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South Sudan: Waiting for a unity government

November 11, 2019

South Sudan has once again postponed the forming of a unity government. In 100 days the country is to begin a new attempt after "critical tasks" are resolved. Many citizens are starting to worry about the delay.

Uganda Friedensgespräche in Entebbe
Image: Presidential Press Unit of Uganda

The eagerly anticipated unity government of South Sudan is not yet within reach. South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar have agreed to delay the forming of a power-sharing government for another 100 days. It is the second time the deadline has been pushed back – and citizens are getting worried.

Kiir and Machar signed a peace agreement last September that requires all parties, including rebel groups, to become part of a unity government which was expected to be formed on Tuesday, November 12. The treaty was agreed upon under pressure from the United Nations, United States and regional governments. The main goal was to end a five-year civil war that has devastated the world's youngest country. The creation of a unity government had already been delayed once in May this year.

Uganda's presidency said the postponement would help buy time following concerns that war could be reignited if the two sides were pushed. Machar, who lives in exile in Khartoum, asked for more time to discuss security and state boundary arrangements. Both Kiir and Machar later agreed that there were "critical tasks" related to the deal that were still incomplete.

Read moreSouth Sudan rivals delay forming unity government

Resolving outstanding disputes

The two political rivals met face-to-face in Uganda in a last-ditch effort to resolve the outstanding disputes. They blame each other for not meeting milestones stipulated in the peace deal.

Südsudan Präsident Salva Kiir
Political observers say South Sudan's President Salva Kiir is having the upper hand over rebel leader Riek MacharImage: Reuters/T. Negeri

Rolf Paasch, head of the International Office of the Friedrich-Ebert- Foundation in Tanzania, told DW: "The conditions have not yet been fulfilled and the failure to implement them comes from little political will the partners have to make this peace agreement a reality," Paasch said. 

"The main issue is security, the agreement provides for the creation of a common army, in which Riek Machar's rebel movement will be integrated. That did not happen so far. The rebels should be registered and trained in bases together with the soldiers."

Deescalating the conflict

34-year-old Gama grew up in Khartoum after being displaced from Southern Sudan before it became an independent country in 2011. The country quickly plunged into a civil war in 2013 after President Kiir sacked Machar as his deputy as a result of a power struggle . The conflict has claimed an estimated 400,000 people, triggered a famine and created Africa's biggest refugee crisis since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

Read moreSouth Sudanese refugees face uncertain future in Ethiopia

For Gama, the disagreement between South Sudan's warring parties means a lot. He says the historical political developments of conflict that followed the country's independence in 2011 continue to exist when it comes to the formation of the expected unity government.  "We have this experience that once if they fail to agree on something, the only solution they have is fight. So our worry is that their disagreement will make them fight instead of moving forward."

Paasch however disagrees. He thinks that the postponement was necessary to deescalate the conflict. "Maybe it will work out in 100 days, but the political indications are against it. The government under President Kiir has no great interest in bringing the rebels into the house, and Riek Machar's position in Khartoum is weak. He does not have the support to force the government to take him into the government. Therefore, the government is quite satisfied with the status quo."

Südsudan Unterzeichnung Friedensabkommen in Juba Oppostionsführer Riek Machar
Opposition leader Riek Machar has complained that his rebels are yet to be integrated in the army as per the peace dealImage: Reuters/S. Bol

Review in 50 days

The meeting which was hosted by Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, "was held in a cordial and friendly atmosphere", a Ugandan statement said. General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of neighbouring Sudan's Sovereign Council, and Kalonzo Musyoka, a special envoy from Kenya, were among delegates at the regional gathering.

After the meeting, Sam Kahamba Kutesa, Uganda's Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that both sides along with those monitoring the deal had agreed to meet to review progress during the postponement period. "The meeting agreed to extend the pre-transitional period for 100 days, effective from November 12, 2019 and to review progress after 50 days from that date," Kutesa said.

Ahmed Soliman, Research Associate at the Africa Program of Chatham House, a London-based think tank, is sceptic. He says that even with the 100 day extension, it is unclear whether questions around the security arrangements and governance issues, such as the number of states, will be resolved. "Achieving sustainable peace in South Sudan will be a long-term endeavour." The short-term emphasis should be on ensuring that any unity government formed is inclusive, Soliman told DW.

"Regional guarantors and international partners can help to build a more conducive environment, and ensure that South Sudanese parties adhere to the benchmarks in the peace deal, including the cessation of hostilities."

Uganda Flüchtlinge aus Südsudan
South Sudan's conflict has led to Africa's biggest refugee crisis since 1994Image: Getty Images/D. Kitwood

"They don't care"

Kiir had already threatened to form a government by himself. The United States, Britain and Norway have warned that "any unilateral action is against the agreement and the spirit of the peace process". The United Nations Security Council declared that fully implementing "all provisions of the peace agreement remains the only path that will set the country towards the goal of peace, stability and development".

Read moreUS wants to see movement towards unity government in South Sudan

Tolit Atiya, a researcher and analyst of of the Great Lakes region, is disappointed that the participants at the just concluded Kampala meeting did not put their interests aside. "There were so many meetings, but we don‘t see any outcome. They don‘t care about the South Sudanese people who have been suffering for many years," Atiya told DW.  

"Countries like Uganda, Sudan, Chad and Kenya are hosting many South Sudanese refugees who fled the conflict. But our leaders continue to fight for their seat, they do not care about the population, but about their position, to be president." Atiya said, that there is only one thing that the South Sudanese now desperately need: peace and a final agreement for the future of South Sudan.

Waakhe Simon Wudu in Juba contributed to this article.


DW - Silja Fröhlich
Silja Fröhlich is a German-born journalist.