By Deng Machol
Juba – South Sudan’s parties to the unity government on Thursday announced extension of the post-war transitional period by two years beyond an agreed deadline, in a move troika countries warned lacked legitimacy.
The Eastern Africa’s newest nation was meant to conclude a transition period with elections in February 2023, but the government has so far failed to meet key provisions of the 2018 deal, including drafting a constitution and unification of the forces.
According to the new road map elections are supposed to be conducted in December 2024 before the end of the transition period the following year.
President Salva Kiir signed on behalf of the ruling party – Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army- In Government (SPLM-IG), Vice-President Riek Machar signed on behalf of Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army-In Opposition (SPLM-IO), while Gabriel Changson Chang signed for the opposition coalition – South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA).
South Sudan descended into violence in December 2013 following a political dispute between Kiir and his then deputy Machar, leading soldiers loyal to the respective leaders to fight.
Martin Elia Lomuro, the Minister for Cabinet Affairs, said that most provisions of the revitalized peace agreement have not been implemented, adding that extension of the transition period will allow the parties to implement all the pending provisions to pave way for free, fair and credible elections in the country to end a country’s five-year civil war that left nearly 400,000 people dead.
“The committee considered the contributions of the other parties to the agreement and further deliberated on the extended period. After lengthy deliberation, the committee agreed to extend the transitional period by 24 months from the end of the transitional period on 22nd of February 2023 to 22nd of February 2025,” he added.
“That means elections will be held in December 2024,” Lomuro said.
President Salva Kiir said his regime is not extending the transitional period to stay in office but to prepare the country for an election and peaceful transition of power.
“We reached this decision, as seen in the unanimous decision across the political parties we are not extending the transition because I want to stay in the government longer, we don’t want to rush you into an election that will take us back to war,” Kiir said in Juba, the capital of South Sudan
The President called on holdout groups who are not signatories to the peace pact to join the peace process to bring a peaceful transition to the country.
This comes after the troika of the United States, Britain and Norway boycotted announcement, pointing out that the government had not consulted all the parties involved in the 2018 deal before announcing the extension.
In a letter to Kiir, the troika expressed “profound concern that fully inclusive consultations must take place with civil society, faith-based groups, business, women’s groups, youth representatives, eminent persons and international partners before the (peace deal) is amended”.
“Whether a roadmap and an extension are seen as legitimate by the people of South Sudan and the international community will depend on an inclusive consultation process,” the letter said. “We cannot guarantee that we will be able to support a roadmap or extension in other circumstances.”
The peace process has ran into multiple delays, with lack of political will between Kiir and Machar.
After long delays, Kiir and Machar finally inked a deal on the creation of a unified armed forces command in April — a key provision of the peace deal.
“The roadmap must demonstrate how another extension would differ from previous ones and include steps for clear progress in setting up the institutions and mechanisms necessary to hold elections,” the troika said.
The United States last month pulled out of two peace process monitoring organisations in South Sudan due to the country’s failure to meet reform milestones, citing a “lack of sustained progress”.
However, Vice President Riek Machar said the extension of the transitional period is for the agreement to be genuinely implemented as the implementation of the agreement is lagging.
He called on President Kiir to provide free political space for the citizens to bring a level ground for the parties to compete in elections.
“I have not been invited to go for a rally and the reason is people are afraid to hold political rallies, you cannot transform, political parties cannot survive if there is no political space,” Machar said.
The international community has repeatedly criticised South Sudan’s leadership for its role in inciting violence, cracking down on political freedoms and plundering public coffers.
Meanwhile,the Minister of East African Affairs and the leader of the SPLM former detainees, Deng Alor Kuol, has said that the extension should not worry anyone and that it is not a long period for the citizens to wait.
“This will be last chance for us if we want to help the people,” said Alor,. He further urged the leaders to united their ranks and ideas in order to implement the extended peace deal.
The UN has also accused the government of rights violations amounting to war crimes, including sexual violence.
Despite large oil reserves, the country’s remains one of the poorest, has suffered from war, natural disasters, hunger, ethnic violence and political infighting since it gained independence in 2011.
The UN warned that over 70 percent of South Sudan’s 11 million people would face extreme hunger this year because of natural disasters and violence.