Southern Sudan Agreement :a new chance for peace ?

Pr Marc Lavergne, Head Researcher, National Center for Scientific Research, University of Tours France

Last Saturday 22 nd February might prove an historical date for Southern Sudan. In accordance with the peace agreement between President Salva Kiir and his challenger Riek Machar, the latter at last accepted to take again his former position as First vice-president.

But it remains to be seen if this new agreement will settle for good the feud between the two leaders. Their rift broke out suddenly in July 2013, when Salva Kiir expressed his will to go for another mandate as the head of the new State. An all-out civil war followed, Riek Machar considering that he was more fit for the job : Southern Sudan was indeed in a state of shambles, just two years after its much celebrated independence. Visiting the country several times during this period, to support French Doctor’s humanitarian aid programs, I couldn’t be but appalled by the behavior of the former rebel fighters of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army : they were behaving as if the country and its resources were their own property. In contrast to the display of wealth and urban chaos in the capital, Juba, the visits to remote bush hospitals or refugee’s camps showed a complete neglect by the new authorities.

The civil war that erupted in December 2013 was just the result of this irrelevance of the new leadership… and the failure of the United Nations that were tasked to maintain law and order and to set up a proper administration. The civilians’ mass killings and atrocities committed by the two rival groups amounted to 400 000 casualties and to the devastation of entire regions, despite a number of cease-fires which were violated as soon as signed.

Still, Southern Sudan is a country blessed with vast resources of land and water, in addition to oil fields that yield revenues which should be used to respond to the needs of its people in terms of infrastructure and services. But it remains to be seen if goodwill and sincere commitment will prevail, when looked upon the provisions of the recent agreement. While dividing the country into ten federated states, on ethnic lines – which is a recipe for further disputes -, the president Salva Kiir has insisted to keep under his authority the Ruweng region, which entails the major oil resources. Riek Machar may well have been forced to submit, while fearing for his life. Let’s hope that the foreign peace brokers behind this deal will ensure that it will keep its promises…