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South Sudan peace deal prospects

02 August 2018 Verner Ayukegba

The South Sudan Opposition Alliance, a group of nine opposition parties, on 24 July rejected the latest draft governance and power-sharing agreement on South Sudan, which was presented to it by Sudanese peace mediators in Khartoum.

  • South Sudan's major parties to the peace talks are likely to eventually sign the peace agreement; however, implementation of some clauses is likely to be delayed and others ignored outright.
  • Smaller parties disaffected by the peace agreement are likely to recommit themselves to the armed opposition to the new government, attacking army outposts in remote communities.
  • Oil-related agreements between the Sudanese government and the South Sudanese negotiating parties are likely to be implemented and lead to an increase in South Sudanese oil output.

The South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA)'s rejection of the draft governance agreement is likely to lead to yet another delay in the signing of a final peace agreement, which it is hoped will end the current civil war in South Sudan. The main reason for the SSOA's rejection of the draft agreement is President Salva Kiir's government's refusal to reverse its unilateral creation of 28 new states in December 2015 and the rejection by the government of the SSOA's participation in a power-sharing deal at state and county level. The new states effectively allowed the government to divide regions it deemed as hostile to its rule, and grant quasi-autonomy to those communities it deemed as supportive. Comments by the government that the current number of states might yet again be reviewed have not been followed by concrete proposals and, therefore, have, been rejected by the SSOA. The SSOA's members are predominantly from small regional parties which had hoped to capitalize on a power-sharing agreement including at state level that will allow them access to positions in newly constituted state governments after a peace agreement. The current proposal will make such positions only available to supporters of Kiir and members of the armed opposition Sudan People's Liberation Movement - in Opposition (SPLM-IO).

Other key disagreements that continue to impede a final deal being reached are over:

  • The creation of five vice-president positions;
  • The creation of two additional capitals;
  • The extension of Kiir's term by an additional three years;
  • The expansion of parliament from 400 members currently to 550 members; and
  • The composition of regional and county governments.

Growing regional and international pressure

Growing regional and international pressure has been brought to bear on the key parties in the peace talks for them to reach an agreement. South Sudan's neighbors, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, and Uganda, have all hosted negotiations during the current peace talks and seemed to have, in part, coordinated their demands to the warring parties. This highlights the notion that a successful agreement is only likely if made with the blessing and commitment of South Sudan's neighbors. However, it is unclear if such a coordinated approach is likely to last, given the often divergent interests of South Sudan's neighbors, especially Sudan and Uganda. The United Nations, the African Union, and the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have all offered their support to the ongoing talks and promised sanctions on anyone deemed to be undermining the process. The UN Security Council on 12 July went even further and imposed an arms embargo on South Sudan.

Winners and losers

No one side can be a seen as an outright winner in the current talks. However, it is worth noting that President Kiir is likely to see his term extension endorsed by the deal, despite protests by the opposition. SPLM-IO leader and former vice-president Riek Machar's release from effective house arrest in South Africa and the reintegration of his party into the national reconciliation process also mark a major victory for him and his supporters.

Smaller parties within and outside the SSOA which are likely to be left out of the national and regional governments can be considered losers in the current process. The most notable of them is the South Sudan United Front, led by the former head of the army General Paul Malong Awan. Malong's party is not part of the SSOA or party to the current negotiations. He continues to call for President Kiir's government to be toppled, including by means of an armed insurrection and is believed to command a militia of up to 5,000 fighters.

Resuming oil production in former Unity state and Tharjiath

The negotiating parties, together with Sudan, agreed to facilitate the resumption of oil production in blocks 1, 2, and 4 (Unity state) and 5A (Tharjiath), which had stopped in 2012 after a brief war between Sudan and South Sudan. Sudan and South Sudan hope that this will boost South Sudanese output beyond 200,000 barrels per day (b/d) from the current 130,000 b/d in the one-year outlook. Due to the expected access to revenue that this would mean for all the parties involved, it is likely that they will all adhere to this agreement. As part of the agreement, Sudan has agreed to allow oil operators and service companies access to its infrastructure and territory. The Sudanese army, in agreement with South Sudan, will also be allowed to support the protection of oil infrastructure in South Sudan, a major shift from previous South Sudanese policy. However, Sudanese deployments to protect oil facilities are likely to be the exception, and the focus will be more on technical support and the arming of the South Sudanese Oil Protection Force.

Outlook and implications

The signing ceremony scheduled for 26 July between the major parties in the current negotiations, Kiir, Machar, and the SSOA, is likely to yet again be postponed. However, given the significant pressure from regional and international stakeholders, it is likely that the major parties will sign an agreement in the one-month outlook. The government will then seek to delay the implementation of those parts of the agreement it deems contrary to its interests, such as the devolution of power to states controlled by the opposition.

Smaller militia groups and regional parties such as the South Sudan United Front are likely to continue armed attacks on army outposts and vehicle ambushes in remote areas. However, such groups' lack of support in the region and capability will limit their actions to hit-and-run attacks. They will be unable to take and hold ground from government forces. They will also be unable to disrupt oil production due to increased security with the support of Sudanese forces.

Posted 02 August 2018 by Verner Ayukegba, Principal Analyst, Country Risk – Sub-Saharan Africa

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