You may have read in the news of a new peace deal signed at the end of June between President Salva Kiir and his former vice-president Riek Machar (below, right and left respectively). This is positive in two main ways. Firstly, it was a face-to-face meeting between the two rivals, a step in restoring the relationship. Secondly, it was facilitated by two leaders – Sudanese President al-Bashir and his Ugandan counterpart Museveni – who have a lot to gain from improved stability in their joint neighbour. That said, these economic gains have to be balanced by all four men with the perceived political advantages of rumbling insecurity in South Sudan, and none of them has an unblemished track record.
Pragmatism dictates that both President Salva and Dr Riek should be on board with any future political situation, and their constituencies dominate in much of the country (though not in Ibba). But to frame the war as an outworking of a rivalry between two men or even two tribes misses the opportunity both to address the root causes of the conflict and to bring in other voices. This risks entrenching the problems of previous agreements in South Sudan, which have sought to carve up power and money. The result can be to divide the country into fiefdoms controlled by warlords, containing the violence to some extent but doing nothing about access to resources, provision of services, rule of law, economic investment or political and socio-economic freedoms. All of these are needed to transform the country from a fragile into a thriving state. Let us hope that the latest agreement means at least that guns fall silent long enough to consider how to transform these underlying challenges and to hear civil society and community perspectives – including especially those of women and young people – so that peace can be inclusive and sustainable.