An East African initiative to revive the stalled peace agreement in South Sudan, where the civil war’s death toll continues to rise, must urgently develop criteria for which groups should be represented, to ensure a more durable outcome. Several steps could help define those criteria.

A young antigovernment militant in Bentiu, South Sudan, May 3, 2014. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times/Lynsey Addario
A young antigovernment militant in Bentiu, South Sudan, May 3, 2014. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times/Lynsey Addario

The South Sudan High Level Revitalization Forum, established in June to revive the 2015 peace agreement, has begun consultations with South Sudanese civil society on how to include their views. The discussions are taking place in advance of formal Forum sessions later this year.

But it remains unclear who will participate in the Forum because no criteria have been proposed, risking the success of the new effort.  The challenge is how to involve three different categories of participants: parties and signatories to the 2015 agreement, armed groups that have emerged since 2015 and are not parties to that accord, and civilians.

There is no single model for inclusion and participation in a peace process.  But the format chosen ought to consider current conflict dynamics. As USIP’s Payton Knopf argued in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, there are at least five theatres of conflict in South Sudan:

  • a war of resistance in the Greater Equatoria region;
  • a contest between the Dinka and the Shilluk ethnic groups in Upper Nile state;
  • a war within the Nuer ethnic group in Unity state;
  • a drive to establish Dinka primacy in the Greater Bahr el Ghazal region;
  • ongoing violence in Lakes and Jonglei states. 

To achieve a ceasefire or cessations of hostilities across most of South Sudan, the Forum would need to involve the most militarily and politically significant actors from most, if not all, of these theatres. At the same time, some conflicts may best be addressed within South Sudan. The Forum facilitators should communicate to the parties and the South Sudanese public the rationale for including these groups, and ensure the media can comprehensively report on the talks.

Evidence from other peace processes also shows that meaningfully involving civilians leads to more durable outcomes.  There are at least nine models for how civil society can be included, formally and informally.  Civil society can play a non-binding advisory role, or assist in confidence-building between the warring sides, or engage in formal, parallel talks.

The peace process that led to the 2015 agreement attempted to include civil society but faced disputes over representation. Today’s South Sudanese civil society advocates can help the Forum facilitators by proposing alternative means to ensure their meaningful involvement.  This requires urgent dialogue and coalition-building within civil society, which will be particularly difficult if the government continues to restrict freedom of assembly and expression.  On Aug. 30, the government security agency refused a civil society coalition permission to meet to discuss these issues in Juba.

The sequencing of inclusion is critical, too. Not all aspects of South Sudan’s conflict can be addressed simultaneously, so it is vital to determine-and, again, explain to those involved and the public—who should be included, when, and how, in any talks.

How the broad array of South Sudan’s civilian and armed groups are included will be pivotal to the success of the Forum and its first goal: restoring peace across South Sudan.  A creative – but realistic – approach to inclusivity is desperately needed.

Related Publications

Why the U.S. Needs a Special Envoy for the Red Sea

Why the U.S. Needs a Special Envoy for the Red Sea

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

By: Payton Knopf

The Trump administration has appointed four special envoys to coordinate U.S. policy toward key hot spots: Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Afghanistan. Yet in the Red Sea—one of the most volatile and lethal regions of the world afflicted by several interconnected conflicts and rivalries that pose significant challenges to American interests—U.S. policy has been rudderless in large part due to the absence of a similar post.

Global Policy; Conflict Analysis & Prevention

In South Sudan, the Trust Deficit Could Doom a new Peace Deal

In South Sudan, the Trust Deficit Could Doom a new Peace Deal

Thursday, September 20, 2018

By: Aly Verjee

On September 12, after nearly nine months of talks, the warring parties in South Sudan signed a “revitalized” peace agreement, superseding a 2015 accord and bringing an end to the High Level Revitalization Forum. But fighting has continued in the days since the deal was signed, and many remain skeptical that this agreement will succeed. USIP’s Aly Verjee discusses the deal.

Peace Processes

South Sudan’s Civil War and Conflict Dynamics in the Red Sea

South Sudan’s Civil War and Conflict Dynamics in the Red Sea

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

By: Payton Knopf

The five-year-old civil war in South Sudan is an unparalleled humanitarian and security crisis, causing the largest exodus of refugees on the African continent since the Rwandan genocide and leaving over a third of the population displaced and two-thirds severely food insecure. Beyond the human toll on South Sudan’s long-suffering citizens, the country’s unraveling underscores the shifting political and security fault lines in the Horn of Africa. This Special Report surveys the region’s various interstate hostilities and intrastate conflicts and suggests ways the United States can reassert its influence to begin contributing meaningfully to the resolution of South Sudan’s civil war and conflicts in the greater Red Sea region.

Conflict Analysis & Prevention

Will the Latest Deal Bring Peace in South Sudan?

Will the Latest Deal Bring Peace in South Sudan?

Monday, August 20, 2018

By: Aly Verjee; Payton Knopf

On August 5, the warring parties in South Sudan signed an agreement which calls for the formation of another power-sharing government. The previous power-sharing government collapsed in July 2016, and the war has since spread throughout the country. USIP’s Aly Verjee and Payton Knopf discuss the developments that led to the deal, identify the agreement’s risks and deficiencies, and assess future prospects for the peace process.

Peace Processes

View All Publications