By Ochola K’ochola
On Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018, South Sudan’s conflicting parties made a significant step towards peace and security. This took place in a unity pact signed by the two leaders that will see Dr. Riek Machar, the Vice President from 2011-2013 return to South Sudan as the first Vice President to Salve Kiir.
Africa’s youngest nation has been embroiled in a civil war for nearly five years now, and the recurrent political instability has created a civil and humanitarian catastrophe. In 2011, after a long and protracted war with Sudan, South Sudan gained independence with a successful secession referendum. Two years later, a political struggle between the country’s top leadership broke following an accusation by President Salva Kiir that his then Deputy Dr. Riek Machar was organizing a coup. The rising tensions and distrust between the two political formations led to violence that later ignited the civil war that left thousands dead and millions displaced.
In an attempt to contain the rebels, Ugandan troops moved in to fight alongside Salva Kiir’s Army. The United Nations also established a peacekeeping mission that mediated numerous agreements over the past five years, all seeking to establish a unity government that incorporates both President Kiir and his political arch-rival Dr. Machar. Despite these numerous agreements, and pressure from other African Nations, especially IGAD members states, South Sudan was never able to bring an end to the conflict that has plagued it for nearly half a decade. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan estimates that at least 300,000 people have been killed in the war, including numerous atrocities, most notably the Bentiu massacre in 2014.
But the key question and the one that will be most difficult to solve for South Sudan’s politicians is why has peace been so elusive? How will the country, if they succeed in stymying the bloodshed, achieve economic and political success in the face of major challenges? And whose responsibility should that be? Across the globe, internal political conflicts are often solved by local political leaders who come to the realization that their country’s interest is greater than their individual ambitions. Such leaders, therefore, have to come together and chart a clear path for the country, knowing that their people need both socio-economic and political stability to prosper as outlined in the 6th objective of the African Union, which is “To promote peace, security, and stability on the continent”
The Sunday agreement that brought both President Kiir and Dr. Machar is a clear example of this realization. An arbiter in the country, preferably the African Union, will likely be needed to ensure the peace deal meets a prosperous and successful end. They must do this despite the previous reneged agreements, as such histories tend to dampen enthusiasm among international bodies. There will be challenges and setbacks rising from different interests groups both within and outside South Sudan. Efforts to thwart this good initiative will loom, but the leadership of South Sudan must remain steadfast to save their nation’s present and future generations.
It is also vital that the South Sudanese recognize that this political truce is not the change they need, rather they must recognize it as a chance that will allow them to create true and lasting change. Despite the agreement, different political opinions must still be given space for constructive dialogue that will lift South Sudan to greater heights of prosperity and peaceful coexistence. Above all, Africa has to stand firm to support her last born daughter, to show direction and give her hope that despite the dark history, a great future awaits South Sudan if they resolve to walk the path of peace, tolerance, and respect to humanity.