Revitalising the 2015 Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (ARCSS)

The Missing Elements and why it’s a Fragile Exercise

09 December 2017

Constantine Bartel

Each passing day, South Sudanese spirit of unity and “one nation” is eroded. South Sudanese are worse off today as regards to security; essential services an impartial judicial system and law enforcement. What is more, none of the above failures has to do with a lack of policy options or resources. However, the perspective of this piece is on “why” and how best to revitalise ARCSS. It expresses the belief that a focus on articulating a shared vision, which is so far missing from South Sudan’s political discourse, and an agreed framework and mechanisms to implement it is entirely different from merely changing negotiating tactics or sequencing the ARCSS negotiations while its ultimate success still remains to be determined by a belligerent SPLM Government.

The “why” revitalisation is critical is because ARCSS is the only legal basis for governance in South Sudan. It extended the terms for office and mandate of the Government of the Republic of South Sudan. Its breakdown and indeed in the absence of a valid and subsisting Agreement, the Government of South Sudan has no legal basis to function as a government. Thus, the decisions and actions of the Government of South Sudan now have no legal backing and thus null and void (PDM 2017)[i]. Legal uncertainty is a major concern for private firms with long-term motives to invest in developing countries. Let alone a country that is at war with itself.

Having a shared vision, which is a long-term proposition, would attract many of those standing on the side-lines to reengage in the political process. President Salva Kiir’s vision of a JCE crafted nation-state is not widely shared even among many of his Dinka tribesmen and is manifested in poor governance, kleptocracy and dictatorship under the SPLM led regime.

It is welcome news that the IGAD revitalisation brief[ii]considers the cornerstone for an inclusive peace process to be centred on among other things the direct participation of societal sectors actors, and standing with the opinion of the majority. However, one fundamental element is missing. A unifying visionthat outlines in no uncertain terms the kind of country that the majority of South Sudanese want to see in the future, underpinned by an agreement on a set of critical milestones on socio-economic and governance structures and committing domestic resources to help deliver them.

One vision of the future that has featured in many proposals and comprehensively debated is a system of federalismthat fosters political participation, protects political liberties, diversity, pluralism and sustained by a constitution that guarantees the free movement of people, goods and services and addresses the issues of ethnicity. Some lawmakers have suggested a federal structure of Government with the three regions of Bahr el Ghazal, Equatoria, and Upper Nile as points of departure. The HLRF could begin to articulate this vision and the practical measures towards its implementation.[iii]Such a move would reassure the majority on the side-lines to participate in various other consultative forums such us a future constitutional reform process.

Hopefully, IGAD has made a significant turnaround. It is clear that one of the root causes[iv]of the current crisis resides in the unwillingness of the SPLM/A to transform itself into a democratic political party that is fit to govern and in the failure to replace the current ethnic-based system of governance.[v]  That is why the choice and modalities of an ARCSS mandated transitional government is a critical one.

Managing the transition

While it is true that IGAD-Plus’s agreement failed because of the lack of commitment by SPLM-IG, the 2005 failed SPLM reconciliation and the July 2016 attack on SPLM-IO and its leaders were due to the unwillingness of SPLM-IG to share power, the principal factor for success or failure of any revitalised IGAD process should not be the degree to which South Sudan’s elites are ready to compromise, agree and meaningfully participate in its implementation. But instead, what vision of a future South Sudan is driving the negotiations and whether that agreement has the required provisions to deliver sustainable peace and development to the country. A political party that is not willing to compromise should leave the negotiating table. The parties could re-join national politics and regain legitimacy by participating in future elections. Individual members of the party could face the proposed Hybrid Court for South Sudan.

Else, the success of the IGAD revitalisation process could become conditional on a “change of attitudes”[vi]of the same belligerent leaders if IGAD continues to focus on brokering the inter-party SPLM issues, that spilt out into an ethnic conflict between the mainly Dinka led SPLM-IG and Nuer supported SPLM-IO). The sustained aversion of the government and many of its key figures towards inclusiveness along with its dreadful performance in all areas of public policy reinforces the need for a Transitional Government of Technocrats (DPF-Ebony[vii]; Akol, L. [viii]; SPLM-FDs[ix]) supported by the international community and a coalition of South Sudanese parties of the willing.

