Rebel leader Riek Machar will be reinstated in his position as the first Vice President of South Sudan in a bid to end a 5 year old civil war.
South Sudan is a landlocked country in East-Central Africa. The country gained its independence from Sudan in 2011, making it the newest country with widespread recognition. Its capital and largest city is Juba. South Sudan has suffered ethnic violence and has been in a civil war since December 2013. The origins of the conflict lie in the rivalry between the Dinka and Nuer, two pastoral groups who competed over grazing land and water for their cattle. In 2013, the dismissal of the former vice president Riek Machar, a Nuer, by the South Sudanese president Salva Kiir, a Dinka, functioned as a catalyst for mass violence. Since the start of the conflict, almost 2 million people have been internally displaced, and another 2 million have sought refuge in neighboring countries, with 1 million in Uganda alone. More than 230,000 people are sheltering in six United Nations bases located in towns across the country. Famine was declared in conflict-affected areas in the former Unity state in the first half of this year.
In addition, the country’s economy has also been devastated. Oil production has been slashed, on which the economy depends nearly entirely. According to the IMF, real income has halved since 2013 and inflation is more than 300% per annum. Some estimates note that nearly six million people in the region could be starving. It should be noted that there have been multiple attempts in the past to negotiate for peace in the region. However, multiple peace treaties have not rendered fruitful results thus far. In 2016, Machar was briefly made the Vice President of the country, but peace was short lived. Violent fighting ensued, and he fled South Sudan in 2016.
The agreement to reinstate former Prime Minister Riek Machar was reached in talks held in Entebbe in Kampala, Uganda mediated by Ugandan President Yoweri Miseveni and attended by South Sudan President Salva Kiir, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir and Machar. Leaders from opposition groups took part in the meeting, too. A statement by the presidency said, “After a 10-hour-long meeting, the parties agreed ... there will be four vice presidents and Dr. Riek Machar will be reinstated as first vice president.” The fourth position will be allocated to a woman from the opposition. However, in a conflicting account Kiir’s press secretary said that the discussions had ended without a conclusive agreement. Earlier this week a security agreement which followed on from a ceasefire deal last month was signed.
The recent decision symbolizes a potential development in efforts negotiated by regional leaders to share power and finalize a peace agreement to end the war. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an eight-country trade bloc, had urged regional leaders to find a solution to ensure Machar’s unimpeded participation in the peace processes.
The agreement is part of renewed regional diplomatic efforts to end a protracted conflict that has killed tens of thousands and forced millions from their homes since December 2013. In 2015, a power-sharing deal that had returned Machar to the vice Presidency was signed but fell through. Clashes followed in the capital Juba and Machar fled to South Africa in July 2016. In June 2018, the UN Security Council threatened an embargo on arms’ deals to the region unless the two rival leaders reached a resolution. Soon afterwards, rebel leader Riek Machar arrived at Ethiopia to conduct high level talks with current President Salva Kiir. They had agreed on a permanent ceasefire agreement, calling for the release of prisoners, withdrawal of forces and opening up avenues for humanitarian aid. However, this ultimately proved to be fruitless as the truce was violated shortly afterwards. The government had even rejected the idea of Machar returning as a deputy.
The SPLM rebel group has rejected the peace plan stating that they should appoint 2 of the 4 vice Presidents. A deputy spokesman stated, “We will not fall only for the position of the First Vice President in this negotiation. We are focusing more on structural and institutional issues to constrain Kiir’s regime both in the executive and legislature.” They demanded a loosening of Kiir’s grip on power. It is unclear whether the rebel group has spoken on behalf of Machar.
Our assessment is that Machar’s reinstatement might lead to peace, albeit temporarily. We feel that only the use of diplomacy can lead to a peaceful solution in one of the most embattled regions in the world. We believe that the two leaders must set aside their differences and unite to build a strong nation. The pervasive militarism and culture of revenge in South Sudan may make it difficult for the country to reach a state of reconciliation.