The genesis and Conflict Resurgence and the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan

Compiled by Woja Emmanuel Wani

The hope for peace and stability in South Sudan was restored when a peace pact – the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS) was signed between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and Army in Government (SPLM/A-IG) and SPLM/A in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO), as represented by President Salva Kiir Mayardit and First Vice President Dr. Riek Machar Teny respectively. The agreement, which was signed on the 17th August 2015 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and on the 26th August, 2015 in Juba, South Sudan, was ratified by the South Sudan National Legislative Assembly on the 10th September, 2015. The agreement sought to end the deadly civil war that had broken out in South Sudan in December 2013, following power struggles between Kiir and Machar and the allegations of an attempted coup made by the former against the latter.

ARCSS culminated in the formation of a Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) on the 29th April 2016 with the return of Machar, who had fled Juba following the outbreak of the civil war. However, events on the night of the 7th July 2016, less than 48 hours before the celebration of the country’s fifth anniversary of independence, were characterised by violent confrontations in Juba between the SPLM/A-IG and SPLM/A-IO and spread to many parts of the city, resulting in the deaths of many soldiers and civilians as well as the destruction of property and displacement of people. This quick return to violence provoked analysts of conflict and peace studies to rethink and reflect on the processes leading to the signing of the ARCSS. This article analyses the events leading to the conclusion of the ARCSS and the extent to which they undermine the ownership, buy-in and commitment of stakeholders in the South Sudan peace process. It further recommends critical interventions to address identified gaps for securing lasting peace in South Sudan.

Contextualising the 2015 ARCSS

The civil war that broke out in December 2013 came after South Sudan attained its independence in July 2011, as a result of an affirmative secession vote in January 2011. The build-up to the civil war can be traced back to the difficult, strained and uneasy political relationship between Kiir and Machar, both in government and within the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). During the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) interim period from 2005 to 2011, the two political leaders were said to have supported different candidates in the run-up to the envisaged 2010 elections.

Further factional political struggles within SPLM became rife in 2013 as South Sudan approached its first general elections after independence, which were scheduled for 2015. Machar, together with Pagan Amum Okiech (SPLM secretary-general) and Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior (a fellow member of the SPLM Political Bureau and widow of the late SPLM leader, Dr. John Garang de Mabior), openly criticised the SPLM chairman and announced that they would contest the presidency against Kiir. The non-cooperative relations between the Office of the President and that of the Vice President, and contestations over skewed and irregular army recruitments in 2013, were also factors in the civil war, which was triggered by disagreements within the presidential guard over alleged orders to disarm Machar-aligned Nuer members as a result of an alleged coup.

Kiir’s Reservations: Power Politics or Nation-building?

The 16 reservations held by Kiir have largely been swept aside by many analysts and those involved in the South Sudanese conflict. The danger is that they quickly forget how this erodes the SPLM/A-IG’s political will and ownership of the ARCSS. Even in the ARCSS preamble, the parties to the agreement (were expected to) acknowledge “the need to promote inclusivity and popular ownership of this Agreement”, so as to ensure effective implementation.

The SPLM/A-IG also objected to the transition of the monitoring and verification mechanism (MVM), which is responsible for reporting implementation progress of the permanent ceasefire, and transitional security arrangements (PCTSA) to the ceasefire and transitional security arrangement monitoring mechanism (CTSAMM). Kiir objected to the MVM role, arguing that its current performance was unsatisfactory as its reports were based on unofficial information, further suggesting that the MVM transition to CTSAMM should only be based on government approval. Whilst the over-reliance on unofficial information or statistics in security reporting can be detrimental to peace efforts – as such information is often over-exaggerated and manipulated in pursuit of narrow sectional interests – there is no justification to eliminate whatever can be useful and positive. Apparently, the work of CTSAMM will be overseen by a more independent and representative Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC), as provided under Chapter VII (2.7) of the ARCSS. Hence, progressive and constructive discussions should be centred on strengthening the JMEC’s capacity to execute its oversight role, instead of contemplating government interference into the transition of MVM. This can be potentially destructive, considering the extent of political polarisation occurring in South Sudan.

Implementers of the ARCSS – it will be tantamount to having the government (SPLM/A-IG and SPLM/A-IO) monitoring and evaluating itself. This would make the JMEC vulnerable and pliant to elite manipulation.

The Status of Implementation of the ARCSS:

Since the signing of the ARCSS, there have been calls from both the regional and international community questioning the slow pace at which the peace deal is being implemented. There has been a lack of implementation progress and a violation of prior agreements – notably the Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) Agreement, signed on 23 January 2014; the Agreement to Resolve the Crisis in South Sudan of 9 May 2014; and the Areas of Agreement on the Establishment of the Transitional Government of National Unity in the Republic of South Sudan, signed on 1 February 2015.

