Solutions to Violent Conflict

A Glimmer of Hope for South Sudan’s Peace Process?

In South Sudan on December 10, 2019 at 3:24 pm

Susan D. Page

The recent hundred-day extension of the first phase of the implementation period for the South Sudan peace agreement provides a small window of time to build a continuous dialogue and improve trust, not only among the five signatories, but also within the wider South Sudanese community, which so far has been largely excluded from the peace process. The extension also creates an opportunity for the United States and other international supporters of the process to increase their commitment to supporting implementation of the agreement.

Although implementation of the 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan has been slow, as shown in the analysis by the Peace Accords Matrix project, recent progress shows a glimmer of hope. A November 7, 2019, communiqué issued by the governments of Uganda and Sudan (guarantors to the agreement) stressed the need for the existing government in South Sudan to meet its financial commitments under the peace accord. At the end of November, the five parties to the agreement met and were able to decide on critical tasks for moving forward with security measures, an important step toward building trust.

In extending the implementation period by one hundred days, the guarantor countries, along with the parties to the accord, agreed to establish a “mechanism” to supervise the implementation of critical tasks and report on progress at the fifty-day mark. The region has finally awakened to the reality that the parties need help with the previously moribund peace process and that continuous monitoring of implementation commitments will be necessary.

However, much more is needed. Rather than focusing on deadlines when the parties are not fully committed to the process, governments in the region and the international community must insist upon a broader peace process that includes continuous, active dialogue among all of the parties, as well as the participation of a wide cross section of South Sudanese society. Peace processes require the resolution of deeply rooted animosities and are seldom smooth or easy. In order to succeed, the South Sudan process must address divisions and mistrust that exist among the signatory parties, the non-signatories to the agreement, and within society. To do this, the parties to the accord and civil society representatives must engage in regular, face-to-face dialogue about the priorities, timelines, and budgets of the implementation process and about the underlying grievances that are at the root of the conflict. The recent meeting of the opposition alliance hosted by the religious community of Sant’Egidio provides an illustrative example.

This process will require the active support of the international actors that helped the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) to achieve the Revitalized Agreement—particularly the Troika (the United States, United Kingdom, and Norway) and the United Nations (UN). These international actors must now unite behind the terms stated in the November 2019 communiqué from the guarantors and the related communiqué of the IGAD. An initial step is to offer safe spaces and facilitation for needed dialogues and meetings among the parties and non-signatories. The international actors should also reward progress and hold the parties accountable for failing to meet implementation goals.

The U.S., in particular, needs to be more actively and constructively engaged. Rather than continually threatening to re-evaluate its relationship with the government of South Sudan, it should enable a real peace process including continual dialogue between the parties and involving civil society. The U.S. should continue its decades-long commitment to peace in South Sudan and do whatever it takes to make this peace process work. Washington has policy tools that can help move the process forward. It can induce progress by conditioning non-monetary forms of support on greater compliance with the agreement. It can deny visas and impose sanctions on spoilers and those who refuse to fulfill their implementation pledges. It can freeze assets in the U.S. of individuals and their allies who impede the peace process.

International engagement is key, but local involvement and investment in the peace process are also vital to its success. The voices of the people of South Sudan must be heard. Numerous brave South Sudanese citizens risk their lives daily delivering humanitarian assistance, writing articles, speaking truth through art, music, and dance, and delivering messages and supporting concrete mechanisms for nonviolence through their church pulpits or community groups. Brought in to the dialogue strategically, these extraordinary citizens can help the parties to the agreement not only end the devastating civil war in South Sudan, but also plant the seeds for the essential foundations of a functioning democratic state that provides for all of her citizens.

Susan D. Page is Visiting Professor of the Practice at the Keough School of Global Affairs. She was the first U.S. ambassador to South Sudan, 2011-2014.