Recent South Sudan peace agreement and its regional stakeholders
Abdinor Hassan Dahir
On June 27, three days before the African Union Summit, South Sudan President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar signed a peace agreement in the Sudanese capital Khartoum. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir mediated the deal which was intended to end the five-year civil war in Africa’s youngest nation.
The areas agreed on under this peace deal include a permanent cease-fire, cantonments for all forces, deployment of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) regional and African Union forces to implement the cessation of hostilities, and three temporary capital cities, which will host three proposed vice presidents. Additionally, Kiir and Machar had agreed that neighboring Sudan would administer South Sudanese oil fields and rehabilitate the wells to restore their previous levels of production.
The agreement also stipulated that parties form a transitional government that will rule for three years with the mandate of preparing the country for national elections. On July 8, Kiir and Machar met in Uganda’s Entebbe and agreed to withdraw troops from cities, implementing the cease-fire deal in late June. Mediated by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and attended by Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, the parties also agreed to reinstate Machar as the first vice president.
Cease-fire violated, deal rejected: However, the cease-fire, which went into force on July 1, was violated immediately, leading the government and opposition groups trading blame. On July 2, the South Sudanese government presented a bill to Parliament seeking to extend Kiir’s rule until 2021. Opposition groups immediately rebuffed the proposed bill, claiming it would sabotage the ongoing peace talks.
Furthermore, the rebels have rejected the Entebbe agreement to reinstall Machar as the first vice president, arguing it failed to curb Kiir’s strong power base. The rejection has deflated hopes for an end to the crisis and recalls the memories of the 2015 power-sharing agreement between the two sides that collapsed later that year and resulted in Machar fleeing the country. Who gets the credit?
The deal to end the civil war in the oil-rich, landlocked African nation has been welcomed by both regional countries and the international community. So why did leaders agree to this deal, and who gets credit for it?
First, Bashir understands South Sudanese dynamics better than any other foreign leader. He has considerable leverage over the rebel groups, principally the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO) and its leader Machar. Second, Bashir’s efforts coincided with the international community reaching a consensus to end the conflict. Third, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the region’s political bloc, had recently threatened to impose targeted sanctions on the leaders of the civil war. Fourth, both Kiir and Machar knew all of the factors and therefore, were more willing than ever to compromise.
Lastly, Museveni, who has some influence over Kiir and attended the peace agreement ceremony in Khartoum, played a key role in the talks. Until recently, Museveni opposed any deal including Machar; however, it seems now that Bashir and Museveni have found common ground.
Reading actors’ minds: Most of the analysis on the South Sudanese conflict has dealt with local dynamics; however, the country is caught in a web of regional competing interests. Several of Juba’s neighbors have been, directly or indirectly, involved in the civil war. So, who are these actors, and what do they actually want?To begin with, Sudan, whose economy suffered following South Sudan’s breakaway in 2011, wants the restoration of Jubba’s oil fields to save its ailing economy. Khartoum is determined to continue being South Sudan’s primary route for oil exportation. Second, Bashir champions the removal of his country from the US “state sponsors of terrorism” list and believes that he could achieve this milestone by facilitating the South Sudanese peace process.
Thirdly, Sudan is facing domestic conflicts, including in the South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions, and wants its border with South Sudan to be secure from Sudanese rebels. Finally, Khartoum, which has territorial dispute with Jubba, such as the oil rich Abyei region, wants its leadership position in the negotiations to forge better relations with South Sudan so they could peacefully settle their territorial conflict.
Neighboring Uganda supported the Kiir administration by deploying troops to the country in early 2014 following the crisis. Kampala has vital economic and security interests in South Sudan. First, it exports hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of products to South Sudan annually.
Many Ugandan nationals have moved to the new country and set up businesses. Second, Uganda has been battling with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a Ugandan rebel group known for murdering, raping and kidnapping civilians. The group, which is active in several countries across Central Africa, operates and launches attacks from bases in South Sudan. Additionally, Uganda has been the primary destination of many South Sudanese refugees fleeing the conflict in their home country. The country currently host over a million South Sudanese refugees.
Ethiopia contributes troops to the peacekeeping force, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), and the United Nations Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA). It was the mediator and guarantor of the now-defunct South Sudan’s August 2015 peace agreement.
South Sudan and Ethiopia share an 883-kilometer border, and the latter is concerned with the security of its citizens, particularly in the face of recurrent cross-border raids. The Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, while preventing Ethiopian and South Sudanese rebels from establishing operating bases inside its territory, wants to manage intercommunal relations along the border – particularly with the Nuer and Anyuak ethnic populations that reside in both countries. It is also trying to manage the inflow of the South Sudanese refugees into its country to ensure Gambella is not destabilized.
Geopolitically, Addis Ababa wants to form long-term strategic relations with any administration in Juba because of the latter’s involvement in the Nile basin politics. The Nile has recently become a source of frustration between Egypt and Ethiopia due to latter’s intent on building a mega dam, which Cairo fears would reduce the follow of water. Addis Ababa understands that the newly created South Sudan could play a key role in Nile politics as either an ally or rival of Ethiopia’s entanglement with Egypt.
Economically, Ethiopia has been spearheading the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (LAPSSET) corridor program, principally the Horn of Africa’s largest infrastructure project, which links Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia. Juba’s stability is a prerequisite for the success of this megaproject.
Finally, Kenya has been involved in South Sudan dynamics and has even been blamed for its role in the conflict. Nairobi’s engagement is twofold. First, it wants to manage the large South Sudanese refugee influx entering its country. Second, Kenya envisages becoming an alternative route for Jubba’s oil exports. One of the seven key infrastructure projects of LAPPSET is building a crude oil pipeline from the Kenyan port city of Lamu to Juba via the town of Isiolo.The deal, though fragile, to end the five-year civil war in Africa’s youngest nation is truly in the interest of the region and the world, as well.
The international community seems determined to ensure the success of the recent peace talks; however, given Juba’s geopolitical location and its oil resources, it might not be wrong to conclude that several neighboring countries, which all have political and economic interests in the country, have roles to play. These actors can and should contribute in good conscience to the success of the negotiations as much as the South Sudanese leaders.