South Sudan: Another peace deal, another violation suggests nothing has changed

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Earlier this week, South Sudan President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar signed a peace deal, promising to bring an end to the country’s civil war that has killed as many as 300,000 people and crippled the nation’s economy.

As part of the peace deal, a “permanent” ceasefire was implemented on Saturday – and broken hours later when government troops clashed with rebel forces.

This isn’ the first ceasefire that’s been broken within hours of implementation. In fact, sceptics were probably guessing how long it would be before fighting broke out once again and another peace deal fails in the world youngest nation. As usual, both sides are blaming each other for the untimely clash and all the promising dialogue following Wednesday’s agreement seems meaningless.

We’ve seen all this before, of course, which suggests nothing has changed with the signing of South Sudan’s latest peace deal.

Another ceasefire broken within hours

For anyone following events in South Sudan over the past few years, news that the country’s latest ceasefire was broken after a few hours will seem very familiar. In December 2017, the government signed a ceasefire with the SPLM-IO rebel group and forces from both sides clashed hours after it was implemented on Christmas Eve.

Previous deals between the country’s warring sides all failed to end a conflict that’s now running into its fifth year.

As international pressure against both parties increases, urging them to successfully implement a peace deal, Kiir and Machar’s have to show they’re making an effort – but there’s no sign to suggest either side is willing to make the political compromises required to end the war peacefully.

For South Sudan’s leaders, this war is a power struggle that’s going to decide who owns what in the country’s future. Concessions will weaken the government’s advantage over its stubborn enemies while the SPLM-IO feels it doesn’t have enough influence to concede anything at all. More importantly, numerous experts maintain that this is a war both sides think they can win, making it a zero-sum game where losing simply isn’t an option.

This is bad news for peace efforts when key figures on both sides of the conflict have more incentive to keep fighting than implement a ceasefire.

Has anything changed with this latest peace deal?

While it’s still too early to see if anything has really changed inside the camps of South Sudan’s warring opponents, various factors are different with the country’s latest peace deal.

Above all, tolerance from the international community is at an all-time low and this puts economic pressure on South Sudan that it can’t ignore. The country’s economy is in tatters after four years of warfare and major sanctions would cause serious damage to the government – including its military power.

This pressure may have already had a positive impact in the latest round of peace talks, as concessions between the government and rebels were agreed upon. Unfortunately, these concessions are little more than principles and ideas in general, lacking any of the details you would hope to see from a serious peace agreement.

South Sudan has failed to establish peace at the fourth attempt and the main protagonists in its conflict have never looked like taking the peace process seriously. the latest efforts in Khartoum hinted at a change in approach – at least during negotiations – but both parties have failed once again when it comes to implementing the agreements.

If there’s any genuine desire within either camp to end this war, it isn’t showing. There’s always the hope that Saturday’s armed exchange was just a one-off incident as part of the transition to peace, but even the most optimistic observer has seen this too many times to expect anything will be different this time around.

Featured image: By Steve Evans – Flickr: South Sudan 022, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18238568

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.