South Sudanese see hope in new peace deal

SSD011018001JUBA, South Sudan – John Achiek Mabior lost his father in his country’s five-year-long civil war.

“He was shot on his left thigh and later died of the gun wound,” said Achiek Mabior, a 30-year-old Juba resident, adding that he was lucky. “Many lives have been lost since the war started. People are suffering because there’s no provision of basic needs by the government.”

But despite South Sudan’s moribund economy, tribal conflicts, periodic famines and other hardships, Achiek Mabior is hopeful about a peace deal signed last month by President Salva Kiir and rebel leader and former vice president Riek Machar.

“I am overjoyed because peace has finally been restored in our country and this mean we will now rebuild our lives and people will live in harmony,” he said.

He said it has been his wish to see the warring parties reach the deal to end the conflict that has worsened poverty in the country.

Kiir and Machar signed the deal in Ethiopia on September 12. It’s not the first time they reached a truce. But fighting re-erupted after those previous deals. While violence has continued in various parts of the country in recent weeks, South Sudanese officials said that fighting reflected local conflicts rather than civil war.

Eight African countries in the region as well as the African Union are serving as guarantors of the peace. The deal also more extensive power sharing than previous agreements.

“The process allowed for those who didn’t have an opportunity to have their voices heard to begin putting across their various viewpoints,” said South Sudanese Vice President Taban Deng Gai in a recent speech at the United nations.

Eunice Amer Manyok and her neighbors in the capital have suffered so much, she said, they had to be optimistic or else would fall into despair. It was clear that neither side would win the war, she added.

“As women of South Sudan, we have suffered enough,” Amer Manyok said. “enough is enough. This is a time we now need to implement this peace agreement fully.”

A recent U.S. State Department-funded study found that almost 400,000 people have died in the civil war. Half of those people died in fighting. Disease, lack of healthcare and other disruptions to public services claimed the rest.

Amnesty International also released a report this month accusing government forces of carrying out war crimes in northern Unity state, a rebel stronghold. The report described soldiers burning civilians alive, slamming children to death against trees and other horrors.

Under the deal, Machar will regain his position as vice president. Amer Manyok felt that move would satisfy rebels and potentially reign in errant government soldiers.

“This one alone has given us a lot of hope and faith that the president and opposition leader will work together,” said Manyok, who is chairperson of the Women's Block of South Sudan, a loose coalition of local women groups campaigning for the women’s rights,. “So I think now enough is enough for them and this is why I think they will implement this peace.”

Dennis Scopas, another Juba resident, also felt that a transitional period of eight months under the pact would help the parties rebuild trust as they implement the agreement in the next three years.

“The eight months will address a lot pending issues such as the number of states, bills and permanent constitution among others,” Scopas said, referring to issues that Kiir and Machar are supposed to iron out.

University of Juba Political Scientist James Okuk said the agreement would hold because both sides are fatigued. “People are tired of war and you can’t mobilize young people anymore to go and fight the massive war like they used to do,” Okuk said.

The government is also running out of cash amid punishing sanctions imposed due to human rights abuses perpetrated during the fighting, Okuk added. The rebels are finding it hard to sustain their effort after years of fighting, especially if they have been crossing into neighboring countries where they must elude foreign forces.

“Survival outside in the neighboring countries is very tough for the opposition,” said Okuk. “Both the warring parties are facing tough economic sanctions directly or indirectly and that sanction don’t allow them to pursue war further.”

Lastly, the African Union is seeking to make a test case of South Sudan as part of their campaign to end wars and rebellions in Africa in the next two years. “The African Union wants to see to it that this war comes to an end,” he said.

Not everyone was positive.

Atem Simon, a Juba-based journalist, had little faith in the African Union or anyone else who was supposed to guarantee the peace. Their promises haven’t help in the past, he said.

“The lack of the international community’s political will and financial support toward the South Sudanese leaders will hinder the implementation of the deal,” Atem said. “It is not going to lift people’s suffering.”

But Thomson Fontaine, a citizen of Dominica who is deputy chief of staff of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, which is monitoring the peace deal, hoped renewed oil pumping would help revitalize the country’s economy and convert naysayers like Simon.

“Full compliance to the agreement is very critical to build confidence and provide an enabling environment for the much-needed focus on the growth of the economy among other things,” Fontaine said.

Photo: September 10, 2018 - Juba, South Sudan - A woman hold South Sudan flag as it wave in the air after receiving South Sudan’s president Salva Kiir from Juba International Airport recently in Juba, after returning from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia after signing the final revitalized agreement to the end the five years strife in the world’s newest country that has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions of others from their homes.
Credit: Majak Kuany/ ARA Network Inc.

Story/photo publish date: October 8, 2018

A version of this story was published in The Washington Times.
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