By Solaye Snider, Blog Writer
Two leaders of rival factions of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in South Sudan signed a unity deal on January 21st during the most recent round of peace talks in Arusha, Tanzania.
The deal is aimed at “reunifying and reconciling” the three different SPLM factions whose fighting has been the root cause of the civil war ravaging the young state since December 2013. Civil war erupted when Kiir accused his ex-vice president Riek Machar, now leader of the SPLM-In Opposition (SPLM-IO), of plotting to overthrow him, which Machar denied. This was following Kiir’s sacking of Machar alongside the rest of his cabinet in July 2013.
The talks in Tanzania, primarily characterized as an intra-party dialogue to unite the rival factions of the SPLM, are intended to supplement peace talks hosted by the East African Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). The IGAD summits address all national issues, some greater than those within the SPLM alone.
Following an inconclusive summit in December 2014, the seventh IGAD summit on South Sudan set to take place earlier this month was postponed to allow for further private consultation with rival faction leaders Kiir and Machar as well as other leaders of the regional bloc. The IGAD summit will now reconvene on January 30th, 2015.
Although distinct, the two peace processes reinforce each other and are in many ways codependent. At the same time, some critics believe that having multiple peace processes occurring simultaneously is a disadvantage and argue instead for a more unified approach to mediation.
Precise details of the Arusha agreement were not immediately released, obscuring the actual commitments involved. This is especially worrisome considering South Sudan’s record this past year of short lived peace agreements, such as the cease-fire signed in November 2014 that lasted a mere few hours before a return to violence. Violence is ongoing in many parts of the country, including Jonglei, Upper Nile, Unity region, and the central Lakes state which experienced renewed fighting as recently as January of this year. In spite of this instability, President Kiir has repeatedly affirmed that elections will still be held on schedule this coming June, a position garnering considerable local and international opposition.
The war has contributed to a humanitarian crisis in the region. Anti-genocide organization Enough stated that 1.8 million South Sudanese were still unable to return home as of September 2014, and at least 2.2 million are facing serious food insecurity. On January 9th, 2015, the United Nations (UN) released a report on the violence in Unity state allegedly led by the SPL-Army-In-Opposition on April 14, 2014. The report highlighted the “continuing and systemic targeting of civilians,” in this case “inciting violence against Dinka individuals, including sexual violence against women from other communities.” Fighting between rival factions has frequently been characterized by ethnic divisions, connected to Kiir being ethnically Dinka and Machar being ethnically Nuer.
In spite of condemnation of the conflict’s “serious violations of international humanitarian law” the UN Security Council’s attempt to impose sanctions on the fighting groups in December 2014 was blocked by U.S. opposition. As the precarious peace process moves ahead, international pressure continues to be insufficient and problematic. With the IGAD summit set to reconvene at the end of this month, its leaders have renewed their call to the international community “to join them in pressuring the parties to immediately end hostilities and commit to the ongoing peace process.”