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Africa

Riek Machar's return is a 'critical first step'

Vice President Riek Machar has finally landed in Juba, but for lasting stability "peace must be more lucrative than war" says Henrik Maihack from the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in South Sudan.

At first Machar wanted to bring more than the agreed-upon amount of weapons and soldiers with him to the capital. Then he failed to get landing rights from the government. Frustrated with repeated delays, the US government did not want to pay for his flight. In the end, the UN jumped in to fly the rebel leader into Juba.

This was not an ideal start for the development of a government of national unity, a critical part of the ongoing peace process. The proposed transitional government has to begin a process of national reconciliation, organize an election at the end of its 30-month term and work on a permanent constitution together with parliament. It is unclear how these critical steps will move ahead given the obvious mistrust between the two sides.

The power struggle between President Salva Kiir and Machar that proceeded the civil war has not been resolved. Also, the formation of the government of national unity does not necessarily mean an end to violence in the whole of the country. Local militias are continuing to fight in many parts of the country, usually driven by local interests. Recently two hundred people were killed when fighting broke out near the border to Ethiopia.

Any analysis of the political economy of South Sudan reveals why the country continues to devolve into violence. Rival political groups repeatedly used armed rebellions to fight for state resources – mainly oil – and positions in the government. In the run-up to independence, the loyalty of various armed rebel groups needed to be bought in order to ensure stability. These security expenditures quickly ate through the government's budget. But such stability can only be guaranteed as long as state resources either grow or remain constant. Unfortunately this did not happen and the system collapsed.

The continued violence on top of record low oil prices means that South Sudan is essentially broke. More than five million people in the country are now reliant on humanitarian aid.

Henry Maihack, Büroleiter der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Bangladesch

Henrik Maihack from FES South Sudan

Although the formation of a government of national unity is a critical first step, a lasting stabilization of South Sudan will only happen when peace is more lucrative than war. After the protracted fight for independence against Sudan and prior to the outbreak of the current conflict, the government failed to develop any economic alternatives for so many men with guns to shift to a civil independent state.

For this to happen, the transitional government must work together with civilian-oriented actors within and outside the governing parties, civil society, the business community and neighboring countries to find solutions that could lead to a prosperous and peaceful country. Only then will the process of building a truly democratic state in South Sudan be possible.

Henrik Maihack is the country representative for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES) in South Sudan

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