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JUBA - 2 Oct 2021

Feature: Does the split within the SPLA-IO have any impact on the R-ARCSS?

“Now I am with my children on the Magenis Mountain without food or shelter, and it is raining heavily on us. Our situation is very bad. I watched with my own eyes children dying of hunger," Martha Batholomew is one of the victims of the recent clashes in the Magenis area of Upper Nile State.

Divisions within the Sudan People's Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLMA-IO) led by First Vice President Riek Machar, a key party to the 2018 Revitalised Agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS), is the cause of the clashes in Magenis.

SPLA-IO forces and that of a breakaway faction widely known as the Kit-Gwang Declaration led by Gen. Gatwech Dual, Machar's former chief of staff, have continued to clash in the Magenis area where Gatwech is based since the group announced the split in early August.

Many people have and continue to lose lives, homes, and livelihoods as a result. 

Edward Ogo, a citizen in the area said residents have had to flee to other areas including the forests for safety. 

This is not the first time South Sudanese citizens have been exposed to violent clashes. Since independence in 2011, the country has been plagued by political instability which led to military confrontations in 2013 and 2016 in which more than 400,000 people died, more than 2 million displaced, according to the United Nations.

However, in September 2018, when a power-sharing deal was signed between the warring parties, there was a sigh of relief. But, as the country reels from the aftermath of two civil wars, it is also battling chronic economic, political, and humanitarian crises including the global Covid-19 pandemic. The peace agreement has also suffered its fair share of frustration with very little progress made in its implementation including the lack of implementation of the security arrangements which calls for the unification of the army.

This situation is slowly dwindling the hopes of a better, peaceful and prosperous nation.

"We keep hearing about attacks in Tambra, Juba-Nimule Road, and Upper Nile state. This is a bad sign. I call on my sons and daughters to stop the war and to allow us to enjoy some peace although we continue suffering economically because insecurity forced us to flee," Kenya Maj, a South Sudanese citizen laments. 

Another citizen who identified himself only as John said, "We are suffering, and this agreement is largely limited to power-sharing among the political elites. There are security arrangements that have not been implemented." 

"The reports of continued incidents of insecurity and kidnapping of children frustrate us very much," Cham Uchala said. "Let the leaders unite so that there is peace."

The split

While forming the Kit-Gwang faction, General Simon Gatwech Dual accused Machar of not representing their interests, lack of implementation of the security arrangements, poor governance, lack of transparency, and nepotism.  

Gatwech has also come out categorically clear to distance his outfit from his former boss Machar and stressed that they are not ready to negotiate with Machar, whose forces they fight.

In a recent interview with Radio Tamazuj, Gen. Gatwech said, "There is no communication between us and Machar, and we do not want Machar at all. We will work to reach an agreement with the government to implement the security arrangements agreements." 

He said he is ready to strike a deal with Kiir to ensure that all forces are graduated and go to Juba. 

“This is the change we want,” he said. 

Puok Both Baluong, the director of information and media in the office of the First Vice President Riek Machar, downplayed the divisions within his party and urged citizens not to worry. 

"These are just internal issues and they cannot affect the implementation of the peace deal," Both insisted.

He further accused the SPLM party led by President Salva Kiir Mayardit of dilly-dallying in the implementation of the security arrangements and orchestrating the splits within the SPLM/A-IO.

Responding to the allegations that Kiir's party is responsible for the internal wranglings within SPLM/A-IO, government spokesperson Michael Makuei Lueth denied his party's involvement and accused opposition leaders of being power-hungry. 

President Kiir and his loyalists have times without number blamed the slow implementation of the agreement on the peace guarantors for a lack of support towards the process. 

Professor Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba, popularly known as PLO Lumumba, a Kenyan lawyer, and advocate of the Kenyan and Tanzanian High Courts, observing the goings-on in South Sudan says only South Sudanese leaders can make the peace agreement alive through a show of goodwill.

"If indeed the IGAD peace documents are lacking in anything, players must fill in the gap through goodwill. Only remember one thing; why was the war fought in the first place? This is the question that must always ring in the minds of the leaders. Why did we fight in the first place? We fought that we may liberate our people from modern-day slavery, we fought that we may liberate our people from poverty, we fought that we may liberate our people from economic sorrow and want. If they remember that, the gaps in the agreement will mean nothing. It will be filled with goodwill," Prof. PLO advised.

What does the split mean?

In a recent address to the United Nations Security Council, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for South Sudan, Nicholas Haysom, attributed the splits within IO ranks to the slow implementation of security arrangements and said they would undermine the peace process.

"The desertions by forces led by Generals Gatwech, Olony, and Thomas Dhul, and the conflicts between these groups and the forces loyal to Riek Machar will undermine the peace process. At the political level, this has exacerbated the imbalance between the main parties to the revitalized peace agreement. It is imperative that the parties put aside adversarial politics to work as a unity government in support of peace," Haysom said.

The UNMISS boss further called on both factions to resolve their differences politically. 

According to South Sudanese journalist and political analyst, Atem Simon, the opposition's woes are twofold; the lack of implementation of the security arrangements and the dissatisfaction over the distribution of ministerial posts in Upper Nile State where the breakaway faction is based.

Atem suggests that Machar and the Kit-Gwang group meet face to face and iron out any differences to de-escalate military tensions.

“This would contribute to moving forward in implementing the agreement, especially security arrangements,” Simon said. 

Despite the formation of the transitional government in South Sudan, the peace agreement faces several challenges including a lack of funds, absence of political will among parties, trust issues, hold-out groups, and economic crisis.

The humanitarian situation in the country also remains dire as floods continue to devastate thousands of communities across the oil-rich nation causing massive displacement and untold suffering to the people. 

Last week, the SPLM-IO lawmakers said South Sudan’s peace deal is doomed to collapse unless the parties can settle disputes and create a unified army.

But citizens like Martha, hold on to hope.

"My message to the government and the fighting groups is to give peace a chance. My message to the humanitarian organizations is to help us and support us with food, medicine, and plastic sheets because our humanitarian conditions are difficult and our children are dying of hunger and disease."