Tag Archives: South Sudan

Can South Sudan Peace Deal Last?

Juba 13 April 2016

South Sudan may finally, perhaps, be on the road to peace. Rebel leader Riek Machar is expected in the capital, Juba, next week in the final step towards a government of national unity that seeks to end the fighting and glue together a country torn apart by more than two years of civil war.SPLA South Sudan

But tensions still remain high.

Since the peace agreement was signed in August, the international community has tried to re-unite President Salva Kiir and Machar in a joint administration. It has been a saga of missed deadlines and disagreements that appeared to have no end in sight, calling into question the seriousness of both sides to implement a peace deal.

The arrival today in Juba of deputy rebel chief Alfred Ladu Gore and a 60-strong delegation to take charge of an advance guard of opposition SPLA-IO troops signals progress. But in what is hopefully not a sign of things to come, one of Gore’s first statements was to condemn the arrest of 16 of his supporters who were organising a welcome.

Since South Sudan’s civil war broke out in December 2013, tens of thousands have been killed, 2.3 million displaced, with both sides accused of committing war crimes.

Machar’s planned return to Juba on 18 April from his HQ in the eastern town of Pagak could be a crucial step. But it will only be the start of the process. Both sides will have to address a range of issues that could plunge the country back into conflict.

28 states

The number of states in South Sudan, the most divisive issue between the government and SPLA-IO, will be decided by a National Boundary Commission. That mechanism itself is controversial.

Increasing the number of states from 10 to 28, decreed by Kiir in October, alters the political balance in South Sudan and upsets the accord’s delicately struck power-sharing provisions.

Kiir said the move was geared towards greater representation, but his critics see it as a land-grab on behalf of his Dinka ethnic group. The announcement stalled the implementation of the peace agreement as SPLA-IO said negotiations had been predicated on the original 10 states.

Crucial details around the adjudicating boundary commission remain unaddressed. It’s unclear how the commission is to be structured, and if it would decide or merely recommend the number of states. The distinction could be critical.

“What really matters is the issue of borders between states, counties, and communities,” said William Ezekiel, the advance team spokesman for SPLA-IO. “[The concern is the] areas that belong to a specific ethnic group, but get annexed to another group that are favored by the government. To be explicit, the creation of 28 states was meant to support and enhance and give resources and power to the Dinka.”

The border issue is most contentious in places with shared ownership like Malakal, where officials from the Shilluk community have warned they will fight if perceived gerrymandering deprives them of their traditional land.

“In Malakal, the capital city of Upper Nile, all of a sudden the whole city and the surrounding [area] were handed over to the Dinka Padang, which is contrary to tribal and colonial boundaries,” said Ezekiel.

The government counters that Machar himself had advocated the need for more states.

Military integration

The Transitional Government of National Unity, which will serve as a temporary administration for 30 months, is unlikely to stop the fighting in South Sudan, where a proliferation of militia complicates the picture.

Both sides continue to accuse each other of conducting attacks, making the integration of SPLA-IO fighters into the South Sudanese army a potential flashpoint. SPLA-IO is a largely Nuer force, and the government army predominantly Dinka. Although the origins of the conflict were political, it was a clash between the Dinka and Nuer elements within the presidential guard in Juba that triggered the start of the civil war.

“The first thing to be done [by the unity government] is to implement the security arrangement immediately,” said Antipas Nyok De Kucha, secretary for political affairs of the ruling SPLM.

General James Koang, in charge of integration of the SPLA-IO troops, said that details of the unification of the army have not yet been decided and will be negotiated in an upcoming meeting between military leaders from both sides.

It is clearly an urgent issue. On Tuesday, US State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner alleged the government had “destroyed a declared opposition cantonment site at Numatina in Wau County” and followed a “surge of SPLA troops and military equipment into the area.”

The SPLA-IO has also accused the government of attacking sites in Western Equatoria and Western Bahr el Ghazal where it says its troops are supposed to assemble. The government’s response is to deny there are legitimate SPLA-IO forces in those regions.

SPLA-IO troops return to Juba
SPLA-IO troops return to Juba

“If there were any military operations conducted [in Western Bahr el Ghazal], then they must have been conducted against bandits and highway robbers,” said SPLA spokesman, Brigadier General Lul Ruaki Koang.

Both parties have agreed to a verification process in the cantonment areas in Western Bahr el Ghazal and Western Equatoria, to be overseen by a Ceasefire and Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism, made up of international observers.

Economy

The unity government needs to immediately negotiate a loan from international lenders to keep the economy afloat, experts say. Inflation in South Sudan was more than 200 percent in February and the country is in the grip of a fuel shortage.

“One of the first priorities this government will need to tackle is clearly the economy of South Sudan as a state, but also for communities suffering inflation, soaring prices of commodities and lack of access to markets where goods are exchanged and traded,” UN Mission in South Sudan spokeswoman Ariane Quentier told a press briefing.

The government may resort to paying government workers through barter. Finance Minister David Deng Athorbei gave an example of paying public workers by having communities provide services for them.

South Sudan isn’t eligible for IMF or World Bank funding until a unity government is formed, according to interviews with Western diplomats. But even then, financial relief is not certain. Donors are wary to lend money to South Sudan without significant financial oversight — the envoys said the IMF and World Bank are likely to attach stringent loan conditions.

