When the cessation of hostilities was signed a week ago, it was greeted with pretty universal pessimism, and that’s pretty much been the line from everyone since then—I haven’t read anyone who seems even cautiously optimistic about its prospects. This skepticism has been reflected in South Sudan, whether it seems that many of those displaced have been reluctant to return home (although a bit of caution would be natural anyway, given what’s happened since December).
Whether fighting starts up again or not though is contingent on a set of negotiations—it was and is meant to be temporary, so that the parties can sit down and discuss the issues further. It has been instructive for me to read Lesley in Africa’s discussion of the practicalities of this sort of arrangement. Apparently, the key issue is enforcement: UN is not monitoring violations; rather, that’s left to the parties themselves and the mediator (IGAD). Monitors are already being sent to key cities, but as Lesley notes, there isn’t really a state within IGAD that can credibly provide a military deterrent at this time.
Since fighting started, there’s been a lot of pretty shallow coverage of South Sudan and the conflict. Al Jazeera has a good segment on the challenges that the media (both international and domestic) faces, but internally displaced is also right to point out that there’s a lot of people who aren’t experts talking about South Sudan and giving bad impressions of the country (and as another non-expert, I sincerely hope that I’m not contributing by writing this post).
It seems like there’s a void in the analysis for the most part. Following the day to day issues related to the conflict, I’m finding it hard to see a clear discussion of the key issues that will be discussed at the negotiations. One example of this can be seen in the most recent piece in the Economist. The focus since negotiations began has largely been on the issues of the 11 political prisoners, all but four of whom have now been released. As Aly Verjee has noted, this is a pretty limited way to view the conflict, and it would be wrong to assume that their release will solve the underlying issues.
But what does need to be addressed in order to stop the conflict? The Rift Valley Institute has hosted a panel that discusses this issue, and it’s clear that governance, transparency, and inclusivity are important and will need to be addressed for the sake of the country. At the same time, if fighting broke out due to a power struggle between two parts of the SPLM, and has continued due to divisions in the military and tensions within the broader society, then how will any negotiations really solve this? Are we to assume that any of the key actors are really interested in voluntarily reducing their power? Given that Salva Kiir has announced that Machar and six others will be tried for treason, it really doesn’t seem as if the South Sudanese government is seeking some sort of an agreement.
So I suppose I’m echoing the pessimism. We’re all left watching what happens, hoping that it will turn out differently than what too many people have predicted. It’s galling to see that regardless how society in South Sudan has been affected, regardless of how many people have been displaced and how many killed, it’s left to a small group of leaders to decide whether the disruption, the violence should end. Ultimately, the decisions made will have little to do with the problems that the society faces.