GP Insights

GP Insights # 267, 22 February 2020

South Sudan: President and Opposition leader announce unity deal
Abigail Miriam Fernandez

What happened?

On 20 February 2020, South Sudan's rival leaders agreed to form a unity government. This unity deal comes as a breakthrough after months of delays and other significant issues caused by the civil war. Opposition leader Riek Machar stated that he and President Salva Kiir agreed to resolve any outstanding issues after the government's formation. Kiir stated that the new government would be formed on Saturday and that he will appoint Machar as his first vice president.

The rival leaders have missed this deadline twice missed in the past year to form the transitional government that would lead to elections in three years. This deal comes amid anticipation of the United States and others, who feared South Sudan might slide into fighting again if a new government was not formed.

What is the background?

The civil war in South Sudan broke out two years after the nation gained their long-fought independence from Sudan when President Salva Kiir, who belongs to the majority Dinka ethnic group, fired his deputy, Riek Machar, who belongs to the Nuer ethnic group. The conflict caused major problems to the oil-rich nation's economy and the people who have suffered from hunger, poverty, human rights violations and, displacement.

The two sides first signed a power-sharing deal in September 2018, but negotiations since then had been unable to reach the previous two deadlines in May 2019 and November 2019. Machar has long demanded that President Kiir reverse his decision to increase the number of states to 32, seeing it as means through which the President can boost his power base. However, on 15 February 2020 agreed to the opposition's demand to reduce the number of states by returning to a system of 10 states and sacked all 32 state governors, raising hopes of an end to the deadlock.

Further, the country has been put under severe external pressure in the form of sanctions and other pressure to get the rival sides to make a lasting peace. The US, UK, and Norway have frequently urged both sides to compromise and avoid a return to conflict.

What does it mean?

This announcement is a significant step forward after years of stalled negotiations in South Sudan. However, even though this deal is seen as a sign of hope and has been appreciated internally and externally. A crucial implication of the deal is that it would help unlock the oil reserves and boost flagging production in the oil-rich nation.

However, there remain several challenges in the peace process. Integrating tens of thousands of former rival forces into a united army will be a tedious process. Addressing issues of poverty, displacement, hunger, child soldiers, bloody localized conflicts, sexual violence and plunder of public funds would need to be addressed to ensure that the peace process is successful. Thus, what lies ahead for South Sudan are many political battles that should hopefully be tackled and not result in another conflict.

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