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The risk of collapse

Waakhe Simon
Analysts warn not to overrate the return of Riek Machar to Juba, saying the country can easily fall back into “a very messy situation”.
28.04.2016  |  Juba, South Sudan
Children living in an Internally Displaced Persons camp in South Sudan’s capital Juba, April 8, 2016. (photo: The Niles | Waakhe Simon Wudu)
Children living in an Internally Displaced Persons camp in South Sudan’s capital Juba, April 8, 2016. (photo: The Niles | Waakhe Simon Wudu)

According to Jok Madut Jok, a researcher and analyst with the Sudd Institute, the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity requires extended negotiations, and there is a risk of collapse.

“The waring parties themselves may disagree on several things along the way of the implementation and can easily return the country to a very messy situation,” Jok says in an interview.

“I fear if the implementation of the peace agreement does not include making the agreement meaningful to the ordinary people of South Sudan, it will simply be returning the country to the status quo in 2013 and will not resolve the problem that the war began with,” he adds.

A power struggle within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) turned violent in December 2013. The over two-years of fighting between government forces and rebels loyal to Riek Machar displaced over two million people and tens of thousands are feared dead. A regionally negotiated peace deal signed in August 2015, aimed at resolving the conflict, is still fragile.

Jok says there appears to be a deep mistrust between the parties, a situation he says may endanger the deal. “This agreement was signed begrudgingly and therefore the mistrust has build up. It is making it difficult for these arrangements to go smoothly,” Jok says, referring to the formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity.

Forming the unity government is a key aspect of the peace agreement, but also to hold a national census and elections. It also requires the parties to implement reforms in the security, judiciary and economic sectors.

However, Jok says the agreement does not address South Sudan’s key problems. According to him it only focuses on power division among the elites in the country, a situation he says is another time bomb.

Jok says issues such as youth unemployment, unequal distribution of resources and development efforts need to be addressed in order to achieve tranquility in South Sudan.

“If these issues are not resolved as a part of the implementation of the peace agreement, we can only expect that this only a postponement of the war and not a solution to the war,” Jok says.

The Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) already warned the deal is at risk, considering the behaviour of the parties and their lacking commitment to implement the agreement.

Should the parties – the government and the SPLM-IO fail to abide by the agreement “it is a total break down”, Festus Mogae, JMEC Chairman and former president of Botswana said.

Emerging challenges

Jok’s observations hold true in many ways. Looking at the army in the capital Juba for example, it is no longer a national army. In fact there are two armies, one that is loyal to President Kiir, and one that is loyal to First Vice President Machar – a situation were the slightest provocation from any side could jeopardise the deal.

The SPLM-IO claims it has bases in Equatoria and Bahr El-Ghazal regions, another critical and controversial issue, rejected by the government.

Mabior Garang De Mabior, son of the late John Garang, who is part of the SPLM-IO leadership says the cantonment issue awaits “political settlement”. But government Spokesman Michal Makuei Lueth refuted the SPLM-IO’s stand saying it is a mere claim and that it has no cantonment areas in the two regions.

The United States have warned of consequences if the two parties failed to abide by the agreement. A statement released by the State Department Spokesman John Kirby says failure by the parties to respect the deal “places South Sudan at risk of further conflict and suffering”.

Economic reforms, critical

Top of the transitional government agenda will be fixing the country’s daunting economy as well as security and resettlement of millions of displaced people.

James Garang is a senior economist with the Ebony Center for Strategic Studies. He says the two leaders have to form the unity government urgently and tackle the country’s struggling economy.

Garang says the two leaders need to immediately reform key institutions. “They must put the right people in the place” and make necessary “reforms”, Garang says.

“In the agreement there are key institutions that are supposed to be reformed. One of those is the Ministry of Finance, the second one is the Central Bank and other related economic institutions. Reforming those institutions, overhauling its functional sectors and departments, and bringing in the right people should be number one,” Garang says.

South Sudan’s economy deteriorated over of the past two year. In December 2015 the government devalued the South Sudanese Pound, leading to an inflation in the capital Juba of over 240%.

Prices of food commodities have tripled in the past six months, for example a 50 kilogram bag of maize flour that used to cost between 300 and 400 South Sudanese Pounds now costs 1,200 South Sudanese Pound – costs that are beyond the salaries of the majority of civil servants who earn between 500 and 800 South Sudanese Pounds per month.

“The prices are high and the incomes are so low you need to bring the two together you need to work hard on price instability,” Garang says.

He further says the unity government and the JMEC need to work as a team to raise funds to address key issues across the country, especially in the humanitarian sector.

Garang says putting these immediate reforms in place will help create confidence in the country’s economy, and strengthen the credibility of the transitional government.

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