On August 26, 2015, the parties to the conflict in South Sudan signed a peace agreement. However, the first anniversary of the Agreement for the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan finds the pact in a state of inertia as key planks remain unimplemented. Although it was continuously violated by the government and the armed opposition in the past year, the pact still held. The return of the SPLM-IO to Juba and the subsequent formation of the transitional government in April increased hopes that the government and the armed opposition were set on turning a new page.
However, these hopes were dashed when a firefight between both parties erupted at the presidential palace in July. An attack on Riek’s Machar’s residence by government forces forced him to flee the capital Juba, marking a new low for the agreement as a key plank of the security arrangements collapsed. Following Machar’s exit, increased fighting between the government and the SPLM-IO ensued in several jurisdictions in the states of Unity, Jongolei, Central Equatoria, and Upper Nile.
Machar’s exit created a power vacuum in the SPLM-IO. A faction in the SPLM-IO in Juba then moved to select Taban Deng, former chief negotiator for the SPLM-IO, to replace Machar. President Salva Kiir promptly swore in Deng as First Vice President. Machar and his followers have termed Deng’s selection illegal. Subsequently, Machar issued a statement dismissing Deng from the SPLM-IO, although the latter remains thede factofirst vice president.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in the country continues to worsen. Nearly 5.1 million people need relief assistance and 2 million people have been displaced by the fighting. About 50,000 South Sudanese have fled to Darfur seeking safety. According to the UN, the general food situation outlook for 2016 “remains dire”. Aid workers have also faced increased threats to their personal security and their movement has been greatly hampered by actors in the conflict.
The economic backdrop to the agreement’s first anniversary is grim. Inflation in the country stands at 661 percent and foreign currency reserves are dwindling considerably. The South Sudanese pound has lost 90 percent of its value, amidst plunging oil prices, which aren’t generating the much-needed revenue to offset an increasing deficit that is expected to reach 1.1 billion dollars in this fiscal year.
The UN Security Council has since authorized the sending of 4,000 troops to keep the peace in South Sudan. Machar has conditioned his return on the presence of this peace-keeping force in the capital Juba. Taban Deng has in the past stated that he is willing to step down once Machar returns to Juba. Subsequent utterances by Deng, however, have cast a cloud of doubt over this promise. Last week, after nearly a month on the run, Machar resurfaced in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has since been reported to be in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.
Although the 4,000-strong peace-keeping force, which will supplement the presence of over 12,000 UN troops in South Sudan, is yet to set foot in Juba, it’s eventual presence holds the potential to bring the peace agreement back on track.