A Unified Military Force Vital for Peace in South Sudan


The signing of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS) on September 12, 2018, has been lauded as the best opportunity for peace in the country, among the many previous agreements signed by the South Sudanese government and National Salvation Front rebels. And the R-ARCSS has largely held up over the past two years. However, the continued delays in implementing it, including the establishment of transitional justice mechanisms (a truth commission, hybrid court, and reparations authority), as stipulated in Chapter 5 of agreement, have raised growing concerns within the international community. Not only have the United Nations and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development called out these delays, but the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic association with ties to the Holy See, has as a result of them taken steps of its own to bring together the warring parties and compel them to respect the ceasefire. Though, to be fair, both President Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar have shown a greater commitment to the peace process in recent weeks than they ever have before. 

Some of these delays, particularly that in the reconstitution of the Transitional National Legislative Assembly, which should have been completed back in February 2020, have inhibited the passage of critical new laws and stalled progress on the creation of a permanent constitution. The hold-up also risks pushing back elections beyond the timeline set forth in the R-ARCSS. Nonetheless, some commendable headway has been made, such as the appointment of 9 out of 10 state governors and agreement among all main parties on the sharing of responsibility between the state and local levels of government.

Still, one essential part of the agreement that has not been implemented is the consolidation of the military and the opposition and rebel forces into one army. A unified military that meets international human rights standards is necessary for a lasting and sustainable peace. It should have happened before the formation of the transitional unity government. However, funding challenges facing the government and military have made it difficult. Indeed, financial shortfalls have prevented cadets from graduating and soldiers from being deployed. There have even been multiple reports of troops abandoning their posts in garrisons and training centers because of a lack of food and basic supplies, confirming that the government might require outside support. Disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration have also been hampered by tensions related to fears that this process could be selective or otherwise biased. A failure to launch these two processes poses a serious threat to the implementation of the R-ARCSS and a successful transition to law and order and peace in South Sudan. 

Evidently, the onset of COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to the implementation of the revitalized peace agreement. However, it has also provided a perfect scapegoat for the slow pace. The pandemic has exacerbated the young country’s worst economic downturn yet, in which the price of oil—the nation’s main source of revenue —has plummeted, the value of the South Sudanese pound has depreciated dramatically, and inflation has skyrocketed. Now, the government blames the crisis for most of its financial troubles and inability to implement the revitalized peace agreement.

PHOTO: South Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar (left) and President Salva Kiir (center) shake hands upon signing the R-ARCSS in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on September 12, 2018. (United Nations Mission in South Sudan)