South Sudan Part Three: Mediation and Ceasefires


This week we return to the case study of South Sudan. In previous blogs the impact of the conflict in terms of famine and the parties involved were introduced and the three part series closes this week by covering conflict resolution measures and their impact.

It could easily have been different. Terrorism is a regular feature of the news: it resonates louder outside of the countries in the Middle-East and Africa where it does the most damage but there have been incidents in Cameroon and Burkina Faso that have stood out. The fallout from the Barcelona attack continues, with the level of organisation a major concern, and there has been a spate of smaller incidents throughout Europe. The Syrian War continues to develop, centred around a multi-pronged attack on ISIS and, alarmingly, there has been a dangerous escalation in the Rohingya crisis. These are all themes that this blog covers.

As is the case with most conflicts in Africa, South Sudan’s war has been subject to mediation from its beginning in 2013, with the country’s anarchic composition a cause of concern at independence in 2011. The East-African Inter-Government Authority on Development (IGAD) had been heavily involved in mediating the long civil war in Sudan, so immediately became involved as severe fighting between the governing Sudan’s Peoples Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the breakaway Sudan’s Peoples Liberation Movement In Opposition (SPLM-IO) led to foreign governments evacuating their nationals. The SPLM had Ugandan support. In 2014 from the combined efforts of IGAD+ (IGAD and the African Union, United Nations, the European Union, China, Norway, the UK, and the US). The ceasefire and associated agreements quickly broke down but talks continued. A peace agreement between the Government and the Murle dominated Cobra Faction of the South Sudan Democratic Movement (SSDM), causing a split in the Cobra Faction. As 2014 went on the violence became more ethnically based and began to involve a myriad of groups, as described in the earlier blog post ‘South Sudan Part Two: Who is fighting whom?’ In June 2014 an agreement was reached between the SPLM and SPLM-IO for talks about a transitional government, but these quickly fell apart.

The breakthrough, in what was becoming a complex conflict situation, took place in August 2015 when the SPLM leader Salva Kiir and SPLM-IO leader Riek Machir signed a peace agreement brokered by IGAD+, which returned Machir to his former role of Vice-President and led to the withdrawal of Ugandan troops from South Sudan. With a fragile peace at hand, President Kiir decided to increase the number of states in South Sudan and appoint governors loyal to him. The outcome was a split in the opposition, followed by fighting in the capital, Juba, between forces loyal to Kirr and Macher, during which UNMISS struggled to protect civilians. Since August 2016 the SPLM and SPLM-IO have been back at war, but with the additional dimension of splits in the Opposition (which always consisted of groups other than the main SPLM-IO) and groups that back the Government. The original conflict over governance between the SPLM and SPLM-IO is still ongoing but has become secondary to ethnically based violence and the mobilisation of armed organisations specifically linked to an ethnic group. Some are allied to the Government or Opposition, others operate independently.  Violence has spread to parts of the country previously unaffected. Human rights violations have taken place and continue to do so.

The peace agreement, the ambitious ‘Agreement on the Resolution of the Crisis in the Republic of South Sudan’ (ARCSS), which envisaged a transitional government and set a framework by which it could be achieved, is effectively dead. Likewise, the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) it established. The SPLM-IO is considerably weaker than before due to splits in the Opposition, and neither of the SPLO or the groups fighting their own turf wars has shown signs of being willing to compromise. ARCSS has been described as ‘uniquely ambitious’ for what was a broken country and tried to return the country to the same political status as before when personal, ethnic and political differences had led to the outbreak of the civil war in the first place. There are also doubts about the sincerity of the sides involved in negotiations, who seemed more concerned with preserving their previous status over the hopes of all the citizens of South Sudan. The AU, IGAD+, and the UN continue with their search for a mediated solution.

In the meantime, the level of violence and the danger of genocide in Sudan marks the country out as being in desperate need of intervention and a trend in the management of the conflict is that this is moving from peacekeeping to peacemaking. The UN and regional forces have been on the back foot in terms of defending civilians due to the conflict transforming from a political one to one driven by ethnic rivalries. Peacekeepers will always strive to maintain the peace, despite rarely having the resources to do so, but they are dependent on the parties to the conflict toeing the line. This is not the case in South Sudan, where the size of the country and the diversity and distribution of ethnic groups prevents peacekeepers from being present at every flashpoint in order to prevent harm. Peacemaking, on the other hand, provides the muscle and authorisation to tackle transgressors directly. UNMISS is being beefed up by the deployment of the Regional Protection Force (RPF) and the UN and AU have not ruled out further forces. If they wish to manage the violence, protect civilians, and prevent genocide, they will need to commit more resources able to enforce the peace. This is a solution few want, as only a political solution will resolve the conflict and enforcing the peace carries huge risks and a long commitment.

For more information regarding this week’s blog see:!/conflict/civil-war-in-south-sudan

Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator

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