By John Prendergast and Brian Adeba
Peace remains elusive in South Sudan. The latest in a line of peace deals – this one signed on September 12, 2018 between the South Sudan government and opposition – does not address the primary root cause of the war: the hijacking of governing institutions and the creation of a violent kleptocratic state that enriches senior officials and their commercial collaborators while doing nothing to provide social services, build infrastructure, create transparency, introduce accountability, reinforce the rule of law, or grow the economy of South Sudan.
Fueling this ongoing strife is a misguided focus on power-sharing instead of transforming the systems of governance. By simply re-assigning positions of power, the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD), through its September 12, 2018 Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (R-ARCSS), has encouraged elites within the various warring parties to continue plundering the country’s economic and natural resources.
That some of the agreement’s official mediators, including Uganda and Sudan, stand to benefit politically and economically from this outcome reinforces the need for enforceable reforms that take aim at the kleptocratic system standing in the way of a sustainable peace. The absence of a long-term diplomatic endgame allowed the President of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, and the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, each representing different sides in the conflict, to exploit the IGAD-led process for their own political and economic gain.
Fundamentally, this is a governance challenge, rooted in a political culture that views state resources as spoils, their value accruable to the elite alone. Changing this mindset will require measures that force the costs of kleptocracy to far outweigh its gains. Network sanctions and anti-money laundering measures, for example, can disincentivize those at the top from prioritizing personal financial interests as their primary motivation. Otherwise, political agreements like the one signed on September 12 will only provide a short-term stopgap to the conflict, not the long-term systemic change that the people of South Sudan need and deserve.