Since February 2020, the slow pace of reforms by the Government of South Sudan and its selective implementation of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan has hindered improvements in the protection of civilians and prospects for long-term peace. More than a year of political disputes and disagreements over how to implement the Agreement has widened existing political, military and ethnic divisions in the country and has led to multiple incidents of violence between the two main signatories to the Agreement – the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), led by the President, Salva Kiir Mayardit, and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-Army in Opposition (SPLM/A-IO), led by the First Vice-President, Riek Machar Teny.
More people in South Sudan are in need of humanitarian assistance in 2021 than ever before. Despite the humanitarian needs of 8.5 million people, the Government has imposed bureaucratic barriers to the delivery of humanitarian aid, and ongoing conflict has prevented its safe delivery. As of early March 2021, South Sudanese people in the Greater Pibor Administrative Area and the Counties of Akobo in Jonglei, Aweil South in Northern Bahr al-Ghazal and Tonj East, Tonj North and Tonj South in Warrap were facing famine-like conditions.
The relationships between and within the two main signatories to the Agreement have frayed because of political gridlock over key decisions within the Agreement, including with respect to the security arrangements. Discontent within SPLM and among the Dinka power base of the President over his handling of the transition has led to calls for new leadership. In addition, high-level leaders in SPLM and the South Sudan People’s Defence Forces (SSPDF) have raised concerns about Mr. Kiir taking advantage of the fragmentation for his political survival and relying on transactional policies to remain in power.
Given the inability of SPLM/A-IO to influence the Government’s decisionmaking or to spur implementation of the Agreement, in particular the security arrangements, SPLM/A-IO has begun to break apart. New splinter groups have formed within SPLM/A-IO that have questioned the leadership of Mr. Machar and his role in the Government.
After more than 11 months of negotiations, the Government filled the last remaining governor vacancy in January 2021, appointing Budhok Ayang Kur as the Governor of Upper Nile, and finalized the establishment of state and local administrations in February and early March. In addition, after more than two years of delays, the Government announced, in late January 2021, the process of establishing the three justice and accountability mechanisms outlined in the Agreement, including the Hybrid Court of South Sudan. However, the Government has not yet reconstituted the Transitional National Legislative Assembly and has focused mostly on implementing the administrative aspects of the economic reforms outlined in chapter 4 of the Agreement.
The political fractures in Juba have triggered security incidents outside the capital, where violence has increased. In Upper Nile, in part as a result of the refusal of Mr. Kiir to nominate General Johnson Olony as Governor of the State, fighting has increased between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army in Opposition (SPLA-IO) and SSPDF. With the support of local Maban militias on both sides, SPLA-IO and SSPDF clashed in December 2020 and January 2021, in violation of the cessation of hostilities agreement of December 2017. In early March 2021, Jikany Nuer militias in Upper Nile under the control of SPLA-IO attacked and burned villages in Akoka County.
Lieutenant General Akol Koor Kuc, the Director General of the Internal Security Bureau of the National Security Service, and Tut Kew Gatluak Manime, the Adviser to the President on Security Affairs, have taken advantage of internal fissures within SPLA-IO to encourage the defection of SPLA-IO senior commanders. In September 2020, Major General Moses Lokujo defected from SPLA-IO, triggering months of fighting between SSPDF and SPLA-IO in Kajo Kaji, Central Equatoria, which led to a wave of conflictrelated gender-based violence, killings and displacement of civilians.
As violence has continued to harm civilians in parts of Warrap, in March 2021, the newly appointed Governor, Aleu Ayeny Aleu, rallied a mixed force of soldiers and civilians who had been recruited and armed on the orders of Mr. Kiir. Also in Warrap, Lieutenant General Kuc has continued to recruit and arm forces controlled by the Internal Security Bureau, which participated in the violence that harmed and displaced civilians.
Given the continued breakdown in control of the political and security situation, government security forces and other armed groups have generated their own sources of revenue. For instance, in Central, Eastern and Western Equatoria, the Government and opposition armed groups have engaged in the exploitation and trade of natural resources, including low-scale artisanal mining, illicit logging and the transport and taxing of charcoal and timber, to maintain their livelihoods.
Government security forces, including the Internal Security Bureau, have gained control of public and natural resources to generate independent sources of revenue that have not contributed to the country’s budget. The Internal Security Bureau has also interfered in the revenue collection at the National Revenue Authority and has positioned its officers in roles at the Bank of South Sudan and the Ministry of Finance and Planning. The Government has not yet released a budget for the fiscal year 2020/21, which ends at the end of June 2021, but has continued to finance road construction projects, valued at $3.87 billion, that have been managed by the Office of the President.
The Government has earned most of its revenue from the sale of its oil, most of which has continued to be pre-sold through prepayment agreements. In 2021, about three-quarters of the Government’s expected oil cargoes have been earmarked as repayment for loans or contracts. The interest, fees and additional costs associated with prepayment agreements for crude oil have decreased the Government’s potential revenue. In 2018 and 2019, for instance, the Government paid $95 million in fees related to four prepayment agreements.
The Government should have generated additional revenue through its stake in Nile Petroleum Corporation and from fees paid by oil operating companies. However, the Panel has received no confirmation that the Government has received net revenue of an average of $3.4 million per month from Nile Petroleum Corporation or an estimated $20 million per year in revenue from surface rental fees paid by oil operating companies.
The region’s support for the Agreement in South Sudan has been instrumental in advocating compromise and cohesion among the divided signatories. In the past year, however, regional disputes have diverted focus from the political crises in South Sudan.
Renewed momentum from regional and international partners is therefore needed to de-escalate the growing security and political fractures in South Sudan. Given the concerns of civil society, political leaders and military officials regarding the ability of the Agreement to bring lasting peace to South Sudan and their nascent calls for Mr. Kiir and Mr. Machar to step down, urgent engagement is needed to avert a return to large - scale conflict.