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By Patrick Godi - 12 Feb 2024

Opinion| How do we chart a peaceful and democratic transition in South Sudan?

In September 2024, South Sudan will observe the sixth anniversary of the signing of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCISS). This agreement aimed to bring an end to the conflict between President Salva Kiir’s government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM/IO) led by Dr. Riek Machar.

Several other smaller armed and non-armed political movements also joined in the accord. Notably, influential movements like the National Salvation Front (NAS) led by Gen. Thomas Cirilo refrained from signing, deeming the agreement flawed and insufficient in addressing the root causes of conflicts in the country.

Another significant milestone is approaching on February 22, 2024, marking the fourth anniversary of the establishment of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGONU). The primary responsibility of this government is to implement the provisions outlined in the R-ARCISS.

Transitional governments are typically time-bound entities designed to address immediate challenges in post-conflict situations, with a specific program leading to a return to regular political processes, often culminating in elections. However, in the case of South Sudan, it appears to be a mechanism for maintaining power indefinitely, rather than a genuine step towards a sustainable democratic transition.

The transitional unity government embarked on an ambitious program covering Governance, Permanent Ceasefire and Security Arrangements, Humanitarian Assistance and Reconstruction, Economic and Financial reforms, Transitional Justice, and a pursuit of Constitutionalism. However, progress has been minimal, plagued by a lack of political will, insufficient funding, a trust deficit, and a lack of consensus on key issues. The roadmap extending the government’s life, approved in August 2022, is falling behind schedule, leaving only 10 months until the crucial national election.

With uncertainty surrounding the promised December 2024 elections due to unpreparedness, political disagreements, time lapses, and other factors, the nation faces a potential constitutional crisis. A likely solution may be another extension, resulting in the longest transitional governance structure in South Sudan, surpassing the duration stipulated in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that led to the country’s independence.

Is an extension the solution?

However, merely extending the transitional period has proven ineffective historically, leading to frustration and dissatisfaction among citizens and observers. South Sudan has experienced successive temporary transitional arrangements since gaining independence in 2011, disrupting the democratic journey outlined in the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan 2011.

Where do we go?

Drawing inspiration from the successful CPA transition, a sustainable solution requires courage, political will, responsibility, and steadfast leadership. It is time to prioritize constitutionalism and democratic principles over prolonged transitional phases, respecting the people’s sovereignty and their right to vote in elections. Elite-based, ethnic, and violent means of seeking power must be rejected, aligning with the historical aspirations of Freedom, Equality, Justice, and Prosperity that motivated Southern Sudanese during the liberation struggle.

How to approach the end of the transition

To determine the next steps, signatories, citizens, and friends and partners of South Sudan need new thinking and strategies. Harmonizing the de jure transitional ambitions with the de facto scene is essential for a successful conclusion to the transition, allowing the people’s historical aspirations to flourish.

Approaching December, achieving the simultaneous goals of a new Constitution and Elections appears miraculous given the historical political patterns. However, this challenge doesn’t rule out the possibility of fulfilling the commitment to returning power to the people as scheduled. The recurring issue lies in the history of unfulfilled commitments and extended timelines, diminishing citizens’ trust in the current political framework. The full operationalization of the Constitutional Making Process Act 2022 within the 10-month timeframe for the vote seems optimistic. The legislation outlines mechanisms, such as the reconstituted National Constitutional Review Commission, Constitutional Drafting Committee, Preparatory Sub-Committee, National Constitutional Conference, and Constituent Assembly.

Assuming positive factors remain constant, progress would be substantial but still fall short of meeting the deadline.

Therefore, adopting a comprehensive approach to security arrangements, judicial reforms, and ensuring the funding and operations of entities like the reconstituted Political Parties Council, National Elections Commission, and the Judiciary are satisfactory could offer a glimmer of hope. This approach would complement gains in the constitutional-making process and contribute to overall readiness, as highlighted in RJMEC’s 5-year progress report on the agreement.

Political parties must exhibit responsibility and morality in guiding the country towards a dignified conclusion of the transition. Consensus, especially on addressing electoral and constitutional issues, is crucial, requiring compromises.

Kenya’s President William Ruto mediating the stalled Rome process might present an opportunity for achieving inclusive peace, involving Non-Signatory opposition groups in reimagining and determining the transition’s future. Whether this involves a new grand government of national unity or a political agreement to expedite democratic principles remains to be seen in the coming months.

Focus should move beyond the binary choices of holding an election or opting for an extension, fostering progressive alternative thinking. It’s not simply a matter of black or white; often, solutions lie in the grey areas. Despite the reluctance of many South Sudanese, including myself, to embrace this policy recommendation due to transitional fatigue, I believe it will yield more significant outcomes, preserving the gains of previous transitions and facilitating a leap into democracy.

Considering the growing divergence between the twin objectives of holding an election and drafting a constitution, one alternative to ponder is separating the electoral process from the constitutional-making process. As each day passes, it becomes increasingly apparent that these objectives may be mutually incompatible.

International support for peace and stability

The global community, including the UN, AU, Troika, IGAD, EU, IPF, guarantors, and partners, should stand in solidarity with the South Sudanese people to consolidate peace and stability. Urgent measures are needed to avert a humanitarian crisis, and the provision of aid to address immediate community needs should be sustained. Robust political and diplomatic engagement, reminiscent of the CPA era, must be prioritized, with a focus on challenging processes that show insufficient progress.

Citizens desires

As we approach these pivotal transitional processes, citizens’ fundamental aspirations include security, safety, protection of human rights, access to livelihoods, food security, increased human development, and deriving legitimacy from the people. Preserving civic and political space is crucial to foster broad and active participation. Eliminating restrictions on freedoms and fostering an environment where citizens and parties can express their views without fear of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrest, or violence is vital. This approach contributes to urgently needed accountability, transparency, and good governance in the country. Additionally, the state must be attentive to potential unforeseen consequences arising from geopolitics and regional dynamics, particularly the implications of Sudan’s conflict on South Sudan’s national security.

The need for a radical shift

However, unless there is a radical shift in political attitudes and behaviours, especially among political parties, the same rhetoric, implementation concerns, and financial considerations will persist, yielding minimal actions on the ground to realize the vision of the peace agreement.

Patrick Godi serves as the Youth Representative to the Reconstituted Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (RJMEC), overseeing the implementation of South Sudan’s 2018 peace agreement. He is an activist, researcher, policy analyst, and practitioner specializing in Youth, Peace, and Security (YPS), Governance, and Human Rights with a focus on influencing responsive policymaking in South Sudan and Africa. He can be reached via email at

The views expressed in ‘opinion’ articles published by Radio Tamazuj are solely those of the writer. The veracity of any claims made is the responsibility of the author, not Radio Tamazuj.