When South Sudan’s president signed a peace deal a year ago to try to end the country’s civil war, he added 16 reservations to the agreement.
Salva Kiir called it “the most divisive and unprecedented peace deal” in African history and said he only signed it because of “many messages of intimidations and threats” from the international community. He complained about the power given to opposition leader Riek Machar as First Vice President, the placement of rebel forces in the capital of Juba, and the authority given to monitors of the peace deal.
Kiir’s reservations were swiftly rejected by the U.S. government, which led the charge for the peace agreement, according to diplomats in Juba.
One year after the deal was signed, that Kiir’s list of reservations has become a map of how South Sudan’s peace agreement has unraveled: Machar is no longer vice president, his forces have largely left Juba, and U.N. peacekeepers have been largely ineffective.
“The year since the peace deal was signed has been an absolute disaster for South Sudan,” said Joshua Craze, a South Sudan researcher at the Small Arms Survey. “Both sides, and especially the government, have very little interest in keeping the peace deal which was largely forced on them and accepted to pacify regional and international actors.”
South Sudan’s civil war, which began in December 2013 and killed tens of thousands of people, was a mixture of ethnic and personal conflicts. After the agreement was signed in August 2015, fighting continued and even intensified in some areas. President Kiir increased the number of states from 10 to 28, a move of gerrymandering that put local power in the hands of his allies, analysts say.
It took eight months of painstaking negotiations to persuade Machar and his rebel forces to return to Juba, only for the city to erupt into conflict in July which killed hundreds of civilians and soldiers. Machar was controversially removed as First Vice President, and hundreds more people have been killed in fighting between the two armies in at least three other parts of the country since the July clashes in Juba.
Adding to South Sudan’s problems, inflation has reached 660 percent and many hospitals face drug shortages. Nearly 197,000 people live in U.N. protected camps across the country and many say they feel unsafe to return home.
The international community is searching for new ways to keep the peace in South Sudan but many question how much influence diplomats have.
“Diplomacy only works where it’s married to two things. One is a hard-nosed grasp of the real truth on the ground, and second, credible political will behind the diplomacy. We don’t have either,” said J. Peter Pham, director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center.
The United States is the single largest humanitarian donor to South Sudan, giving $1.7 billion since the country’s civil war began in 2013.
This week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said aid to South Sudan will not continue forever if its leaders “are not prepared to do what’s necessary for their people.” State Department officials say that while the peace agreement has not been fully implemented, it is still the best way to create peace in South Sudan.
A U.N. resolution, written by the United States and passed earlier this month, plans to send 4,000 additional peacekeepers into the capital to boost the existing force of 12,000 peacekeepers. The resolution says that if South Sudan blocks the force, an arms embargo will be considered.
“If the best we can do as an international community has been to merely threaten the possibility of an arms embargo,” said Pham, “It should not be surprising that the South Sudanese warring factions have not exactly been rushing to the peace table.”