A 5-point guide for helping understand how events may develop in South Sudan in the coming weeks.
Supply shortages in Juba: Attacks this week on the Nimule-Juba road, including the burning of two fuel tankers, highlight the challenges that the government is likely to continue to face in keeping open supply lines between the national capital and Uganda and Kenya. SPLM/A-IO appears determined to use their presence in rural areas of Central Equatoria for strategic gain, while the government will need to divert more troops from elsewhere in the country to guard roads and convoys in Equatoria. Suppliers of basic commodities, foodstuffs and fuel may be increasingly deterred from traveling to Juba.
Machar in Sudan: SPLM/A-IO Chairman Riek Machar was evacuated from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Sudan for medical treatment last month. Since then he has not made public statements or appearances and an increasing number of regional and international powers have said that they think it is better not to sideline him from the peace process. Whether his health is still poor or not, he now depends on the Sudanese government for permission to engage in political activity from Khartoum, to travel or to mobilize resources for his troops. This puts Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir in a position of increased importance as either a potential spoiler or deal-maker in South Sudan.
Pagak leadership: In the absence of Riek Machar, and with the SPLM/A-IO now in an uncertain political position, the commanders and politicians at the rebel headquarters at Pagak will be engaged in consultations on what to do next. There is no external mediation process or ongoing peace implementation process in which they are likely to be able or willing to engage in, but they still control a large amount of territory and troops and are in contact with opposition elsewhere in the country. In the meantime, government will be trying to encourage defections from the now weakened movement; the recent visit of Taban Deng Gai to Addis Ababa may be part of an outreach effort to the eastern Nuer that make up the bulk of the SPLM/A-IO fighting force.
JMEC efforts: With the armed opposition SPLM/A-IO no longer involved in implementation of the August 2015 peace agreement, with the exception of the defectors led by Taban Deng Gai, the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) is now largely limited to dealing with the government in Juba. Efforts by the JMEC chairman and secretariat in Juba may aim at influencing the government and army to abide by the cessation of hostilities, allow humanitarian access and end restrictions on UNMISS.
Budget deficits: Historically, whenever the Government of South Sudan has faced budget deficits it has preferred to continue funding the SPLA and security apparatus and to cut the state transfers and civil servants’ salaries. If this pattern is to continue, then the already cash-starved 28 states created by presidential decree last year will find themselves in even more dire conditions. Disillusionment with the new 28 states structure was recently voiced by former Northern Bahr al Ghazal Governor Garang Deng Aguer, who claimed to be speaking on behalf of the business community, and by the ex-deputy governor of Upper Nile State, who announced yesterday his defection to the SPLM-IO. On the other hand, if the government is able to reliably fund the 28 new states, then it will contribute to increasing the perceived legitimacy of these new structures and making a reversal of policy to the ten constitutional states less likely.
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