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FRAGILE PEACE PROCESS

This is the make-or-break year for South Sudan, says South Africa’s Nicholas Haysom

This is the make-or-break year for South Sudan, says South Africa’s Nicholas Haysom
Traffic makes its way along a road towards Jebel in an industrial district of Juba, South Sudan. (Photo: Adrienne Surprenant / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The head of the UN mission urges the South Sudanese to accelerate preparations for elections next year.

This year is “make-or-break” for the protracted peace process in troubled South Sudan, South Africa’s Nicholas Haysom, the head of the United Nations mission in the country, told the UN Security Council this week.

Haysom expressed concerns about slippage already in the recently extended timelines of the transition, and also about increasing ethnic-tribal violence in several regions of the country.

South Sudan has been wracked by chronic political and ethnic-tribal fighting that has killed some 400,000 people since civil war erupted in December 2013, less than 18 months after the country seceded from Sudan. 

Several peace deals since then have collapsed or been extended. 

In 2018, the “revitalised” peace agreement was signed, setting February 2023 as the deadline for establishing a permanent government. But this was proving impossible to meet, and so in August last year, the various parties in the transitional government of national unity agreed to extend the deadline by two years until February 2025, following elections in 2024.

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Haysom told the UN Security Council on Monday, 6 March that the transitional government had stated clearly and publicly there would be no further extensions of the deadline. UNMISS – the UN Mission in South Sudan – which he heads, welcomed this public commitment, Haysom said, while noting that “limited progress” had been made since then and there had been “slippage” in meeting the timelines in the agreed roadmap of the transition.

“Neither the stakeholders nor the international community are of a mind to contemplate further extensions,” Haysom warned. 

He welcomed some achievements – such as the graduation of members of the “Necessary Unified Forces”, the unit comprising former combatants from all sides which is being trained to protect civilians and humanitarian workers during the transition, particularly the elections. 

Key hurdles

But Haysom added that the parties still had to clear some key hurdles to enable South Sudan to complete the final leg of the transition next year. 

The first was to draft a new constitution, agreeing on the arrangements by which South Sudanese could live together harmoniously, avoiding a repeat of the two civil wars of the past decade.

To this end, Haysom called on the government to immediately reconstitute and fund the National Constitutional Review Commission and to fast-track the establishment of the Constitutional Drafting Committee, and for the parliament to end its lengthy recess.

“This sets the foundation for the second challenge that is the preparations for inclusive and credible elections due next year,” Haysom said, adding that the government had asked the UN to help South Sudan run the elections, including the “noteworthy” request to support an enabling environment for elections, working with civil society, political parties and the media. 

He said the government would be fast-tracking preparations for elections, including the immediate establishment of the proposed Political Parties Council and the National Elections Commission which “has been a largely defunct body for nearly 10 years”.

The third priority was the expansion of civic and political space which would be the primary criterion for judging the credibility of the elections and would lay the foundation for a stable democracy “which can avert further conflict”.

Haysom noted that UNMISS had already begun engaging political parties and NGOs to determine how to help expand the civic and political space. He said the recent International Conference on Women’s Transformative Leadership, held in Juba, had helped by insisting on the space for women and girls to embrace their role as change agents.

Message of peace

The February visit to South Sudan of Pope Francis; the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby; and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Iain Greenshields, had reinforced the message of peace.

Haysom said the fourth key hurdle in the transition was the urgent further consolidation, strengthening and deployment of the Necessary Unified Forces after the completion of the first phase of graduations, which he welcomed.

And he said the fifth challenge was tackling the sub-national violence that was erupting in hotspots across the country, such as Upper Nile, Jonglei and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area, the adjacent areas to Abyei, and the legacy of the conflict in Tambura, as well as cattle-related violence in the Equatorias.

“All of these conflicts increasingly present an ethnic or tribal dimension, and, as President Kiir noted in his New Year address, they threaten to unravel hard-won peace gains achieved so far. We have been shocked at the recent cycle of revenge killings in Kajo-Keji, and elsewhere, the unacceptable practice of abductions of women and children, and the use of gender-based violence as a weapon of war.” 

South Sudan’s sixth challenge was its poor economic and humanitarian situation, mainly caused by conflict and climate shocks. Haysom said this year, more than two-thirds of the population, including refugees, were estimated to need humanitarian and protection assistance – yet only 3% of the UN’s humanitarian response plan costing $1.7-billion to reach 6.8 million people, had so far been funded.

Haysom noted that South Sudan would also need financing to implement the peace process. But he said he had told senior government officials that “the international community would likely be more forthcoming in assisting South Sudan were it to demonstrate political will, demonstrable progress in the implementation of the agreement, and a visible contribution of its own resources to this task.” DM

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