Evan Gray, Blog Writer

This February saw the opening of yet another round in the ongoing peace talks between rival factions of South Sudan’s governing party, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. The two groups, led by President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, have been locked in a brutal conflict for control of the world’s newest nation since Kiir’s ousting of Machar in December, 2013. Organized and mediated by the East-African Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the negotiations are aimed at putting an end to this power struggle, which has acted as a catalyst for widespread ethnic violence between members of the Dinka and Nuer tribes, of whom Kiir and Machar are members. However, with the March 5th deadline imposed by IGAD already past, this “final” round of talks has still yet to produce any meaningful results. The question is, why?

The most obvious explanation is that neither side seems particularly interested in peace at this stage. Numerous ceasefires have been agreed to by both parties since the conflict began more than 14 months ago, with none lasting more than a few days. Furthermore, the level of commitment shown to this new round of negotiations has been astonishingly low, particularly for Kiir, who failed to even show up on time for scheduled talks with Machar in Ethiopia.

Despite the tentative peace deal agreed on February 2nd, 2015, hostilities between the two factions have shown no signs of slowing down. In fact, just last month, 89 schoolboys were abducted by armed men in Malakal, the capital city of Upper Nile State, likely to be used as child soldiers. Such tactics have been rampant on both sides of the conflict so far, with UNICEF reporting as many as 12,000 incidents of forced conscription in 2014 alone.

The large number of important issues still to be resolved presents another barrier to the successful conclusion of negotiations, with arrangements regarding political and institutional changes, security, economic reforms, leadership structure and power-sharing ratios still undecided. However, one of the biggest problems may be the continual interference of other regional powers in the ongoing conflict. Ethiopia, Sudan and Kenya, the three main member states of the IGAD delegation, have been criticized for their biased and heavy-handed approach to mediation, and for failing to build trust between the various splinter groups within the SPLM. Equally alarming is the continued presence of Ugandan soldiers in the war-torn Blue Nile and Unity states, which lie close to the border with Sudan. Although the Ugandan government claims the troops’ presence is necessary to protect key infrastructure, rebel groups have accused them of planning a major military offensive in concert with Kiir’s forces, which would constitute a flagrant violation of the February peace deal. Rumours of further troop deployments by Uganda have also inflamed South Sudan’s already tense relations with its northern neighbour, threatening to reignite the long-standing conflict between the two countries.

In light of this situation, it is not surprising that the IGAD-led peace process has done little to help lift South Sudan out of its current predicament. With the regional dispute resolution mechanism seemingly on the brink of failure, now may be the time for the international community to step in and, hopefully, bring a more even-handed and effective approach toward ending this brutal civil war.