x

Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 July 2018

An African solution could ensure vital peace in South Sudan

A ceasefire in its civil war, brokered by neighbours Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda, is important for broader regional stability

South Sudan's president, Salva Kiir (second right), is greeted by his minister of defence, Kuol Manyang Juuk, as Mr Kiir arrives from peace talks in Khartoum. Akout Chol / AFP
South Sudan's president, Salva Kiir (second right), is greeted by his minister of defence, Kuol Manyang Juuk, as Mr Kiir arrives from peace talks in Khartoum. Akout Chol / AFP

When Gambian president Yahua Jammeh lost a shock presidential election in December 2016, he quickly annulled the result and deployed troops in the capital, Banjul. In response, a coalition of forces from Senegal, Nigeria and Ghana entered the country to compel Mr Jammeh to relinquish power. Within 48 hours, he stepped down.

It was an African solution to an African problem, away from the glare of international organisations and Western powers.

So too is the agreement signed in Khartoum on Wednesday between two men responsible for a civil war in South Sudan that has killed tens of thousands and displaced 4.4 million since 2013. While long-term peace is not guaranteed, it is a vital step for the world’s youngest country.

Huge excitement surrounded South Sudan’s secession from Sudan in 2011 following a prolonged armed struggle, before a feud between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar sparked a bloody civil war. On Wednesday, both men agreed to cease hostilities within 72 hours, unclog humanitarian corridors and release prisoners. They will work towards forming a three-year unity government, after which elections will be held.

Naturally, scepticism remains. Previous ceasefires – most recently in 2016 – have quickly collapsed and analysts fear the immense personal hostility between the two men will pose a threat to long-term peace. Meanwhile, with the looming spectre of war, South Sudan’s economy has tanked, with inflation currently hovering around 55 per cent.

Now, Mr Kiir and Mr Machar have a remarkable opportunity to bring peace and prosperity to their people.

And this time feels different. Wednesday’s agreement was brokered by Sudan President Omar Al Bashir, with input from Ethiopia and Uganda. African governments have been encouraged to “deploy necessary forces to supervise the agreed ceasefire”. As part of the deal, Sudan will help rehabilitate its neighbour’s oil fields, which could revive South Sudan’s struggling economy.

The country sits in a strategically important slice of East Africa, not least for the UAE, which enjoys strong economic ties with neighbouring Ethiopia, Sudan and parts of Somalia.

Peace is precious and by no means guaranteed. But with a multilateral African solution, this is perhaps its best hope since independence.