The leaders of South Sudan’s warring factions signed a peace deal on February 1, in the latest attempt to end a conflict that has raged for more than a year. Analysts say, while not perfect, this deal could be more promising than previous peace agreements.
The newest agreement between South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar, signed after the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, includes few concrete details. The two have agreed on a ceasefire until they resume talks February 20, and have promised to finalize a peace deal by March 5.
But while the goals laid out are encouraging, experts are not convinced that these negotiations will be enough to end a civil war that has already claimed more than 10,000 lives.
There are signs that East Africa's Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which mediated the agreement, may be losing patience with the two leaders. Neither has shown himself willing to compromise in the past.
IGAD mediator Seyoum Mesfin insisted at the signing if either side broke this latest agreement, there would be consequences.
“This time, if any of the parties violate this commitment and the agreement of cessation of hostilities, IGAD leaders have pledged to take severe action. But also report the acts of violation to the African Union Peace and Security Council, as well as to the United Nations Security Council on whom has violated, and calling [them] also to take action as IGAD is doing,” said Mesfin.
The two leaders have signed at least three peace agreements in the past, all of which were violated.
But analyst Abraham Awolich, of the Juba-based research organization The Sudd Institute, said signs from the government side indicate this one just might be different.
“It seem like the government is committed, based on the reports we have seen, but we cannot tell what is going on on the other side of the equation. So hopefully it is not like the framework agreement that they signed in May last year," stated Awolich. "This one, they have put some meat on it, and they have set specific targets for when they can achieve this. So I am hopeful, but I am also cautious.”
Awolich said that both sides’ attitude will be crucial in determining whether the agreement has any chance of success.
“There are a number of issues that we have to watch. First is the commitment of the parties to the cessation of hostilities. Number two is the rhetoric that you see from both sides. If the rhetoric changes and they are talking more in conciliatory terms, then you know that the parties have committed fully to resolving the crisis,” he said.
After the signing, Machar told reporters he and Kiir still disagree on several key points, including the structure of a transitional government. A number of contentious issues like this have been left vague, said Awolich, and there is no reason to assume that either side will agree to compromise.
“Because there are so many blind spaces in the agreement, one cannot guarantee that they are going to agree on all this. The parties seem to have a tendency to harden their positions whenever they are given an opportunity to go on recess and consult. The hardliners seem to veer off the negotiators from the path that they established,” explained Awolich.
U.N. Secretary of State Ban Ki-moon issued a statement Tuesday, saying sustainable peace is impossible unless Kiir and Machar place the interests of the civilian population above their own.