Rival leaders agreed on a ceasefire in Khartoum on Wednesday and the opening of humanitarian corridors. Observers are skeptical that this latest deal will hold, unlike its predecessors.
The peace talks deadlock has been broken: On Wednesday, rival South Sudanese leaders agreed on a ceasefire and vowed that this time it would be permanent. But many South Sudanese citizens doubt whether the latest agreement can lead to a transitional government, not least because many previous peace accords were violated. Now the question arises: how solid is this latest one, signed in Khartoum by South Sudan‘s President Salva Kiir and his arch foe, former vice president Riek Machar?
Jump start needed
"There are some positives to take from the deal," said Ahmed Soliman, Research Associate at the Africa Program at London think tank Chatham House. "It is a framework that is providing [a way] to implement again a comprehensive and hopefully lasting ceasefire in South Sudan," he said in an interview with DW. "And then moving towards trying to implement what is termed 'the bridging proposal' which is to iron out the governance and security issues and form the transitional government. The sentiment now is different and the words expressed by Riek Machar are more positive," Soliman added. "This is at least a step forward, showing increasing intent to end the conflict. That is often needed in peace processes, to jump start the actual technical details."
The agreement calls on the African Union (AU) and the East African regional bloc, the East African Community (EAC), to provide forces to oversee the ceasefire. But the bridging proposal is short on details, said Soliman. "It says a president and three vice presidents should lead the transitional government. The number of ministers and their clusters are listed. But there is still disagreement among the parties. Also, it is uncertain if President Salva Kiirwill work with Riek Machar in a transitional government – even though they are shaking hands now." It is an issue of trust and political will, Soliman added.
Face to face after two years
James Pitia Morgan is South Sudan's ambassador to Ethiopia and Djibouti. He is also the Permanent Representative of South Sudan in the African Union. He seems more optimistic: "The transitional government will, according to this agreement, commence four months from now. In this transitional period, some of the arrangements will be put in place," he said in a DW interview. "But we still do not know if Machar himself will work or whether he will maybe appoint one of his commanders or his wife." According to Morgan, President Kiir has already said that, for the sake of the country, he will work with Machar and his group again.
The latest push for peace in South Sudan came as part of a fresh bid launched by East African leaders, with the two fighting factions facing the prospect of sanctions being imposed by the United Nations. Under pressure to find a solution that would end the devastating conflict, South Sudan's President Salva Kiir and his political opponent Riek Machar held their first face-to-face meeting in two years.
Refugees not convinced
On inking the deal, amid a large diplomatic and media presence, Kiir said on Wednesday: "I will not let you down, mediators and facilitators and I will not let you down, my people of South Sudan." Rebel leader Machar also welcomed the deal saying, "It's the people of South Sudan who will be the happiest about the ceasefire declared today."
According to anaylst Soliman, the many refugees and displaced persons in the region will take the leaders' words with a grain of salt. The brutal conflict created Africa's largest refugee crisis since the 1994 Rwandan genocide. It is a good sign though, that both leaders agreed to the opening of corridors for humanitarian aid, the release of prisoners and the withdrawal of forces, Soliman added. "That means, aid organisations can get to people and provide humanitarian assistance. But we have to be pessimistic because of the realities on the ground in South Sudan."
South Sudan is the world's youngest country, having split from Sudan in 2011. It descended into civil war in 2013 after Kiir accused Machar, then his deputy, of plotting a coup. Years of civil war have since left tens of thousands of people dead, and about four million South Sudanese have fled the fighting. Since a 2015 peace deal collapsed in July 2016 with Machar fleeing South Sudan, Kiir's government has gained the upper hand militarily while the opposition has splintered into a myriad of factions.
Carolyne Tsuma contributed to this report.