Permanent constitution

A political conflict over the country’s first permanent constitution looms.

The transitional government will have 18 months to agree to a permanent constitution, drafted by a commission made up of the SPLA, opposition, and civil society organisations.

The plan to create a constitution “wasn’t so carefully considered,” said David Deng, director of research of the South Sudan Law Society. “You can see from the various passages, it’s as though people were just throwing things in there on their wish-list without clearly thinking it through.”

Asking both sides to put down their weapons and become partners in crafting the foundational document will coincide with the period when political parties are mobilising for presidential elections.

There is “a lot of incentive to play games with the constitution, to entrench the powers of the political elite,” said Deng.

He pointed out that the process – like the peace deal itself – may not be as inclusive as was hoped.

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SOUTH SUDAN: Highest Global Maternal Mortality Rate

 

 

South Sudan has the worst reported maternal mortality rate in the world.

“More women die in child birth, per capita, in South Sudan, than in any country in the world,” says Caroline Delany, a health specialist with the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) in South Sudan which is funding a raft of maternal health programmes.

A 2012 report entitled Women’s Security in South Sudan: Threats in the Home by Geneva-based think-tank Small Arms Survey (SAS) says a national survey carried out in 2006 indicating 2,054 deaths per 100,000 live births may have been an underestimation.

“Many deaths are not reported, in part because 90 percent of women give birth away from formal medical facilities and without the help of professionally trained assistants,” it said.

Childbirth and pregnancy, rather than conflict, are the nation’s biggest killers of girls and women.

“One in seven South Sudanese women will die in pregnancy or childbirth, often because of infections (from puerperal fever and retained placenta), haemorrhaging, or obstructed births, with a lack of access to healthcare facilities playing a large role in their deaths,” SAS found.

“When we talk about security in South Sudan there is a tendency to focus on issues such as guns and militia groups. But real human security means protection from anything that threatens health and wellbeing. In South Sudan there is nothing that poses greater threat to a woman’s life than getting pregnant,” says SAS researcher Lydia Stone.

Lack of midwives

“Midwives can prevent up to 90 percent of maternal deaths where they are authorized to practice their competencies and play a full role during pregnancy, childbirth and after birth,” the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) in South Sudan said in a May report on maternal mortality.

At the maternity ward in Juba Teaching Hospital, staff members say there are not enough (or the right) drugs, and never enough trained staff.

Midwife Julia Amatoko is one of three registered midwives at the country’s ramshackle and constantly overcrowded hospital in the capital.

“We are just a few and a lot of mothers are coming. And beds are not enough for the mothers. We have just eight beds for the first stage of labour and for the post-natal mother,” she said.

According to UNFPA, South Sudan has just eight registered midwives and 150 community midwives.

Amatoko said the lack of professional midwives working alongside traditional birth attendants (TBA) and community midwives caused needless death. “Those who are TBA’s are not able to cope with the serious cases, like when the mothers have post-partum haemorrhage.”
Giving birth even at the country’s leading hospital is a lottery, especially at night. “I’ve been here for three months, and two mothers died, in the night,” she said, due to a lack of human resources.

“Midwives are the backbone for reduction of maternal mortality… but here, with all the midwives and birth attendants put together, there are only around 20,” said consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Mergani Abdalla.

“If you have professional midwives that can provide basic obstetric care – once South Sudan can deploy those, they can expect progress, but it will happen slowly,” said midwifery specialist for UNFPA Gillian Garnett.

UNFPA is looking forward to the graduation of around 200 midwives next year.

Treatment delays

Many women come to the hospital late, when they are already in the throes of a difficult labour, said Abdalla.

“There are delays at the community level, with a lot of cultural and other kind of issues; there are delays in getting to the hospital because of the transport infrastructure, the lack of ambulances, the roads; and then there are delays in the hospital as well,” said Garnett.

Mariam Kone, a medical coordinator for a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Aweil, Northern Bahr-el-Ghazal, echoed the problem. “We are receiving ladies at a really late stage… They’re usually in a septic condition or they’re anaemic, and many have malaria,” she said.

MSF admits around 6,000 people a year to the maternity ward and had 18 deaths last year, mainly due to postpartum haemorrhage, septicemia and eclampsia.

Blood, scissors and gauze

At Juba hospital, UNFPA is supplying kits for mothers, surgical instruments and life-saving drugs such as oxytocin to stop bleeding, but Amatoko bemoans the lack of basics: “We need scissors for delivery, and browns for packing. We don’t have even cottons in the ward; gauze-we don’t have.”

The nation’s first blood bank has been built but not filled at the hospital, which only has a family-size fridge full of blood (mostly allocated by relatives for patients due for surgery).

“The biggest need is blood transfusion, because most of the [maternal mortality] cases are due to post-partum haemorrhage”, said Abdalla.

Garnett says that if these were normally healthy women, blood loss would not be so tragic, but a combination of poor health and the delays at community and hospital level to seek health care puts most women at risk even before they go into labour.

In a country where girls are often married off in their early teens, the number of children they have is often not up to them.

“A married woman of childbearing age is expected to become pregnant at least once every three years, and to continue until menopause,” the SAS report found.

[Courtesy of IRIN]