South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar have agreed to form a government of national unity.
By taking the oath on February 22, 2020, South Sudanese rebel leader Riek Machar has returned to Juba as first vice president, in accordance with a peace agreement signed in 2018. This revives hopes for peace in this ravaged young country by war for six years. “I want to assure you that, for the people of South Sudan, we will work together to end their suffering”Machar said before an audience of diplomats.
“The formation of this government gives us hope for a new impetus towards the end of the suffering of the people and a path towards lasting peace”said the rebel leader. He gave the hug and shook hands with his lifelong rival, President Salva Kiir, with whom he will try to govern for the third time since the independence of South Sudan in 2011.
An important step to hope to end six years of civil war and a dramatic humanitarian crisis. Under international pressure, President Salva Kiir confirmed that the two enemy brothers had agreed to rule together again. Mr. Machar was previously vice-president twice between 2011 and 2013, then briefly in 2016.
The creation of a unified national army and Mr. Kiir's proposal to return to a federal system of 10 states, instead of 32, plus three “administrative areas” (Ruweng, Pibor and Abyei), helped unblock the situation. Machar initially rejected the president's concession, challenging the proposed status of Ruweng, an essential region for oil production. However, this did not prevent the agreement on the government. The two men “will continue to solve the problem” after the government was formed, Manawa Peter Gatkuoth, one of Machar's spokesmen, told AFP on February 21.
President Kiir called on the approximately 190,000 people who still live in UN-protected camps across the country to return home, because a “new era of peace has arrived”.
In December 2013, Mr. Kiir, of the Dinka ethnic group, accused Mr. Machar, a member of the Nuer ethnic group, of having fomented a coup d'etat against him. An accusation at the origin of the civil war. In July 2016, another experiment of union government had abruptly ended when fierce fighting had opposed their troops in Juba, the capital of the young country, independent since 2011.
The formation of a government of national unity, announced on February 22, was the key point of the peace agreement signed in 2018. The two previous attempts to form this government had not been respected, disagreements persisting on the creation of a unified national army, the number of regional states and guarantees for Mr. Machar's security.
The conflict, marked by ethnic atrocities, including murder and rape, has killed more than 380,000 people in six years and caused a serious humanitarian crisis. The announcement of this government of national unity follows months of international pressure, particularly from Washington, which welcomed on February 20 “the strong commitment made by Dr. Machar”.
Experts warned against forming a government of national unity without resolving the remaining issues, saying it would once again lead to disaster.
Demobilized government soldiers and rebels (who fought at length) were assembled in makeshift barracks to draft a national army supposed to eventually count 83,000 men. But the tens of millions of dollars required for their installation and training have not been spent by the government. Thousands of soldiers are therefore quartered without an adequate supply of water and food.
A report from a UN human rights commission warned against the challenges that still await the country, despite the formation of this new government. This commission studied human rights violations committed between the date of the signing of the peace agreement and December 2019. It incriminated “predatory and accountable elites”accusing government and rebels of having “deliberately hungry” the inhabitants of the country.
Three UN agencies and Juba simultaneously announced on February 20 that, despite the slight decrease in the number of people affected by food insecurity, 6.5 million South Sudanese, more than half the population, could end up in acute food crisis by mid-2020.
The United States gives Juba about a billion dollars a year, mainly in humanitarian aid. “The international community provides food, medicine and all the basic necessities that normally fall under the responsibility of governments. Basically, they do nothing”, denounced Tibor Nagy, in charge of Africa at the US State Department.