By Mahmood Mamdani
Sept. 24, 2018
On Sept. 12, Salva Kiir, the president of
South Sudan, and his major adversary, the former vice-president and rebel
leader Riek Machar, signed a peace agreement in Addis Ababa, the capital of
Ethiopia — the 12th agreement between them — to end the long, brutal civil war
that has killed thousands and displaced millions in South Sudan since December
The most urgent question remains whether
the new peace agreement is any different from earlier ones and if it could
This is not an agreement between Mr. Kiir,
a Dinka, and Mr. Machar, a Nuer, who lead two of the biggest rival factions in
the country. This is an agreement between Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir, the
president of Sudan, and Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda. Mr. Bashir
and Mr. Museveni are the guarantors of the agreement.
The new agreement represents a remarkable
turnaround from the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in 2005 and the
independence agreement of 2011. All previous agreements shared a common
assumption: that Sudan is the source of the problem, that Sudan must be isolated
and contained if there is to be peace in South Sudan. A disaffected group could
simply turn to Sudan in the north. To close that loophole was to recognize that
Sudan had to be part of the solution and not the problem.
Sudan’s President Omar Al-Bashir held hands
with Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and
South Sudan rebel leader Riek Machar during a South Sudan peace meeting in
Khartoum Sudan as part of talks to negotiate an end to the civil war in South
Sudan.CreditMohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters
The assumption underlying this new
agreement is the opposite, that Sudan is the solution to peace in South Sudan.
The agreement represents a first step toward the regional and global
rehabilitation of Sudan and Mr. Bashir, who was indicted by the International
Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity in 2009.
What happened can be understood as the
product of a learning process. All previous agreements contained one big
loophole: Sudan had not been among their signatories or guarantors. Sudan had
no reason to support an agreement in which one objective was its own isolation.
This meant that whoever wanted out of the agreement had a ready-made way out.
Given its historical role in unified Sudan and its location, Sudan would be an
invaluable source of diplomatic and military assistance for any group with a
The new agreement is a sharing of the pie
between the tribes of South Sudan: first the major tribes, Dinka and Nuer, and
then the lesser ones. It does not envision South Sudan as a country, but as a
coming together of tribes. Every inch of South Sudan has to be marked as part
of one tribal homeland or another. Even areas with multiethnic populations must
be defined as belonging to one particular tribe.
The result will be the disenfranchisement
of a large section of South Sudan’s population. Every tribal homeland will be
considered the monopoly preserve of its “indigenous” majority; the result will
be to deprive minorities within each district of two critical rights, the right
to “customary” use of land and to participation in local government. It will
now be much easier for ambitious leaders of different tribes to mobilize
popular discontent and fan flames of a future conflict.
The agreement says state boundaries will be
drawn by an independent boundaries commission appointed by Inter-Governmental
Authority on Development, the regional trade bloc, within two weeks of the
signing of the agreement in Addis Ababa.
The boundaries commission will be chaired
by a non-South Sudanese and shall conduct a referendum “on the number and
boundaries of States of the Republic of South Sudan” within eight months. After
that, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development shall appoint a committee
“to define and demarcate the tribal areas of South Sudan.”
If there is disagreement between two
parties, the guarantors of the agreement, Sudan and Uganda, will be the
mediators. Any tribe with a boundary-related grievance shall be entitled to
bring a case against the South Sudan government before the Permanent Court of
Arbitration at The Hague within a two-year period.
The agreement is signed by the parties to
the conflict, the government and the opposition, by witnesses, and Mr. Bashir
and Mr. Museveni as guarantors. A second agreement between South Sudan and
Sudan on dividing oil and revenue is in the offing, according to officials in
the African Union.
South Sudan is on its way to becoming an
informal protectorate of Sudan and Uganda. By formally acknowledging them as
“guarantors,” the agreement recognizes their strategic role in determining the
future of South Sudan: Ugandan troops are physically present to support Mr.
Kiir’s faction, and Sudan provides critical support to opposition groups,
including those led by Mr. Machar. South Sudan will likely turn into a tribally
fragmented society. The state will reflect this fragmentation and will in turn
deepen the societal fragmentation.
The president, the five vice presidents and
the ministers will be appointed on basis of tribal identities. The South Sudan
Army, already a collection of militias, will further fragment into tribal
Only one institution still stands for a
united South Sudan. That is the Parliament. Recall that Parliament was not
implicated in the violence of 2013. For now, it is a debating society with no
teeth, but it is the only forum that brings together representatives of all
groups in South Sudan.
The future of South Sudan is likely to be
marred by continuing chaos until a single dominant group emerges out of it.
When this happens, regional powers will likely be further drawn into the
conflict. To forestall that development is to recognize the key deficiencies in
the present agreement — its tribal architecture and the absence of a pan South
Sudan political process — by finding ways to give primacy to a political
process over a military contest.
Mahmood Mamdani is Hebert Lehman professor of government at Columbia
University, the director of the Makerere Institute of Social Research in
Kampala and the author, most recently, of “Saviors and Survivors: Darfur,
Politics, and the War on Terror.”