When US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, visited South Sudan in late October, she warned the US had lost its trust in the government and, that without credible actions, South Sudan could lose American support. The US is the largest donor to South Sudan, currently financing more than 40% of the humanitarian response.
“[The December peace talks are] a last chance for the parties to achieve sustainable peace and stability in South Sudan.”
During the forum in late December — considered by the international community to be a unique opportunity to bring peace — parties to the conflict signed a ceasefire deal, agreed to ensure unhindered humanitarian access and release political prisoners. The agreement was welcomed by the US and the rest of the international community, but has since proved fragile.
The US played a central role in helping South Sudan gain independence from Sudan in the 2000s, and has continued to support the country since civil war broke out in December 2013.
From 2014 to 2017, the US injected almost US$ 3 billion in aid. However, frustration and fatigue over the leadership’s repeated failure to honor a 2015 peace deal has led the US to gradually adopt a tougher position, threatening to reduce aid and take action against individuals.
Since the new December ceasefire, signatories have accused each other of violations and at least 34 people have been killed in violent clashes throughout the country. In January, the US and its partners — the UK and Norway — condemned the ceasefire violations and threatened to impose both individual and group sanctions to those breaching the deal. The US has imposed financial sanctions on individuals before. Since 2014, nine South Sudanese have been sanctioned.
FAVORING THE STATUS QUO
Since the start of the civil war, parties involved in the conflict have repeatedly given speeches about peace and engaged in peace talks, but their words have meant little. Again and again, actions on the ground have directly contradicted promises and inflamed conflict.
“It is equally clear that all this suffering is taking place because you, the leaders of South Sudan, have repeatedly failed to talk to each other, to negotiate, to be tolerant, to make compromises”. — Ethiopian Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn
During 2017, despite announcing a unilateral ceasefire and a national dialogue, the government launched several offensives and appeared determined to win militarily. As a result, the government has been reluctant to negotiate with the armed opposition and find a compromise. The leadership has also repeatedly stated it will hold elections in July 2018, as scheduled by the transitional constitution. Given the state of the humanitarian crisis and the number of displaced people, these elections would not be credible and could lead to more violence.
Following the visit of Nikki Haley, President Kiir issued a decree ordering the safe passage of humanitarian workers. This has had little effect. November was the deadliest month for aid workers in South Sudan since 2013.
Since the start of the conflict, several reports have found that both government and opposition leaders have been profiteering from the conflict. While people in the country live in abject poverty, leaders have amassed fortunes and offered luxurious lifestyles to their families abroad. The war is a money machine and peace is seen as less profitable.
A HUMANITARIAN CATASTROPHE
Throughout 2017, clashes intensified (especially in Upper Nile, Jonglei and the Equatorias), armed groups proliferated, inter-communal fighting continued and the humanitarian needs escalated.
“Until the violence stops, humanitarian needs will continue to grow”. — Eugene Owusu, former humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan
In 2017, the number in need of humanitarian assistance rose to 7.5 million people, an additional 2,000 children were recruited by armed groups and famine loomed over parts of the country.
South Sudan has become the biggest refugee crisis in Africa, and the third-biggest in the world. Over two million people have fled to neighboring countries, more than half are children.
In 2018, the country has entered its fifth year of conflict and the situation remains dire. Half of the population will require aid to survive, and over six million will need protection from violence. A famine warning is already in place, with the food crisis expected to be worse than last year, with over a million at risk of starvation.
The conflict has created deep wounds and societal divisions. It has also prevented an entire generation from getting an education.
Comprehensive international monitoring is needed to verify the implementation of the peace deal and to ensure all parties credibly commit to it.
Lasting peace will require a great deal more, including community-level peacebuilding, the wholesale reform and development of the institution of justice, good governance, and inclusive and sustainable economic development.
While much of the world’s focus is elsewhere, the war fomented by a largely self-serving elite has shattered the hopes born from independence. The violence must stop to give the next generation a chance to shape a better life.