South Sudan’s transitional government is due to wrap up in less than 10 months. Yet the country’s future looks as bleak as it did in 2018 when rival parties signed a deal to end a crippling civil war that killed nearly 400,000 people.
The peace agreement was supposed to end the conflict, but progress continues to drag and UN experts now say the deal is actually driving violence. Clashes between the ruling party and the opposition have increased in recent months and could get worse ahead of elections tentatively being arranged – but not yet scheduled – for next year.
Meanwhile, humanitarian needs have spiked: Some 75 percent of the population are in need of assistance, hunger is the worst it has been since the country gained independence in 2011, and years of unprecedented floods have forced nearly one million people from their homes, according to the UN.
And while the peace deal quelled large-scale fighting, clashes across the country never ceased. In fact, they are increasing – between February and April this year at least 70 people, including aid workers, were killed in Unity, one of the most conflict-affected states. The UN has also reported sexual assaults, beheadings, and civilians being burned alive by armed groups. Fighting between government- and opposition-aligned militia in Western Equatoria state last year killed hundreds and displaced some 80,000 people.
The Panel of Experts on South Sudan, a UN-mandated investigative group, reported in April that “almost every component of the peace agreement is now hostage to the political calculations of the country’s military and security elites, who use a combination of violence, misappropriated public resources and patronage to pursue their own narrow interests.” As a result, much of the peace agreement remains gridlocked by political disputes between its principal signatories.
‘The community is crying’
Cautious optimism followed the signing of the peace deal over three and a half years ago – the latest attempt to pull South Sudan out of five years of fighting that displaced millions and plunged parts of the country into famine. A previous agreement signed in 2015 failed when renewed clashes erupted in the capital, Juba, forcing opposition leader Riek Machar to flee the country on foot.
Machar returned to the capital to form a coalition government with President Salva Kiir in February 2020, yet there were problems from the outset, including a shortage of funds and accusations that the ruling party lacked the political will to implement the agreement.
“We never trusted the agreement from day one.”
One of the key components, a unified national army – composed of 42,000 soldiers from both the government and the opposition – has not been established. Distrust with the deal was so high that both the government and opposition armies chose not to send most of their soldiers to the government-created cantonment sites, where soldiers…
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