Home | Comment & Analysis    Wednesday 1 April 2020

Can South Sudan parties fulfil army’s reunification


By Tor Madira Machier

Following the formation of South Sudan’s Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGoNU) last month, scepticism has remained as to whether the South Sudan parties will reunify their forces during the three-year transitional period and whether a peaceful election – the first of its kind in post-independent South Sudan – will take place as provided for in the revitalized peace agreement.

While it remains undisputed that the formation of the coalition government by President Salva Kiir Mayardit and First Vice-President Dr Riek Machar Teny raised hopes of the South Sudanese people for a complete end to the country’s brutal six-year-old conflict, there is much to worry that the security arrangements, which constitutes the most important and critical part of the 2018 peace agreement, is not yet completed after more than a year since the signing of the agreement in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on September 12th 2018.

To first understand well why the reunification of the rival forces will be tough and thorny during the transitional period, we have to go back to the period immediately after the signing of the revitalized peace agreement.

The formation of the R-TGoNU was initially set for May 2019, the end of an eight-month pre-transitional period after which the necessary unified forces should be in place. Under article two of Chapter II of the revitalized agreement, it is stated that “The pre-transitional period shall start in D-Day and continue to the completion of the training and redeployment of the necessary unified forces. However, the training and redeployment of the necessary unified forces shall be completed within a period that shall not exceed eight (8) months.”

Because the necessary unified forces – among other pre-transitional tasks – could not be in place given the lack of political will from the parties (and mainly from the government’s side), the formation of the transitional government had to be adjourned – for at six months ending in November 2019. Yet, the parties – for fourteen months – could not form the government and a new deadline ending in late February had to be set.

Despite their failure to complete the training and deployment of the necessary unified forces during that period again, Kiir and Machar decided to form the unity government after the president decided to revoke the creation of the 32 states and return the country to its pre-independence ten (10) states, but with three administrative areas questioned by the opposition. Before the unity government formation, the international community’s patience was running out and in light of that, Kiir who was reluctant to compromise on the number of states decided to cautiously return the country to ten (10) states.

With the decision, several United States diplomats said there was no reason to further extend the pre-transitional period and turned out to Machar to “also” compromise on his demand that part of the security arrangements, which should be completed before the pre-transitional period, be completed before the transitional government is formed. It is indisputable that President Salva Kiir despite the international pressure was not willing and interested to compromise on the security arrangements and for him to win a strong position against the international pressure, he compromised at least on the number of states and forced the international community to turn to Machar for a compromise on the security arrangements.

The training of the unified national army, police and security service is yet to be started as the training of the necessary unified forces is yet to be completed and it remains unclear when this part of the revitalized peace deal will be completed and as such, it is also questionable whether the unified national army will be in place by the end of the transitional period in 2023. The revitalized peace deal which was signed by the parties under intense international and regional pressure states under article 2 of Chapter II that “Building of the national army, police, national security service and other organized forces shall be completed before the end of the Transitional Period.”

Though the training of the necessary unified forces (which has just been suspended due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis) is a positive sign that the South Sudan parties are getting on with this part of the agreement, it is also a fact that the national army will not be in place at the end of the transitional period. It has to be recalled that at some point from the beginning, government forces were reluctant to report to training centres and members of the opposition forces cantoned/assembled at different sites were also deserting because of lack of food and medications as a good number of them have been reported to have died because of hunger and diseases. This will be one of the most critical reasons why the professional national army may not be in place by 2023.


In conclusion, there is a need for the international community to keep the pressure on the South Sudan parties to complete the remaining parts of the agreement. South Sudan is on its path to peace and should not be allowed to return to the conflict. The international community, especially the Troika (US, UK and Norway) which are the main South Sudan donors and peace guarantors, should pressure the government to fund the process and form the unified army within the next three years.

There is currently a sign that the parties are relaxing on the completion of the security arrangements and the likelihood of the South Sudan government to use the coronavirus pandemic as a scapegoat to delay the unification and training of forces is bigger. Therefore, the international community should keep the pressure on the government to continue and completed the process within the transitional period.

The re-appointment of Tut Gatluak – who has failed for a year to implement the pre-transitional tasks – to head the security arrangements mechanism is already a sign that it will be hard for South Sudan to complete the process before the end of the transitional period in March 2023.

The author, Tor Madira Machier is a South Sudanese journalist. He can be reached via tormadira2013@gmail.com

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