Deal or no deal?

Warring parties have signed a peace agreement in South Sudan that paves the way for a transitional government. But key differences between the signatories means there is still no guarantee of a halt in fighting. 

On 26 August, South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, added his signature to a peace agreement signed nine days earlier by his adversaries in the country’s 20-month-long civil war.

The government was under huge pressure to sign: from regional and international mediators; and from a range of foreign powers, some of which had played a role in smoothing the country’s separation from Sudan in July 2011.

As mediators prepared to head to the South Sudanese capital Juba to witness the signing, the US was tabling a draft sanctions resolution at the UN, including an arms embargo and further targeted sanctions on individuals.

In the end, it seems, all this was avoided. But is this the end?

Although Salva signed the peace agreement, his spokesmen made it clear both before and after the signing that he did so with ‘reservations’. In fact, the government went so far as to publish this list of reservations, handing them to negotiators at the time of the signing.

Government officials I’ve spoken to say that it doesn’t matter what was signed in the peace deal; they will only accept a deal that includes their reservations. The US, regional negotiators, and Salva’s counter-signatories have all said that the deal stands as it stands.

Both sides have committed to a ceasefire, which has already been broken. This is to be expected: every other ceasefire since January 2014 has been broken, and even if the two sides are earnest in their orders to stop fighting, neither has complete control of their forces. The involvement and frequent defection of regional warlords also means there are not just two sides to the conflict.

Meanwhile a workshop on transitional security arrangements has begun in Addis Ababa to work out the modalities of the deal. At best, we now have a dialogue that can work towards resolving remaining differences between the two sides, set up a transitional government, bring a reduction in fighting, and resume halted oil production.

On the other hand, the stand-off between adherents to the peace deal as signed on 17 August and 26 August and the government, which insists on the incorporation of its ‘reservations’, could still mean that this deal is never implemented.

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Richard Nield is a freelance journalist, photographer and filmmaker covering the Middle East and Africa. In 10 years covering the region, he has been published and broadcast by clients including the BBC, Reuters, Al Jazeera, The Economist, The Financial Times, The Independent and Foreign Policy magazine. He has reported from throughout the region, including Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, South Sudan, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.