Updated Aug. 26 | Although expressing “serious reservations,” South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir signed a far-reaching peace agreement on Wednesday. His opponent Riek Machar had earlier signed the deal.
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir postponed signing a comprehensive peace agreement meant to quell more than a year and a half of fighting on Monday, leaving in limbo regional efforts to end the deadly conflict.
A power struggle between Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar erupted in violence in December 2013, when Kiir accused Machar of an attempted coup.
Civilians were caught up in clashes between the dueling armed groups. More than 10,000 people have been killed so far and at least 1.4 million people displaced, according to the U.N. refugee agency.
The two leaders have repeatedly signed cease-fires, but the violence has continued.
The East African coalition leading peace efforts between South Sudan’s warring leaders — called the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, or IGAD — gave the two leaders an Aug. 17 deadline to sign an accord.
IGAD’s peace plan is the most comprehensive one yet, and Kiir said Monday in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa that he needs 15 more days to review it and come back with changes.
He objects to the power-sharing arrangement, which would give Kiir more power at the national level but Machar more control over oil-producing states, said Ambassador Princeton Lyman, former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria and South Africa and a former State Department official who is now with the U.S. Institute of Peace.
“That’s the kind of arrangement if you had an understanding about peace and each side didn’t have an army, it would make sense. But until you don’t have two armies fighting each other, that kind of division of power is probably unacceptable,” he said.
The plan also requires setting up commissions, passing legislation, setting up donor funding and integrating the military — all on “extremely tight timelines,” said Lyman. “It’s not very realistic from that point of view. But most of all, it rests on the president being Kiir and the vice president being Machar, jointly making all these decisions.”
The agreement lacks any international oversight or direct responsibility of the parties to move the process forward, he said. And now that Kiir has delayed signing the plan, the Obama administration must decide if it will move to sanctions or other forms of pressure — something President Barack Obama reportedly raised during a trip to Africa last month, Lyman said.
Meanwhile, some South Sudanese activists, who have long discounted Kiir and Machar’s ability to ever reach an agreement, said the solution needs to come from within.
“Even in a best-case scenario, peace will never come from Addis Ababa,” said David Deng, research director of the South Sudan Law Society, a civil society organization. “The most that these few leaders can do is agree to stop fighting long enough for South Sudanese to sit down — in South Sudan — and figure out how to live together without killing one another. Until there’s an appetite and demand for peace from the people, the conflict will continue.”