After years of struggle, South Sudan officially gained independence from Sudan in July 2011, in the hope that things would get better. However, fighting broke out in 2013 as the ruling People’s Liberation Army split following political tensions between President Salva Kiir and his vice-president Riek Machar, leading the country to fall into a fatal civil war. Soon after this, Machar was dismissed from his position and fled to lead the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO).
A peace agreement known as the ‘Compromise Peace Agreement’ was signed in August 2015 and so Machar went back to Juba and was appointed as vice-president. He was soon replaced with Taban Deng Gai – resurfacing tensions and rebel in-fighting becoming a major part of the conflict. Again, in August 2018, a new peace agreement was signed in efforts to overcome the renewed conflict but its implementation has been being delayed until now. After several missed deadlines, on 22 February, the leaders of South Sudan agreed to form a unity government aimed at ending the seven years of conflict.
Despite the two political rivals showing to be more committed to the peace process this time round, history has shown us that prospects for peace in South Sudan are nevertheless challenging. Agreement after agreement and the seven-year conflict has seen 400,000 dead, it has created more than 2 million refugees and displaced 1.8 million inside the country. While the unity government news seems promising and encouraging and although conflict is much reduced since its height points in 2013 and 2016, rebel groups are still proliferating, hindering the peace process.
Large rebel groups have continued to emerge throughout the conflict, exacerbating the chances of further fighting in the country. To build upon a meaningful ceasefire between Kiir’s and Machar’s forces, they will need to coordinate efforts in unifying the national army, instead of splitting their armed control – a scenario that has triggered war in the past. Unifying and integrating both forces into a national army would reduce the likelihood of multisided fighting and would create a space for political steps to be taken to finally give South Sudan the chance to create sustainable peace.
Therefore, a unity government should begin by trying to find ways to prevent fragmentation both in the armed forces and in society. The two rivals will now have to become used to making concessions with each other that will make the fragile unification get on the right track.