Spoilers on the battlefield and in the negotiations process have completely undermined the search for peace in South Sudan. After numerous threats from the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the lack of any meaningful and escalating consequences for significant cease-fire violations and obstruction has emboldened spoilers on all sides and led to a spiraling of the conflict.
The recently signed Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) agreement offers no respite, as it was violated barely 48 hours after its signature and frequently thereafter. These violations eclipse hope for injecting the confidence measures required to make IGAD’s High Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF) a viable endeavor. The ultimate outcome could result in upending the entire peace process and plunging South Sudan into even deeper and wider conflict, exacerbating the already dire humanitarian situation in the country and imperiling the region’s security.
On the eve of the African Union Heads of State Summit, the central problem facing South Sudan’s peace process is its complete lack of leverage over the warring parties, who no longer take international threats and pressures seriously. Since the conflict’s 2013 start, the African Union has issued 13 statements that threaten action against violators of any of the truces in effect the past four years.
Similarly, IGAD issued seven statements threatening consequences over the same time period. However, the African Union to date has not imposed one solitary consequence on any spoiler, thus undermining its condemnations and threats in response to horrific violations on the battlefield and continuing obstruction in the negotiations. As a result, the spoilers continue to violate cease-fire and peace agreements, showing no meaningful inclination to pursue peace.
Thus, the next step is rather clear. It is time for the African Union to impose specific consequences on South Sudan’s spoilers in the form of asset freezes, travel bans, anti-money laundering investigations, an arms embargo, and other measures that demonstrate Africa’s seriousness about peace in the continent’s newest nation. Such a move would provide essential leverage to IGAD’s HLRF and at least give it a chance to begin to press the parties for compromises at the negotiating table and a reduction—if not an end—to the frequent violations of the CoH agreement.