Laying the Groundwork in South Sudan

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My post on the IRI Blog – Democracy Speaks – http://www.democracyspeaks.org/2014/05/laying-ground-work-in-south-sudan.html

Buried deep within the news cycle this weekend was the surprising news that the leaders of South Sudan had agreed to end the five-month conflict that began on the night of December 15.  In the first face to face meeting between South Sudan President Saliva Kiir and former vice president and rebel opposition leader Riek Machar, on May 9 the two leaders agreed to end the fighting and begin laying the groundwork for an interim government.  The agreement was a surprise to the international community. International leaders had warned observers not to expect much from the first meeting between the two men.  The recently signed agreement called for an immediate cease fire between the two sides, an interim government lasting for two years and unrestricted access throughout South Sudan by humanitarian organizations.

While this new agreement is the first considerable movement towards peace since the cessation of hostilities agreement that was signed in January, it is important to note that South Sudan was operating under a “transitional constitution and government” when the country disintegrated into a near civil war in December.  The power sharing agreement that was in place between President Kiir and former Vice President Machar ended in July 2013 when Machar and other leaders were removed from their government position by President Kiir.  In addition, it is not clear how inclusive the interim government will be once and if it has been formed as called for by Friday’s announcement.  There is a concern among political leaders in South Sudan that the interim government will only include leaders from within the ruling SPLM party, and not representatives of the opposition.  President Kiir and other SPLM leaders have made it clear in speeches that the conflict started because of an internal issue within the party and a solution should come from within SPLM.  Although opposition political parties have played a very limited role in the peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, an informal coalition of opposition political parties have been meeting at the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) Political Parties Resource Center in Juba, South Sudan in an effort to bring about lasting peace in their country.    In March, this informal coalition of opposition parties first proposed the idea of an interim government of national unity to President Kiir and his advisors.

Friday’s agreement was a step in the right direction in establishing peace in South Sudan but if the interim government is not inclusive of all actors in South Sudan, a long lasting peace will not be sustainable.  In addition, fighting continues in South Sudan despite the fact that both leaders have called on their armies to respect the cease fire.  It will be difficult for both sides to control the various groups that have taken up arms in this conflict.  This agreement is only a step on the long road to peace and reconciliation.

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