Recent outbreaks of violence in towns and cities make it hard to be optimistic about any results of the peace deal, which included a ceasefire between Salva Kiir Mayardit’s party, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition (SPLM-IO). However, recent decisions by Kiir may pose an even greater threat to the agreement than the ceasefire violations.
At just four years of age, South Sudan has been named the world’s most failed state. In 2013, just two years after becoming independent from Sudan, the country fell into civil war between its two most prominent tribal factions: the Dinka and Nuer. According to recent figures, the conflict has internally displaced 1.5 million South Sudanese and a further 600,000 have fled the country since 2013.
In September, looming threats of trade embargos from the United Nations and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) pressured Kiir to sign a peace deal, the Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS). One month on, as vicious fighting continues, Kiir has announced he would like to split the country into 28 states – an act that would violate the terms of the peace deal.
Deng Gach Pal, former Cabinet Secretary and Head of Civil Service of South Sudan’s Upper Nile State, describes this move as ‘power abuse’. He says Kiir ‘unilaterally issued the decree of splitting the country, contrary to the power sharing ratios of the ARCSS, which were based on ten states’.
‘This presidential decree is absolutely illegal and contravenes both the agreement and the Constitution.’
DISSOLVING THE PARTY CABINET
Not only does Kiir want to create 28 states, the chairman has also dissolved the entire leadership cabinet of his party, including the secretary general and deputy chairman. This result is what Róisín Read, research associate of the Humanitarian and Response Institute at the University of Manchester, says is clear ‘political manoeuvring’.
‘Salva Kiir made it very clear that he didn’t want to sign the agreement, only doing it eventually under the threat of UN sanctions. These unilateral actions he has subsequently taken are hard to read as anything other than provocations in light of Kiir’s unhappiness with the deal,’ says Read.
Decentralising South Sudan into 28 states is not a new idea. In fact, devolving powers to the country’s local tribal districts has been a popular concept since before independence. However, the timing of Kiir’s decision is being perceived as being less an act of altruism and more as a means for Kiir to undermine the agreement and perhaps increase his popularity at the same time.
‘The manner of the announcement will cause many to wonder if this is decentralisation in the model of Uganda,’ says Read, ‘which in practice strengthened the presidency by dividing the country along ethnic lines and extending patronage networks.’
THE FUTURE OF SOUTH SUDAN
Meanwhile, the country is experiencing severe inflation and depreciation of local currency – symptoms of the civil war. It is feared that the desperate atmosphere, without organised action, will fall back into indefinite fighting.
‘Unless the guarantors of the Peace agreement – IGAD, the UN and Troika countries of the UK, US and Norway – take drastic measures against the government or pressurise President Salva Kiir to revoke his illegal decree, I am afraid, full scale war will inevitably resume,’ says Pal. ‘The opposition will not accept this action.’