After decades of ruinous war, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in July 2011. It was received with jubilation, optimistic celebration and a glimmer of fresh opportunity to advance the growth and development of the youngest nation in Africa. However, the euphoria, as well as the peace, was only ephemeral. In mid-December 2013, barely two years after independence, a fierce fighting erupted in Juba due to the political struggle between President Salva Kiir and the First Vice President Riek Machar. The conflict not only resulted in the split of the leadership of the Sudan People Liberation Movement but also divided the people of South Sudan along ethnic lines. The conflict shook the nation and the world as it transcended to an unprecedented level. The brutal war between soldiers of SPLM and SPLM-In Opposition led by Kiir and Machar, respectively, continued for about two years unabated. It resulted in the death of tens of thousands of civilians and the destruction of their properties, and it left a huge humanitarian crisis.
As a means of addressing the South Sudan conflict, the AU Peace and Security Council mandated the establishment of AU Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan (AUCISS) on 30 December 2013. The AUCISS was established on 12 March 2014. It was given three focal mandates, namely, investigating the gross human rights violations committed from December 2013 onwards; identifying root causes that led to the war as well as coming up with recommendations on the best ways and means to ensure accountability, reconciliation, and healing among all South Sudanese. The report of the AUCISS, which was published in October 2014, shed light on, among other things, the human toll and the root causes of the conflict. It stated unequivocally that all warring factions committed serious crimes and recommended a comprehensive approach to deal with the egregious violations.
The long on-off IGAD brokered negotiations between the warring parties, which aimed to end the civil war, finally yielded the Agreement on Resolution of Conflict in the Republic of the South Sudan (Peace Agreement) in August 2015. Eight months after the government of South Sudan led by Kiir, Machar of SPLM-IO, former warring factions, and rival parties signed the Peace Agreement, the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU) was established (on 28 April 2016) to administer the country for 30 months. Machar was then reinstated as the First Vice President, the position that he held before the war.
The Peace Agreement sets out certain reform tasks for the TGoNU, such as the need for power sharing among the former warring factions; demilitarization of Juba and setting up of appropriate transitional justice mechanisms for reckoning with the human rights violations that had been committed since December 2013.
The Peace Agreement provides a guiding framework for the establishment of three main toolkits of transitional justice mechanisms for confronting the South Sudanese repressive past, namely, a Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing, a Hybrid Court for South Sudan as well as a Compensation and Reparation Authority. There is no mention of any form of amnesty in the Peace Agreement, nor are there any suggestions for sequencing of the envisaged approaches. For the purpose of monitoring and following up the implementation of the Peace Agreement, the AU Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, which is chaired by former President of the Republic of Botswana, Festus G. Mogae, was established.
The impeding challenges in dealing with the South Sudan repressive past, in particular, and for the implementation of the Peace Agreement, in general, are the absence of conducive political environment and stability. Few months after the establishment of the TGoNU, fighting broke out in Juba between soldiers of President Kiir and Vice President Machar that resulted in the death of civilians. Following that, Machar fled Juba and Taban Deng Gai replaced him in July 2016.
For effective implementation of the Peace Agreement and to ensure a lasting peace in South Sudan, there is a need to create a conducive political environment and effective demilitarization of Juba. In August 2016, the UNSC authorized the deployment of some 4, 000 regional protection forces with the view to improve the security situations, to ensure the protection of the South Sudanese people and to boost the implementation of the trembling Peace Agreement. At the outset, President Kiir rejected the deployment of the forces; however, he, later on, approved it.
After the departure of Machar, however, there are still uncertainties, internal squabble, and concerns on the sustainability of peace in South Sudan and consequently, doubts as to the effective implementation of the Peace Agreement. Because of the security situation in Juba and perhaps lack of political will on the part of the leadership, no palpable progress has been made towards implementation of the deal. It is a trite fact that already some deadlines and timeframe for the implementation of the Peace agreement have been missed.
It remains to be seen if the deployment of regional security forces helps to precipitate the creation of sustainable stability and thereby create a suitable political environment and security situation for the effective implementation of the Peace Agreement. As the Chairman of the JEMC, Festus Mogae said a ‘great deal of work remains to be done’ for the country to start the herculean but necessary journey of reckoning with its horrific past and move forward towards the path of democratization with the Peace Agreement by combating impunity that has gone on for so long and reconciling the ethnically divided South Sudanese.