It is appreciated that the IGAD-led high-level revitalisation forum for Revitalising ARCSS underscores the need for public ownership built on inclusiveness and non-precondition of the process for the revitalisation of ARCSS. Nonetheless, IGAD is yet to follow-up on its condemnations and threats against the lack of commitment and progress by proposing its end game and backing it up with a credible threat.

Supposing the plan agreed by the regional IGAD group is indeed the last chance for salvaging the peace agreement, the question remains, “what if it fails”? So far IGAD has threatened to “Identify and hold responsible those who are blocking peace efforts in the country.” It remains a non-credible threat. Even if implemented, it will have no significant change as long as the endgame of the leaders is to remain in power through a power-sharing formula that a revitalised, but weakened ARCSS could produce.

There are four scenarios for what next after the revitalisation process to achieve sustainable peace and development in South Sudan.

The best-case scenario:

The best scenario is to agree on a Vision, governance structure and a technocratic government to implement the social and economic chapters of the agreement. It is where the most competent in their respective fields hold key government positions. Entrusting the implementation of the entire process of ARCSS to President Kiir as opposed to creating a levelled partnership field was one of the critical mistakes made by the brokers of ARCSS. Given the profound animosity within the SPLM, the best scenario for South Sudan is for a government of technocrats composed of individuals considered independent and known for professional integrity, to lead the transitional period. To create a level political playing field for all participants, including those outside the SPLM/A.

A technocratic government is best placed to diversify the economy, manage government overspending in non-essential sectors; create new sources of revenue, minimise money printing. These have all led to the collapse of the economy. Even if the government were to pay salaries today, it would be worth almost nothing.[x] Despite being the most desirable, this scenario remains the least probable; it is not on the agenda of the SSND, HLRF, and ARA. It may even run contrary to the interests of some neighbouring and regional players.


The SPLM family scenario:

Under the SPLM family scenario is a government of national unity composed of the warring groups. It is tolerable in so far as the parties respect the ceasefire. It may not be a sustainable option given the heightened level of distrust and the fact that President Salva Kiir has deep reservations towards implementing ARCSS. A government of national unity dominated by the SPLM family could again bypass essential clauses of the ARCSS agreement, including cantonment of their militias. Military spending will continue to account for up to 40 percent of the national budget, while education accounts for a meagre five percent. A repeat of the July 2016 incident cannot be ruled out. The members of the influential self-identified tribal group, the Jieng (Dinka) Council of Elders and unofficial advisers to Presidents Kiir’s vision of South Sudan remains[xi]

The status quo scenario:

The continuation of the current situation constitutes a bad scenario, where the incumbent SPLM in government continues to stay in power. Status quo scenario also appears to be the hidden agenda of the South Sudan National Dialogue (SSND). The status quo is unsustainable because the opposition and the public do not trust it to deliver on a permanent constitution. A constitution that embraces the kind of governance which is based on the principles of democracy, federalism, transparency and the rule of law. Also, Little will change as long as the international community does not support a new constellation of power or curve out space for a technocratic team to radically shape the foundations and direction of the economy and to rebuild the nation. Failure to broaden the political base could also have unintended consequences. For example, the UN-mandated regional forces risk being seen as the forces that maintain the exclusion from power of the former Vice President Dr Riek Machar in favour of President Salva Kiir.

Why an outcome remains fragile

Revitalizing talks just for the sake of Revitalisation would not necessarily get the country on a sustainable path of peace and development. Business as usual would accelerate the proliferation of violence. There are much broader problems with the design of the HLRF. Some provisions of the ARCSS are obsolete or are no longer political or practical realities[xii]. For example, a few years ago, many believed that a mere reunification of the SPLM held the key to peace and economic progress. But a warrior culture revealed by barely respected ceasefires has undeniably taken deep roots in the SPLM political culture.

