Helping or Hindering? The Impact of Civil Society Groups in the Peace Negotiations

South Sudan’s unresolved civil war dampened celebrations on its third Independence Day on 9 July 2014. Despite the urgent need for peace, the negotiation process has yet to yield a resolution. Since the signing of the recommitment to the cessation of hostilities in May 2014, progress has occurred, though with ambiguous outcomes. For example, although necessary, the attempt to include Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) has complicated the peace negotiations further.

From March to May 2014, IGAD consulted with South Sudanese CSOs to help develop a modality for their participation in the peace negotiations. This was done in preparation for the Multi-Stakeholder Symposium hosted in Addis Ababa on 4-9 June 2014. The consultation resulted in a strict selection process through which a broadly composed delegation of nineteen independent representatives received a mandate to attend the Symposium. However, the two warring parties respectively brought representatives of other CSOs to the Symposium in June. None of these new CSOs had participated in the rigorous IGAD selection process and their impartiality was in question since the method used for selecting them was not revealed. Thus, tensions unsurprisingly ensued.

Furthermore, the majority of these new CSOs operate in government-controlled territories and the SPLM-in-Opposition (SPLMiO) suspected them to be in alignment with the Government of South Sudan (GOSS). By contrast, CSOs sympathising with the rebels claimed to be purposely delayed from attending by authorities in Juba, but even upon arrival these delegates protested that they were outnumbered by the representatives of CSOs that arrived with GOSS.

Despite these controversies, the Symposium concluded with an additional ad hoc selection process. IGAD representatives requested that the various CSO delegates, now numbering 40 (comprising of the independent nineteen and the delegates that accompanied the two factions), choose seven representatives in total to participate in the peace process. From the original group of nineteen, which had been elected in an open process, only one was elected as a representative in this new group of seven. The CSOs involved in the first strict selection round expressed concern about their effective exclusion form the peace process. South Sudanese MPs have since also questioned the composition of the stakeholders at the peace talks.

After the Symposium, the peace negotiations continued, culminating in Salva Kiir and Riek Machar agreeing on 10 June 2014 to set a 60-day deadline for the establishment of a transitional government of national unity, to allow humanitarian workers immediate access to people in need, and to a permanent ceasefire.

While the 9 August deadline looms, minor distractions draw attention away from the core issues of the conflict: i.e. the struggle over political leadership in the SPLM and the SPLA’s lack of cohesion. For instance the talks in June were postponed as both warring parties were affronted by Mahboub Maalim, the executive secretary of IGAD, who said that both leaders were “stupid” if they think they can win on the battlefield. This incident represents an unfortunate diplomatic faux pas for IGAD, but it also reveals how the two parties use various pretexts to avoid committing fully to the talks.

After a delay, on 20 June 2014, IGAD launched another round of negotiations bringing together, for the first time, the SPLM Leaders (former political detainees, SPLM-FD), other political parties, CSO representatives and religious leaders to meet alongside GOSS and SPLMiO. But, the talks were halted indefinitely on 23 June 2014 due to the SPLMiO’s refusal to participate.

The SPLMiO objected to the new framework which they believed would undermine the current mediation process. Moreover, the SPLMiO complains that it was not consulted about these changes or about the selection of the participating CSOs, and also perceived IGAD to be unresponsive to its misgivings. It stated that it would prefer to negotiate exclusively with the GOSS and only consult with other stakeholders. Meanwhile, GOSS denied that it influenced the selection of the civil society groups in question.

It remains unclear whether GOSS and IGAD will agree to reframe the fourth round of negotiations into bilateral talks. IGAD stated that it would use the period of adjournment to consult with a variety of South Sudanese stakeholders as well as international organizations such as the African Union and the United Nations.

While inclusivity is necessary for sustainable peace, the complicated process hitherto has illustrated the challenges of defining genuine stakeholders and of designing a representative system. Moving forward, the addition of participants in sensitive aspects of the process may increase the likelihood of distractions and inadvertently delay a permanent ceasefire. Developments over past months suggest that the calculus of peace in South Sudan requires a simple design and a narrowly focused set of issues for negotiation.


Sebabatso Manoeli, PhD student, St. Antony’s College, Oxford University and Øystein H. Rolandsen, senior researcher PRIO.


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