Opinion: South Sudan’s Peace Agreement

8 September 2015

Olivia Rosenstrom looks at the new South Sudan peace deal signed on the 26th of August…

 Success at last? South Sudan’s peace talks commenced in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in August of 2014. For months, fighting continued in parallel with discussions of peace. August 17th 2015, the deadline set by Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), passed without the South Sudanese President, Salva Kiir, signing the agreement. On August 26th, more than 7 days past the deadline, pressured by numerous UN and US threats, Kiir signed. It is, however, hard to tell where this leaves South Sudan.


  • 9th July 2011, South Sudan became an independent state following a referendum showing 83% in favour. Salva Kiir (President) and Riek Machar (Vice President) worked together successfully until December 2013, when Kiir accused Machar of attempting to overthrow the Government. Two factions were formed within government, and Machar was dismissed though he denied orchestrating a coup. Street violence in Juba between the two factions followed, leaving approximately 500 people dead in the first two days. The conflict then spread to other provinces such as Jongei, Unity and Upper Nile States.
  • Salva Kiir being of the Dinka ethnic group and Riek Machar from the Nuer, the conflict was intensified by an ethnic component, contributing to rapid escalation as people in different states sided with the representative of their own ethnic group.

The Impact of War



  • 2,487,516 people are displaced – 60% of those are children.
    • Internally:
    • Externally – before the December 2013 conflict there were approx. 134,091 Sudanese refugees. The conflict has resulted in an additional 622,220:
    • The vast number of people displaced are vulnerable to malaria, not having access to preventative and curative measures they normally would.


Food Insecurity:

  • 40% of the population do not have enough food for the day and it is estimated that this figure will rise to 70% in coming months

Sexual Violence & Abuse:

  • A report from Human Rights Watch uncovers the extent to which women have suffered during the war; rape, abductions, forced labour and maltreatment becoming the norm. An excerpt:

“A woman from Mirmir in Leer county who fled to Ganylel told Human Rights Watch that she saw 10 SPLA soldiers line up and rape a woman after they gathered civilians in the center of the town. She also saw seven other women being taken away by SPLA soldiers during the same incident and could hear them screaming nearby.”


  • In 2014 only, the UN could verify that there were at least
    • 514 incidents affecting 16,307 children.
    • 81 incidents of recruitment affecting 612 boys and 5 girls.
    • 34 incidents of abduction affecting 52 boys, 95 girls.
    • 90 children were killed and 220 injured.
    • 490 bodies of children were found in mass graves around Bor, believed to be the result of intense fighting at the beginning of the conflict.
    • 22 incidents of sexual violence were reported, affecting 4 boys and 32 girls.
  • About 50% of boys and 30% of girls attend school.
  • More than 12,000 children are estimated to have been recruited by armed groups during the war.
  • 250 000 children are suffering from malnutrition

The Peace Process

What is different this time?

Against the background outlined above, one does not have to be an adamant sceptic to question the value of August’s peace agreement.

For starters, there are serious concerns about the peace agreement itself. Before signing, Salva Kiir incorporated a document of his own into the main agreement. It is reported to contain 16 reservations and complaints, including a demand that reconstruction funds should be dealt with by his Finance Minister rather than a foreign official. Also, Kiir strongly objects to the demilitarisation of Juba and requires that the national army remain at its headquarters. “The current peace we are signing today has so many things we have to reject,” Kiir commented after signing. By signing with reservations, Kiir buys himself time unencumbered by UN sanctions, while the world takes a breath and considers what his signature actually implicates. US National Security Advisor Susan Rice states that the US does not recognise Kiir’s addition. However, there is a delicate balance of power. A statement of non-recognition is not as strong as some form of action. Inaction may to Kiir appear as acquiescence of his exclusion clauses, and Kiir may make use of the strong general desire for peace, to realise some of his reservations. The US warning of action, a few days ago, hopefully clarifies the situation for President Kiir.

The relationship between South Sudan’s future leaders does not inspire optimism either. Machar has returned to his post as Vice President of South Sudan, and accusations of violations of the peace agreement have already being reported. It is truly difficult to see how two leaders, whose conflict have resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of lives, could cooperate in government again.

Rebuilding South Sudan from its current state, would pose a real challenge for any government. Probably even more so if that government that consists of former enemies.  They face the management of serious humanitarian issues resulting from recurring civil wars over the last 60 years. Furthermore, reconciliation, accountability and justice are much needed, but constitute a long and difficult process, likely to spur disagreement. It is not certain that the hybrid court set forth in the peace deal will constitute the best forum for this process. The Hybrid Court is meant to combine international law with existing domestic judicial systems. Yet, customs and cultures are diverse across South Sudan, and it is not certain that the court can deliver what the local people perceive as justice. It remains to see whether a common goal of restoration, and reconciliation can improve the relations and cooperation of the two leaders, or becomes a source of disagreement.

Furthermore, the leaders need to agree on and deal with difficult issues such as disarmament, demobilization and the creation of a new, united national army. The economy is collapsing, public debt has increased from zero to 4.2 billion since independence and there is an urgent need for infrastructure and services. Political and social structures need rebuilding to establish an effective democracy and repair relations between ethnic groups.

Even if Machar and Kiir learn to cooperate, there are many important persons and influences around them that did not want the peace agreement signed. Furthermore, new rebel groups are flaring up, threatening to cause more unrest in the fragile country. In short, Kiir and Machar face the rule and reparation of a country that has not seen consistent peace in 30 years, with a deeply rooted ‘revenge culture and a militarised society.

However, Vice President Riek Machar has stated that the rebels are committed to the August peace deal. The South Sudan Army Chief of Staff requesting the UN and US to monitor the ceasefire, does suggest commitment to peace also on part of Kiir.  Recent UN and US discussions of potential sanctions also inspire a measure of hope, as they demonstrate the international engagement with the conflict and put pressure on the leadership to work for peace. On a national level, efforts are made to guard and promote peace, particularly inspiring is the musical awareness campaign launched by Jonglei State’s ministry of Youth and Culture.

On a final note, two things are certain. Belief in the possibility of lasting peace is necessary for its realisation, and in the coming months and years the international community must stay engaged, and support the South Sudanese population on their path to restoration.

Disclaimer: This blog is a space for discussion and personal reflection. Any opinions expressed within the blog are those of the author and are not necessarily held by HART. Individual authors are responsible for the accuracy of statements made within the blog.

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