Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 25 April 2019

Sudan's upheaval shakes South Sudan's hopes for peace

Fragile agreement was brokered by the ousted Sudanese president Omar Al Bashir

Omar Al Bashir with South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, left, South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar, right, after they agreed to a peace deal in Khartoum in June 2018. AFP
Omar Al Bashir with South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, left, South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar, right, after they agreed to a peace deal in Khartoum in June 2018. AFP

The military overthrow of Sudan's longtime president has quickly raised concerns about whether the upheaval will destabilise neighbouring South Sudan's fragile efforts at peace after five years of civil war.

Amid the laughter and applause on the streets of South Sudan's capital, Juba, there was worry about what will happen now that Omar Al Bashir , who helped broker a South Sudan peace deal last year, is gone.

"It is too early to celebrate," said Jacob Chol, senior political analyst and professor at the University of Juba. Mr Al Bashir's fall is likely to have a negative impact as he pushed South Sudan's warring parties to implement the peace agreement and he's no longer "on the throne", he said.

Mr Al Bashir for decades had fought with southern Sudan, which ultimately separated from the north in 2011 and became the world's youngest nation. Since the split his relationship slowly evolved into one of peacemaker, although with an eye on South Sudan's oil wealth.

If Khartoum is no longer able to project its power onto Juba, it will be up to South Sudan's leaders to decide whether they want to move forward with the peace process and they may have to do it on their own, said Alan Boswell, senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.

The peace deal signed in September has been fraught with delays and outbreaks of fighting.

In a month's time, opposition leader Riek Machar is expected to return to South Sudan to once again serve as President Salva Kiir's deputy, an arrangement that has ended more than once in deadly fighting.

But key parts of the peace deal have yet to be implemented including the defining of internal boundaries and creating a unified national army.

In a report last month the International Crisis Group warned of a "high risk of collapse".

On Thursday at a retreat at the Vatican, Pope Francis knelt and kissed the feet of South Sudan's rival leaders in an unprecedented act of humbleness to encourage them to strengthen the African country's faltering peace process.

South Sudan's government denied that Mr Al Bashir's removal will affect it.

"The peace agreement is not based on a person. It was based on institutions," government spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said.

Whoever comes into power next in Sudan is an internal matter, he said.

On the streets of Juba, crowds gathered to discuss Mr Al Bashir's removal and Sudan's future.

"There are children who have spent all their lives under Al Bashir. Congratulations to the youth in Sudan. They shouldn't have to live with a dictator," said Martin Wani, a businessman.

Some South Sudanese sent messages of peace to their neighbours.

"War anywhere in the world is hopeless. It's time both of the Sudans lived in peace," said Akon Kual, a car mechanic.

Recent economic turmoil in Sudan sent some to live in South Sudan instead. Ismail Alteib said he arrived in Juba four years ago because it was a better option than living in Khartoum. Now that Mr Al Bashir is out of power, he is considering going home.

"I knew the day would come when he'd have to go," the shopkeeper said.

Sudan's defense minister, Awad Mohamed Ibn Auf, announced two years of military rule following Mr Al Bashir's removal, enraging protesters who want democratic change and civilian leaders.

Not everyone was distressed. Standing on the street in Juba, Sudanese native Zakaria Hassan said the people already had forced crucial change for years to come.

"The youth have been awakened," he said. "Anyone who goes into the office next will know that the youth are watching and will have to be very careful."

Updated: April 12, 2019 05:36 PM

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