South Sudan’s rebel leader Riek Machar was sworn in as vice president on Saturday in a decisive bid to end a war that has killed over 40,000 people in the world’s newest country.
In 2011, South Sudan became the world’s newest country after seceding from Sudan, its neighbor to the north. However, just two years later in 2013, the rivalry between President Salva Kiir and Vice President Machar exploded into the open. The violence quickly spiraled out of control and snowballed into a full blown war.
Since then, attempts to unite the country and end the war have been slow, with each party giving some pre-conditions before a final agreement could be signed.
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Many actors, including Nigerian pastor TB Joshua have traveled to South Sudan to seek peace.
The latest agreement to form a ‘unity government’ between the two factions led by president Salva Kiir and Machar comes after two previous failed attempts led to even more conflicts and deaths.
The United States and other nations have been mounting pressure to end the war and reach a peace agreement after several deadlines were missed last year.
It was only in the past week that key concessions were made, clearing the way for a deal.
“This action signifies the official end of the war and we can now declare a new dawn in South Sudan,” Kiir was quoted as saying at the ceremony on Saturday. “Peace has come to stay, not to be shaken ever again in this nation.”
The Washington Post noted that “almost as many people have died in South Sudan’s civil war as in Syria’s, and in less time”, adding that the “conflict has plunged parts of the country into famine, and driven more than 2.2 million people into neighboring countries, left 1.4 million without homes with South Sudan, and 190,000 living under direct U.N. protection”.
“This agreement marks a turning point in our history,” said South Sudan’s foreign minister, Awut Deng Acuil, in a telephone interview, according to The Post. “The suffering of our people is going to end. We will facilitate the return of people from neighboring countries.”
There were many disagreements before the peace accord was agreed to. For instance, Machar insisted that the number of states be reduced from 32 to 10, saying that the current arrangement was designed to favor the Dinka ethnic group of president Kiir, while Mr. Kiir also insisted that Machar not be allowed to bring in his own personal security forces into the capial Juba.
His fear was that bringing rebels to the capital may lead to a repeaylt of violence that rocked the city in July 2016 following the failure of the last peace agreement.
“This was the only foreseeable path forward. It is a momentous day,” The Washington Post quoted Alan Boswell, an analyst focusing on South Sudan at the International Crisis Group as saying.
The newspaper said Boswell was in Juba for the ceremony Saturday and recently returned from areas where Kiir and Machar’s security forces were attempting to integrate into one unified army.
“In other ways, though, it is a crawling step forward and doesn’t drastically change the situation in the country,” he added. “South Sudan isn’t going to emerge from being a failed state overnight. It will take the work of generations to put its shattered pieces back together — even to get it back to where it was at independence.”