A Permanent Transition

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Global leaders are putting their heads together to solve South Sudan’s political crisis and civil war so the country can form a stable government and devote its energies into building new infrastructure, institutions and a civil society.

Dennis Francis, a diplomat from Trinidad and Tobago who serves as the president of the United Nations General Assembly, recently visited South Sudan, for instance. He met President Salva Kiir Mayardit, who is now negotiating a permanent peace deal to mark the end of the country’s civil war, as well as local leaders, journalists and others.

Francis discussed ongoing talks in Kenya, humanitarian aid, democratic processes, and elections that are scheduled in December – but which many observers are skeptical will happen, at least freely. He also met with internally displaced people, community leaders and specialists seeking to eliminate mines, among other things, a press release said.

The visit came at a perilous time.

In 2018, after five years of fighting, Mayardit agreed to a power-sharing agreement with Riek Machar, a former vice president who launched the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition’s campaign against the central government after Mayardit accused him of planning a coup. The war devastated the South, which became independent from Sudan in 2011. Violence has forced 2.3 million refugees to flee South Sudan, according to the UN. Around 33,000 are now in neighboring Uganda, reported the Sudan Tribune.

Now the two men are telling diplomats in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi that they are committed to peace, wrote the Associated Press. Many South Sudanese groups are pushing not only for elections, but for a new constitution that would address the conditions that helped trigger the civil war as well as enshrine human rights, according to the Kenyan news site, the East African.

In the meantime, both men have benefitted from pitting their fellow citizens against each other, say observers. Both are kingpins who have created grand patronage networks, promoted polarization based on ethnic lines, and used other autocratic methods to control vast swaths of the country. Now they can feed on international aid, too. “South Sudan is now in its sixth year of ‘transition’ with very little to show for it,” argued the left-wing magazine Jacobin.

Other factors are now in play, too. These troubles are occurring as civil war engulfs neighboring Sudan, while famine, tragically, sweeps through that country, the BBC noted.

Mayardit so far has been able to leverage his access to South Sudan’s oil to wage his fight and fund his repressive regime, where torture, extrajudicial killings and other brutal means help him retain power. Now, however, the unrest in Sudan is making it harder for South Sudan to export crude, complicating Mayardit’s position, the Crisis Group added, as the lost revenues threaten to slip South Sudan closer to total economic collapse.

The crisis group added that that might be enough of an incentive to make peace.

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