The rival powers in the South Sudan conflict, the country’s President, Salva Kiir and his estranged vice Riek Machar, signed Agreement Aimed at forming an all inclusive transitional government. OMONU NELSON examines the renewed attempt at peace in the world’s youngest country.

The South Sudan’s warring parties, Sunday, reached a power-sharing deal to end a civil war that has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions in the world’s youngest country.

President Salva Kiir and his rival, Riek Machar were in neighbouring Sudan to sign the deal, under which the rebel leader is set to return to a unity government as the first of five vice presidents.

The deal, which paves the way to a final peace accord, was signed in the presence of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and his counterparts from Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti, along with foreign dignitaries.

Once a final peace deal is signed, the foes will have three months to form a transitional government under the new format, which will then take effect for a further 36 months. A similar arrangement fell apart in July 2016 when fighting erupted in the capital, Juba, and Machar fled the country.

“The agreement we have signed today must map the road to end the conflict and war in our country,” Kiir said in a speech after signing the deal.

“We have to concentrate on the implementation of the agreement and we have to work on uniting our people.”

For his part Machar urged the regional east African bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which is pushing the latest peace talks, to ensure that the deal is implemented.

“I want IGAD to focus on the implementation of the deal because devil lies always in the implementation,” he said in his address.

“[Kenyan] President Uhuru Kenyatta has decided that further negotiations will continue in Khartoum and not in Nairobi,” Sudanese Foreign Minister Al-Dierdiry Ahmed said at Sunday’s signing ceremony. The talks come as part of a regional push aimed at achieving peace in the country, which plunged into a devastating conflict just two years after its independence from Sudan.

South Sudan’s nearly five-year conflict began after Kiir accused his then-vice president Machar of plotting a coup against him in 2013.

Several ceasefires agreements were signed and breached over the course of 2014, with millions of civilians being displaced as a result of the ensuing violence.

The two sides first agreed to share power in mid-2015. Peace reigned for a year before renewed fighting led Machar to flee the capital and declare the deal dead.

Earlier in July, the two leaders preliminarily agreed to the power-sharing arrangement they signed on Sunday but 12 hours later, fighting resumed. Sunday’s deal is the 12th ceasefire and second power-sharing agreement.

The rival groups have already agreed on a permanent ceasefire and withdrawing of their forces from civilian areas, in talks mediated by Khartoum in series of dialogues hosted by al-Bashir.

The power-sharing deal stipulates that there will be 35 ministers in the bloated transitional government, including 20 Kiir allies and nine backers of Machar along with representatives of other rebel factions.

The Republic of South Sudan is a landlocked country in East-Central Africa.The country gained its independence from the Republic of the Sudan in 2011, making it the newest country with widespread recognition. Its capital and largest city is Juba.

In retrospect, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan on 9 July 2011 as the outcome of a 2005 agreement that ended Africa’s longest-running civil war.

Made up of the 10 southern-most states of Sudan, South Sudan is one of the most diverse countries in Africa. It is home to over 60 different major ethnic groups, and the majority of its people follow traditional religions.

Independence did not bring conflict in South Sudan to an end. Civil war broke out in 2013 when the president fell out with his then vice president. Some 4 million people have been displaced.

Salva Kiir Mayardit became president of South Sudan – then still part of Sudan – and head of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in 2005, succeeding long-time rebel leader John Garang, who died in a helicopter crash.

Mr Kiir was re-elected as president in multiparty polls in the south in April 2010. In July 2011, when South Sudan became independent, he became president of the new state.

Just two years later, however, the country was engulfed by civil war when Mr Kiir sacked his entire cabinet and accused Vice-President Riek Machar of instigating a failed coup.

The government and rebels have failed to come to terms.

Media freedom is fragile in South Sudan, where armed groups, weak legal institutions and political pressures undermine free reporting.

Journalists risk arrest over reports that criticise the government and the ruling party. There have been reported seizures of newspapers, or disruption of their distribution, by the authorities.

The state-owned South Sudan TV has little competition, and the country’s poverty and limited electricity has hindered the development of TV media.

TIMELINE

Some key dates in South Sudan’s history:

1956 – Sudan becomes independent but southern states are unhappy with their lack of autonomy. Tensions boil over into fighting that lasts until 1972, when the south is promised a degree of self-government.

1983 – Fighting starts again after the Sudanese government cancels the autonomy arrangements.

2011 – South Sudan becomes an independent country, after over 20 years of guerrilla warfare, which claimed the lives of at least 1.5 million people and more than four million were displaced.

2012 – Disagreements with Sudan over the oil-rich region of Abyei erupt into fighting, known as the Heglig Crisis. A peace deal was reached in June 2012 that helped resume South Sudan’s oil exports and created a 10km demilitarized zone along the border.

2013 – Civil war breaks out after the president, Salva Kiir Mayardiit, sacks the cabinet and accuses Vice-President Riek Machar of planning a failed coup. Over 2.2 million people are displaced by the fighting and severe famine puts the lives of thousands at risk.

2015 – Warring sides sign a peace deal to end the civil war, but the conflict continues.

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