The international community’s latest statements recognise that political progress is conditional on a new security environment, institutional reform and inclusiveness but is yet to endorse the need for different actors both local and international who could manage the transition and to implement the provisions of the agreement. Unfortunately, there is no shared vision worth making peace for. The government in Juba is perceived to be entirely controlled by the Dinka and that the President only cares about advancing the interest of his clan. The opposition justifies this claim by citing the overwhelming presence of Dinka in the security sector and the influential role played by the Jieng (Dinka) Council of Elders (JCE), which according to the UN exerts a disturbingly influential role on the policy of the government and the behaviour of the president to realize its ethnic vision of South Sudan.

A prominent SPLM politician once said, “ We are where we are now, because the ideology of socialist principles of liberation and revolution on which the SPLM/A was founded has been discarded and replaced with the politics of ethnic identity”.[xiii]The growing consensus among South Sudanese is for the SPLM/A to be reconstituted and the current leadership to make way for a change.[xiv]As long as the HLRF continues to depend on the blessings of one of the adversaries its chances for success will remain limited. The view that the removal of President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar would ‘defuse much of the impetus to continue the war’ is a growing one. Dr Riek Machar has said that he is willing to stay out of the interim government that would rule during a permanent constitutional process and oversee the preparations for elections.[xv]A similar undertaking by President Salva Kiir would draw additional optimism to the revitalisation process.

This necessitates a fundamental change in the current ideology to achieve an inclusive political settlement. It is the only way towards long-lasting peace in South Sudan whose geography and cross-border communities’ means that low-intensity conflicts can easily continue for decades supported by the proliferation of small and light weapons in the neighbouring countries.[xvi]

On the other hand, the international community has also failed to deliver on its part of the bargain. It has failed to establish the Hybrid Court for South Sudan (HCSS), which could have exerted pressure on the parties to implement the agreement and making IGADs threats on individuals more credible. There is no all-inclusive cantonment of the warring forces as called for by the resolution despite the deployment of the 4000 regional protection force to stabilize the security situation. Perhaps it is finding it so hard to break out of its current comfort zone.


[i]Position paper on the status of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan: 24 January 2017

[ii]Dr. Ismail Wais, the IGAD Special Envoy for South Sudan on key findings of the pre-forum consultations

[iii]This vision for the future and related goals could be shared with all citizens. It could encourage the majority of South Sudanese who are currently on the sidelines to feel the affinity with the notion of the revitalisation of ARCSS.

[iv] Though much of the root causes lie in the history of the party.

[v]What does the future hold for South Sudan? Mehari Taddele Maru, 8 Jul 2014.

[vi] CEPO report on peace revitalisation process Wednesday, November 29, 2017

[vii]A DPF Proposal by Constantine Bartel (2014) MANDATING AN INTERIM GOVERNMENT: The Foundation for Resilient Institutions and Effective Governance In Post-Conflict South Sudan. Juba, South Sudan16 May 2014

[viii] Lam Akol (no date) why a technocratic transitional government for South Sudan

[ix]  FD (2016) A new roadmap to rescue and restore hope in South Sudan, 7 December 2016

[x]The Economist (2017) Famine, war and incompetence in the world’s newest country

[xi]Panel assessment, based on multiple interviews in Juba, including meetings with the Jieng Council of Elders in June and September

[xii]Aly Verjee (2017) South Sudan’s High-Level Revitalisation Forum, Identifying Conditions for Success

[xiii]Aldo Ajou Deng Akuey, a prominent member of the Jieng (Dinka) Council of Elders

[xiv]President Museveni blamed the SPLM for putting identity politics above the interests of the people according to the New Vision,

[xv]Riek Machar willing to stay out of interim government: report.

[xvi]Dr. Seth Kumi, outgoing Political Affairs Director of the UNMISS speaking at a special farewell event organized jointly by Ebony Center for Strategic Studies and Sudd Institute in Juba Grand Hotel. Saturday 25th November 2016