On July 15, the US cut off its support for South Sudan’s peace agreement due to a lack of progress on implementing the pact. The move followed weeks of signaling by the US that it would cease support for two peace monitoring mechanisms unless South Sudanese leaders presented a clear roadmap on the fate of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCSS) after its expiration in February 2023. The two mechanisms—one on overseeing the implementation of the agreement and the other for ceasefire monitoring—are critical for holding accountable the parties in South Sudan’s peace process: the South Sudanese government under President Salva Kiir and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO).
What does ending this support mean? From a signaling perspective, it suggests that the peace agreement is going nowhere and that the US has lost confidence in the South Sudanese political leadership’s willingness to implement the deal. This termination also challenges the excuse put forward by the government—that funding shortfalls have delayed the agreement’s implementation.
US support for the peace process lent credibility to the pact and to those who were implementing it. The withdrawal of this support indicates that the entire peace process is in jeopardy. US allies in the Troika, namely Britain and Norway, may follow suit and withdraw support as well. This is worrying to Kiir and his cabinet as it exposes their lack of political will to implement the deal and lends credence to calls for the formation of a government of technocrats to prepare the country for upcoming elections, something the Kiir administration is totally against.
Additionally, the withdrawal of support suggests to Kiir’s regime that the US may scale up efforts to hold South Sudanese politicians accountable for stymieing the implementation of the agreement by imposing targeted sanctions on individuals and entities connected to them. The US has already sanctioned several high-ranking government officials and entities complicit in human rights abuses and abuse of the peace agreement.
On a more technical level, the withdrawal of US support for the monitoring mechanisms means attempts to slow the implementation process may not be thoroughly investigated, and efforts to identify the culprits of such violations may be hindered. This ultimately benefits the government, as Kiir’s administration and its forces—holders of the largest share of power—have already been identified as complicit in violating the agreement according to several reports and the United Nations Panel of Experts.
On July 9, Kiir’s Independence Day speech alluded to the impending move and called on the US to reconsider. A few days later, he formed a committee composed of staunchly loyal senior cabinet members Michael Makuei, Martin Elia Lomuro, and Mayik Deng to come up with a roadmap for what to do after February 2023. That the committee was formed this late illustrates that little thought has been put toward what should happen after February 2023 and that the committee only exists as a response to international pressure.
Notably absent from this new committee are any representatives from the SPLM-IO and other political parties. This is already a recipe for disagreement that will further delay implementation. Additionally, two of the committee’s most influential members, Makuei and Lomuro, who have been members of Kiir’s cabinet for over a decade, are among the most hardline supporters of the president. During the peace negotiations in Ethiopia in 2017 and 2018, they led the government’s drive to win significant concessions from the opposition and mediators, a feat that prolonged the negotiations, as they would often take off time from the talks and return to Juba, ostensibly to “consult” with Kiir.
Overall, the move by the US to cease support for the peace monitoring mechanisms is a challenge to the African Union’s reluctance to call out South Sudan’s leaders for delaying the peace agreement’s implementation. Whether the AU will take a similar approach and hold South Sudan’s leaders accountable remains to be seen.