A Promise of Peace to Secure South Sudan’s Autonomy
By Teresa Sfeir
This Christmas, there is an air of optimism in South Sudan. In September, President Salva Kiir signed a new peace deal with rebel leader Riek Machar, who has returned to Juba as one of the five vice presidents.
Omar Al Bashir, President of Sudan, asked Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to intervene and convince Kiir to reassign Machar as Vice President. Kiir relented and Machar, desperate to end his exile, accepted the deal as well.
A similar peace agreement between Kiir and Machar in 2015 collapsed after less than a year, leading to a war that would take thousands of lives. “You think we’ve forgotten 2016?” asks a rebel official, who returned once more to Juba. During the 2016 war, the official took refuge in a UN protected civilian camp before sneaking back into rebel-held territory.
Despite the optimism, Civilians and refugees remain skeptical of the new peace deal since it is similar to the previous one. After all previous attempts within the past five years failed to ensure peace or establish a ceasefire, it remains ambiguous whether this agreement will make any difference.
Kiir still hopes to disempower his opponent Machar, even if he does return to Juba. Machar, on the other hand, plans to take Kiir’s place in the 2022 elections. This same dynamic is what caused the 2013 crisis, which escalated into civil war.
South Sudan will continue to go around in circles if a resolution to the political gridlock is not found. The country needs a political dynamic where power is shared across its different groups. There is also an urgent need for a third-party diplomacy among regional leaders of state, who have a certain influence over South Sudanese politicians. In order to do that, they should be unbiased and lacking alternative interests. Sadly, after five-years of war, it seems that international diplomats are losing the will to help the country.
“Do not put your trust in princes,
Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help (Psalm 146:3 NKJV).”
When political history appears to repeat itself, and a nation hasn’t learned much from its past mistakes, we tend to feel betrayed by our leaders. When our hopes are thwarted and our hearts dismayed, let us put our trust in the immutable God who remains constant when all else fails. As it is written in Psalm 146, He is the One who “keeps truth forever, who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry (Psalm 146:6b,7 NKJV).” His promises will not fail.
Was the independence of South Sudan a mistake? After all, it is a newly created country with no history of self-governance. In fact, its national identity has been mostly defined in opposition to its enemies. Today, its tribal conflicts have become so dire, it is hard to imagine they will ever be resolved.
There might not be a clear-cut answer to the question above, but the country is in desperate need of peace in order for it to rise again. It is filled with resources, and it can easily overcome food insecurity if peace prevails.
The bishops of South Sudan have an optimistic stance on the recent peace agreement. On the other hand, they address the citizens: “You have a vital role to work for peace in the way you think, talk and act. We appeal to you to tune down your unhelpful rhetoric on social media […] We call on each one of you to avoid the negative pattern of tribalism which is now infesting our society. We want you instead to accept and build peace by embracing the spirit of love, forgiveness and reconciliation.”
The Church in South Sudan is called to continually plant a mentality of peace in the minds of the citizens. If peace wins, the country can then work in unity towards ending social injustice.