed to the lack of progress. In addition, it was stated that trust and confidence between the Parties were too low to build the critical consensus needed to move the government forward.

The sudden and rampant spread of the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on an already fragile South Sudan. Time, attention, and resources at all levels of the political, diplomatic, and humanitarian landscape focused on addressing the pandemic. In addition, the measures implemented by the government and social distancing norms to prevent the spread of COVID-19 affected the mobility of the Agreement monitors and its stakeholders to conduct the diplomatic activities and interpersonal engagement needed to ensure that the peace process is a success.  Agreement stakeholders like the Revitalized Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (RJMEC) ceased to hold monthly plenaries, while the Council of Ministers also paused its regular convening. The cantonment and training of the forces also paused, as such, since the formation of the transitional government, the unified forces have not been trained and unified.

Beyond Juba, the combined effect of floods, inter-communal violence, and the fragile humanitarian situation had devastating consequences on the citizens. Inter-communal violence became rampant in the regions of Bhar-el-Gazal, Equatoria, and Upper Nile as well as in the newly-created administrative areas of Pibor and Ruweng. While the ceasefire and political violence among the Agreement parties had generally ceased, violence continued in these areas. It was noted that the deterioration of the humanitarian situation and the lack of visible progress on implementation and in public service provision, contributed to disillusionment in the peace process among South Sudanese.

The following recommendations were proposed:

  1. For the African Union through the C5 to engage the Parties and garner political will for the implementation of the Agreement;
  2. For the AU, IGAD, and UN to conduct a joint mission and begin a post-conflict reconstruction and needs assessment;
  3. For the Government of South Sudan to widely disseminate the Peace Agreement both its contents and its successes;
  4. For civil society organizations to focus less on the Parties’ “political will” but rather on their “political interests” and to align its advocacy efforts accordingly;
  5. For the National Dialogue to be viewed as a complement to the 2018 Peace Agreement and not deviate from it. Furthermore, the methodology of the Dialogue needs to be consistent while the overall should foster collegiality.