In terms of implementation progress, leaders in South Sudan have not been moving as fast as expected when their progress is measured against the milestones stipulated in the ARCSS. The leaders in Juba should be credited for managing to form the TGoNU, as well as constituting the Council of Ministers in April 2016, as provided for in the ARCSS. They have started establishing the necessary institutions of governance provided for in the ARCSS. However, the implementation of other provisions of the ARCSS has been slow.

There has been a lack of progress on the formation of the Transitional National Legislative Assembly (TNLA) through the expansion of the existing 300-member National Legislative Assembly by an additional 68 members – comprising 50 members from the SSAO, one member from the FDs and 17 members from other political parties – as provided for under Chapter 1 (11) of the ARCSS. The JMEC also reported that there are disagreements in the selection of the speaker of the TNLA, lack of consensus over the appointment of presidential advisors, and lack of movement with regard to reviewing the 28 states. The 28 states were unilaterally created by Kiir after he dissolved the 10 regional states in South Sudan through the issuance of Order 6/2015 on 2 October 2015, with the aim of “devolving power and bringing resources closer to the people, reducing government expenditure and promoting development”. However, the decision to create more states has been criticised as a veiled attempt by the SPLM/A-IG “to grab other communities’ land in Upper Nile and Bahr el Ghazal and annex them to the Dinka lands”.

The CTSAMM – with the mandate, provided for under Chapter II (4) of the ARCSS, of monitoring compliance and reporting to the JMEC on the implementation progress of the PCTSA – is reported to be facing restrictions in doing its work, whilst humanitarian deliveries were reportedly being obstructed in Western Equatoria and Northern Bahr el Ghazal. There were reports that CTSAMM monitoring and verification teams in areas such as Yambio, Torit and Juba were being intimidated and restricted in terms of carrying out their operations, with some local authorities demanding to see presidential authority before any access is granted.

Government departments and offices within the TGoNU appear to be disjointed and lack collaboration. Of course, this is one of the serious challenges any government of national unity faces as interparty trust, consultation, communication, cooperation, dialogue and consensus are difficult to forge. For example, Machar and Igga issued a joint press statement on 1 June 2016 to the effect that the South Sudan presidency – comprising Kiir, Machar and Igga – had agreed to review the 28 states of South Sudan through a 15-member committee, constituted by 10 South Sudanese and five representatives from international partners. However, on 3 June 2016, Tor Deng Mawien, a senior presidential advisor to Kiir on decentralisation and intergovernmental linkages, dismissed the press statement whilst denying that consensus had been reached to review the 28 states. Such actions may affect the continued effective implementation of the ARCSS.

Revisiting the ARCSS: The Way Forward:

What any peace building practitioner involved in the peace process in Sudan needs to understand clearly is that South Sudan as a state is still in its infancy. While the country’s politicians have been exposed to numerous peace negotiations and have signed several peace pacts in years dating back to the pre-secession era, it is imperative to note that their exposure to nation-building and governance has been very limited. It is such particularities and nuances of which mediators involved in the South Sudan peace process should be cognisant.

South Sudan has no sound foundational institutions of governance to build on, unlike other African countries that inherited such institutions and simply re-engineered or reconfigured them to suit their new normal. South Sudan is building from an almost clean slate. The institutional infrastructure is weak and its governance culture is new and fragile.

Granted, peace accords do not automatically deliver peace. Particularly in circumstances where the protagonists in the conflict have a history of engaging in confrontational politics, peace agreements will likely be preceded by tensions, suspicions and mistrust. This usually results in selective implementation of the agreement and the violation of certain provisions, which results in the resurgence of conflict. The South Sudanese case fits this scenario, as both Kiir and Machar engage in zero-sum strategies for the purposes of shifting the balance of power in their respective favour. But a defective or controversial peace deal like the ARCSS will compound the situation further and make it difficult for signatories to invest their political will.


The durability of peace agreements usually depends on the extent to which the key parties to the conflict exhibit ownership of the peace pact. The imposition of deadlines to force conflicting parties to sign agreements – even in circumstances when the end justifies the means – succeeds in getting signatures on papers but largely fails to secure much-needed peace, as parties are usually reluctant and unwilling to implement actions. As Rudolph Rummel points out, “[T]o make peace is to achieve a balance of powers, an interlocking of mutual interests, capabilities and wills.” Thus, negotiating peace agreements requires patience, persistence and determination. Mediators to the ARCSS should engage all the parties to the agreement, and dialogue on the reservations of either side, in such a way that the functioning of the TGoNU in South Sudan is not affected. At the same time, they need to put measures in place to ensure that what has been achieved so far by the South Sudanese TGoNU.

Now that the two leaders are due to meet in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa for face to face meeting, what could be the outcome of the these leaders meeting?

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