South Sudan’s withdrawal of its ambassador to Washington is in response to sanctions placed by the US Treasury earlier this week on two senior South Sudanese officials.
The US, in a statement, accused the two of perpetuating South Sudan’s “conflict for their own personal enrichment, leading to much suffering for the South Sudanese people.”
Last month, after South Sudan’s warring parties failed to form a coalition government to end its crippling five-year civil war, the US said it would reevaluate its relationship with the country.
In November it called back its ambassador to Washington for consultations and he returned to South Sudan last week. Earlier this month the US State Department said it will implement visa restrictions against those who “undermine or impede” the peace process.
The US sanctions are not constructive and do not reflect recent positive steps toward forming a coalition government by President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar, said Dagne.
The two leaders are currently in Juba having face-to-face talks trying to resolve outstanding issues to the country’s ailing peace deal.
But after more than half a decade of fighting that killed almost 400,000 people, the fragile peace deal is hanging by a thread, fraught with delays, a lack of funding and questionable political will, say experts.
The formation of a coalition government with Kiir and Machar has been delayed twice. Last month the creation of a unity government was postponed by 100 days in order to reach agreement on key issues. But more than a month into the extension there has been little progress and some observers are concerned war could resume.
“We’ve seen no tangible progress in the past month. The peace deal is stuck,” said Alan Boswell, senior analyst for the International Crisis Group. Without urgent intervention by regional heads of state, come February, South Sudan is heading for another crisis, he said.
Machar has said that for him to return and once again serve as Kiir’s deputy, security arrangements have to be in place and there must be agreement on the number of states that South Sudan will have.
In Juba this week, Kiir said the government would be formed in February and any unresolved issues would be settled during the transition period.
But a spokesman for the opposition, Manawa Peter Gatkuoth, told the AP that the formation of the government would depend on progress made in the coming weeks.
“When we rush to form the government without implementing what we agreed to, we’re not implementing the agreement and we could be creating another conflict,” he said.
At least 41,500 troops comprised of government and opposition forces must be joined into one national army. Even though the government said earlier this month that it gave an additional $40 million to the peace process, it is not clear where the money has been spent.
Registration of troops for the unified force has stalled, according to a report in December by the Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism, the body charged with documenting violations and overseeing the implementation of the peace agreement.
The issue of states and boundaries is also at an impasse. After the failed 2015 peace deal the government expanded the existing 10 states to 32, a decision seen by observers as a move to divide the South Sudan along ethnic lines. The opposition said it won’t return until the issue is resolved, but discussions are deadlocked.
“The costs of failing to resolve key disagreements are rising,” said the International Crisis Group in a report this month. The ceasefire, which has largely held since last September, is unlikely to indefinitely survive without forward momentum, said the group.
There has been an uptick in fighting in recent weeks. The opposition accused government-aligned forces of multiple attacks on its positions near the northern town of Maiwut, according to Sunday Yak Chan, an opposition officer in the town.
Army spokesman, Lul Ruai Koang said the fighting was between the opposition and armed civilians that weren’t aligned to the government.
Last month the United Nations panel of experts on South Sudan reported that the government had continued recruiting fighters in recent months, including children, in order to create a 10,000-strong force in President Kiir’s ethnic stronghold under the direct command of the National Security Service, violating the peace deal.
Even if the coalition government is formed, some South Sudan experts are wary that rampant corruption by the political elite may cause any new administration to fail.
A report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, an international network of investigative journalists, detailed how South Sudan’s government awarded $1.4 billion of procurement contracts between 2016 and 2018 to benefit a small group of businessmen with close ties to the president.
“Not only do these contracts seem to be steering limited public resources away from the people who need them most, but some of them were financed through pre-sales of oil, a widely-criticized practice that will saddle any future government with massive debt,” said Mark Anderson a journalist with the group.
South Sudan is heavily reliant upon its oil exports and experts say the government spent most of its oil revenues on war and money that wasn’t used for fighting was largely stolen, according to Klem Ryan, a South Sudan analyst. Once revenues were exhausted South Sudan started borrowing against future oil production.
“Even if there were to be a sincere attempt to implement a peace plan for South Sudan it would have to confront loan commitments that will impede development for a decade,” said Ryan.
Meanwhile civilians continue bearing the brunt of the years of war. Almost 200,000 people still shelter in UN protected camps across the country.
More than 7 million people are in need of assistance and more than 5 million are projected to go hungry by early next year, according to the UN.
Many locals, impatient for peace, are growing frustrated.
“People are pessimistic,” said Nhial Moses who lives in Juba’s UN protected site. “100 days are almost approaching and there’s been no positive change that reflects peace.”