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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 November 2018

South Sudan power-sharing pact brings arch-foes step closer to peace

The ‘preliminary’ deal aims to end the civil war in the world’s youngest country

Sudanese Foreign Minister Ahmed al-Dierdiry signs a "preliminary" power-sharing deal between South Sudanese arch-foes, on July 25, 2018, in Khartoum. AFP
Sudanese Foreign Minister Ahmed al-Dierdiry signs a "preliminary" power-sharing deal between South Sudanese arch-foes, on July 25, 2018, in Khartoum. AFP

With the inking of a power-sharing deal between president Salva Kiir and his deputy-turned-rebel leader Riek Machar, South Sudan has taken another lurch towards peace.

The unitary government the two men will form together will be the second such attempt since 2013, when the president accused Mr Machar of plotting his overthrow, triggering a gory civil war. The last attempt, in 2015, collapsed when intense clashes broke out in Juba, the capital, a year after its signing.

In post-conflict societies on a continent with borders drawn arbitrarily by foreign powers, peace is seldom simple. And, as the deal was signed on Wednesday night in neighbouring Sudan, a coalition of nine smaller rebel groups stormed out, throwing the reconciliation into question.

Nonetheless, there is reason for optimism. The governments of Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda have mediated in the process. So too has the African Union and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), East Africa’s answer to the Gulf Cooperation Council. The warring parties have already agreed on a permanent ceasefire and withdrawn their forces from civilian areas.

When the ceasefire was fleetingly violated by gunfire in the far northeastern area of Maban on July 3, it was quickly stitched back together.

Meanwhile the quantity of agreements – signed weekly – illustrate an understanding that peace should be constantly reaffirmed. The two sides will sign a final deal on August 5, which will generate the new government.

Joyous celebration characterised South Sudan’s liberation from Sudan in 2011, following an armed struggle. But for the past five years, the world’s youngest country has been sundered by civil war.

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Tens of thousands have been killed and more than 4 million have been driven from their homes. Unsurprisingly, the country’s economy has tanked, despite its abundance of oil. Inflation hovers around 55 per cent. Millions of people are lingering on the verge of famine.

International observers and citizens of the small nation hope this peace will hold.

According to Wednesday’s agreement, seen by VOA News, the future government will include representatives from all sides of the conflict. Mr Kiir will retain the presidency while Mr Machar will be one of five vice presidents. One will be a woman.

The country will also acquire a 550-person transitional national legislature.

The US State Department has voiced its scepticism that Mr Kiir and Mr Machar can sustain a commitment to peace and inclusivity. Meanwhile the UN Security Council this month imposed an arms embargo.

If it is to hold, the agreement will need the endorsement of the rebel leaders, who walked out on Wednesday.

“There will be attempts over the coming days to narrow differences,” said Ahmed Soliman, research fellow at Chatham House’s Africa programme.

But these are early, promising signs and there is, rightly, a renewed confidence that peace can finally be delivered to a country racked by years of civil war.