|Written by:||Meshack Masibo|
The government of South Sudan signed a power-sharing agreement with opposition groups in Khartoum on Sunday aimed at ending a deadly civil war ravaging the world’s youngest country. Under the agreement, Riek Machar will join a government of national unity and become first vice president. President Salva Kiir’s team will take 20 positions in the new 35-member government, 9 positions will go to Machar’s group and the rest will go to other small opposition groups. The Parliament will have 550 members, 332 from Kiir’s group and 128 from Machar’s group.
Mr.Kiir and Mr.Machar have already agreed to a permanent ceasefire and to withdraw their troops from urban areas. Both sides signed a “preliminary” power-sharing agreement on 25 July, and to complete this process, negotiations will continue until a final peace agreement is signed. Once a final peace agreement is signed, the belligerents will have three months to form a transitional government, which will be in power in the country for a period of 36 months.
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir said on Friday he believed the new peace deal between his government and the main rebel group would not collapse because it was not forced upon them like previous accords. At a news conference in Juba, Kiir said he would travel to Khartoum to sign the agreement at the ceremony on Sunday. His arch foe Riek Machar, leader of the SPLM-IO rebel group which has fought Kiir’s forces intermittently since 2013, is also expected to attend.
Fueled by personal and ethnic rivalries, the conflict has killed tens of thousands and forcefully enstranged many Sudanese from their homes. More than four million people, one third of the South Sudanese population, have fled their homes since South Sudan’s brutal war began in December 2013, creating the largest refugee crisis in Africa since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, with parts of the country having plunged towards famine.
Another party worth noting in the conflict is Ex Army Chief Paul Malong was sanctioned last year by the United States for obstructing peace talks, international peacekeeping efforts, and humanitarian missions. Malong formed a new rebel group, the South Sudan-United Front, which is one of as many as 14 opposition groups in South Sudan. Announcing the formation of his new group from exile in Kenya, Malong said he wanted to “arrest the carnage” of South Sudan’s ongoing war, stating that President Salva Kiir “has concentrated all his efforts, with the help of a small clique around him, to quite literally loot the coffers of our great nation to total bankruptcy”. Malong’s new grouping is being portrayed both as a political party and as a form of rebellion, but experts say any large-scale military ambitions he may harbour are likely in their infancy adding that Malong has yet to show the capability to launch a potent rebellion.
South Sudan’s war began after Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, accused his former deputy Riek Machar,an ethnic Nuer,of attempting a coup. Fighting has since killed more than 50,000 people, with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and the SPLA-in-Oppositionthe main parties to the conflict. A peace agreement was signed in August 2015, during Malong’s time as army chief, but the war has since splintered into myriad inter and intra-communal conflicts, incorporating previously localised disputes over land, resources, and power. Observers say the dynamics change almost daily.
Peace talks have continuously failed and the security situation is unpredictable at best in many parts of the country.The nation is largely divided along ethnic lines – especially since the creation of new states, now a total of 32 – and traditional front lines are changing into widespread guerrilla warfare, with numerous militias also involved in the fighting.
There are several actors in the South Sudan conflict and it is prudent if we examine each of them individually;
South Sudan-United Front
The jury may still be out on whether Malong’s primary intentions are political or military,but his new SS-UF group could become a major factor on the frontline as the former army chief likely still enjoys considerable support in his hometown of Aweil and the surrounding Bhar-el-Ghazal region. The main opposition group, the SPLA-IO, is already actively encouraging Malong’s military ambitions. “His movement is a big threat to the government, because he will fight in areas that we have never reached, like the Bhar-el-Ghazalregion,” SPLA-IO spokesman Lam Paul Gabriel said. Experts argue that Malong is a hardline defector from within Kiir’s Dinka power base,” explained Boswell. The main threat he poses is from within Kiir’s coalition rather than from outside. Serving as governor of Northern Bhar-el- Ghazal between 2008 and 2014, Malong was made chief of the army in January 2014. In May 2017, he was sacked and placed under house arrest in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, until he fled while supposedly seeking treatment. He now lives exiled Nairobi.
Sudan People’s Liberation Army
South Sudan’s government-controlled army was founded in 1983 by ‘father of the nation’ John Garang.
Sudan People’s Liberation Army-in- Opposition
Loyal to Machar,the SPLA-IO is the SPLA’s main opponent. It usually has the support of some smaller youth militias such as the White Army in Northern Jonglei. Government accusations that Machar and the SPLA-IO were planning a coup resulted in the start of the civil war on December 15, 2013. After new fighting erupted in the capital Juba in July 2016 and Machar fled the country,Taban Deng Gai was instated as the new first vice president. Some members of the SPLA-IO were loyal to Taban Deng and now still support Kiir’s government.
This nominally opposition faction loyal to Taban Deng remains a separate entity from both the SPLA and the SPLA-IO in most parts of the country, but is pro- government. Most of the opposition forces across the country are an array of local, non-Dinka ethnic groups.
The Shilluk Agwelek militia
The Agwelek forces have fought both alongside the SPLA and the SPLA-IO (those loyal to Machar). Primarily focused on defending Shilluk land in South Sudan’s Upper Nile, the group is predominantly loyal to Johnson Olony, believed to side with the opposition.
National Salvation Front
Most of the NAS rebels are from the country’s Equatoria region and were previously with the opposition loyal to Machar but later joined Thomas Cirillo Swaka, Kiir’s former deputy head of logistics who resigned in February 2017 and accused the president of turning South Sudan into a “tribal army”.
Murle and Bul Nuer Communities which are currently pro- government.
Western Equatoria has several armed groups, some of which recently signed amnesty agreements with the government, such as the South Sudan People’s Patriotic Front and the South Sudan National Liberation Movement. Many of the child soldiers released in Yambio in February were previously captured by the SSNLM. Groups like the Gelweng (armed cattle keepers from Lakes State), the Mathiang Anyoor, and the White Army rely on local community structures. It is estimated that South Sudan has at least 40 different armed groups. But with the new peace deal there is hope that no new ones will be formed.