Head of the United Nations Mission to South Sudan has told the Security Council that despite political gains over the past few months, the implementation of the peace agreement continues to stagnate while warning that many benchmarks are behind schedule.
David Shearer told the 15-member council that while the transitional government continues to function, progress has been painfully slow while COVID-19 complicated those efforts even further and could have implications on an election timeline currently set for 2023.
In essence, the 2018 peace agreement limps along with concerns that a return to a business as usual approach, further complicated by a pandemic, could have long-lasting implications on the country’s trajectory away from conflict.
“In this last quarter, violent incidents dropped by 64% compared to the previous quarter, but as the dry season approaches, we are preparing ourselves for a possible resurgence of volatility. Several underlying factors have created a ‘perfect storm’ for those already facing hardship. There is acute food insecurity that’s affected half of the population. It’s driven by displacement from conflict and severe flooding which is affecting around a million people with the loss of livestock and crops. There is a worsening economic situation due to COVID-19. And that’s all on top of the existing pervasive poverty,” Shearer explained.
Shearer cautioned that without significant international pressure, including regional efforts, political will from the domestic stakeholders could wane – highlighting a need for momentum to be urgently injected back into the process.
“The Transitional Security Arrangements that are aimed at unifying the security forces are stalled and leaving combatants in training centers often without adequate food and shelter. The dispute over the proposed governorship of Johnson Olony in Upper Nile, Malakal – the only governor yet to take up an office – is being used now to halt the appointment of country commissioners who are an essential part of local government. Their absence leaves a local vacuum of power, which makes it difficult to nip in the bud brewing inter-communal violence. Momentum in South Sudan’s peace process is linked to the strength of international engagement. However, attention by member states in the Horn is understandably directed elsewhere, contributing to the sense of drift that people are frequently remarking upon. Nevertheless, collectively, we still need to remain focused on South Sudan and guide the peace implementation.”
Beyond the political dynamics, the country faces falling oil prices, a lack of financial accountability, and delays in payments to civil servants that further complicates an already desperate humanitarian situation as the UN warns that parts of the country are on the brink of famine.
Under-Secretary-General: Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock said, “Two consecutive years of intense flooding have then made the situation worse. More than half a million people in Jonglei and the Greater Pibor Administrative Area and close to 400 000 people in Warrap State have been affected by the compounded effects of flooding and fighting. And on top of that, COVID-19 with its socioeconomic impact has made life even harder. South Sudan’s economy continues to contract, partly as a result of falling in oil prices. Essential commodity and food prices are increasing in the face of rapidly depreciating exchange rate and subsequent inflation. Overall, this year 7.5 million people in South Sudan – which let’s remember is more than 60% of the entire country – need humanitarian assistance.”
South Sudan gained independence in 2011 but descended into chaos roughly two-and-a-half years later following an impasse between President Salva Kiir and his deputy Riek Machar – in a country that remains fragile at best.