BY: KATIE DOBOSZ KENNEY
South Sudan’s 5-year civil war came to an end yesterday, as opposition leader Riek Machar is expected to sign the final, and hopefully lasting, peace agreement between the government of Salva Kiir and the rebel faction led by Machar. The opposition rejected the first draft of the deal on Tuesday, August 28th, citing discontent regarding elements of the power-sharing agreement, including the implementation of a three capital city system, as well as wanting to reduce the number of states that comprise the nation.
Salva Kiir and Riek Machar became the first president and vice-president of South Sudan in 2011, but political power struggles between the two led to Kiir removing Machar from his position under the guise of an attempted coup d’etat. Machar’s removal from power sparked violent clashes between armed soldiers, who aligned themselves along the ethnic identities of Kiir and Machar.
Stagnation and regression in the peace talks since 2015 have prolonged a civil war in which an estimated 50,000 South Sudanese civilians have been killed, millions displaced, and close to half of the population is in need of humanitarian aid. Civilians have borne the brunt of the violence, including looting and robbery and sexual violence and rape. Since the start of the civil war in 2013, South Sudan has become one of the most dangerous countries for humanitarian aid workers, destabilizing relief efforts.
Some of the regional complexities of power-sharing can be traced back to the history of colonization, when the end of joint British and Egyptian rule of the Sudan region in 1956 marked the creation of one nation out of two regions, a predominantly Christian and animist south and a predominantly Arab and Muslim north. The struggle for power and the northern Arab domination of the south, led to two civil wars that lasted until 2005. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed that same year and included a referendum on southern Sudanese independence to take place 5 years later. And in 2011, 98% of southern Sudanese voted to secede from the north, creating the world’s youngest nation of South Sudan. The recent secession was a large factor in the choice to have peace talks hosted in Khartoum, and by the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, whose stake in the peace process is both regional stability and renewed economic prosperity from the oil production.
Sustainable peace in South Sudan, or anywhere, cannot be successful if ceasefires and brokered power-sharing deals are the only goal of a post-conflict society. Peacebuilding is an active and inclusive process that not only works to mitigate violence, but ideally prevents future violence from occurring through the systems of accountability, legitimate democratic processes, opportunities for economic participation, and access to basic human necessities like clean water, education, healthcare, and food sources.
A brokered and honored peace agreement coupled with South Sudan’s unique demographic breakdown would allow for tailored peacebuilding interventions at the grassroots level in an effort to ease much of the suffering sustained by years of conflict.
One example is by the incorporation of women in the peace process. 43% of two-parent households and 62% of single-parent households in South Sudan are headed by women, meaning that women drive half of economic decisions country-wide, in addition to bearing the responsibility of meeting their families’ basic needs. Though the need to include women in the peace talks has been echoed primarily by the international player in the peace process like Norway and Canada, women are still underrepresented at the highest level of the negotiations. However, the importance of elevating women is being felt at the grassroots level, where women have mobilized to voice their post-conflict vision, showcasing the importance of an inclusive peace process both locally and nationally. Additionally, peacekeepers from India, among the almost 17,000 deployed in South Sudan, are teaching women entrepreneurial skills and community-building economic practices like cooperative farming.
Also instrumental in shaping sustainable peace is South Sudan’s youth. Those 30 and under comprise approximately 72% of the total population. Access to quality education is imperative to creating sustainable peace, giving youth access to better economic opportunities for themselves and their families. An estimated 1.8 million primary school age children have never been to school as a result of the civil war, most certainly contributing to the 27% literacy rate of the country. As a young nation with an extremely young population, the buy-in of young people to rebuilding and reconstruction in a post-conflict society is instrumental.
Peace at the national level will influence peace at the regional level, and the people who stand to gain the most from a successfully brokered agreement and transparent peace process are the people of South Sudan. Salva Kiir and Riek Machar would do well to follow the example of the South Sudanese already mobilizing for peace and progress.
Katie Dobosz Kenney holds an MS in Global Affairs from New York University with a concentration in Peacebuilding. An educator for almost 10 years, Katie had developed global and peace education curricula in Florida, Mississippi, and Timor-Leste. Katie currently works as a graduate program administrator at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs and has co-led study abroad programs to South Africa and the UAE.
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