Security Arrangements in South Sudan’s Peace Deal: Do No Harm

In South Sudan’s political marketplace, a bad peace deal—or a badly-implemented peace deal—can be as bad as no deal at all. A collapsing peace deal has the potential of unleashing exceptionally severe violence.

According to the ‘do no harm’ precept, those who design peace agreements and steer their implementation, should not allow optimism of the will to befog their analytical lenses. We must always read the politicking around implementing a peace deal with the default supposition that the deal may collapse and violence may break out again.

So it is with the security provisions of the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan (R-ARCISS).

The agreement, constructed by two masters of the regional political marketplace—President Omar al Bashir of Sudan and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda—is an intricate division of the spoils. Central to it is a ‘payroll peace’: specifically, provisions that allow the warring parties to put hundreds of thousands of men into military cantonment sites where they will be organized, fed, housed and perhaps paid or provided with packages for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.

As outlined in the recent CRP memo on South Sudan, ‘The Perils of Payroll Peace’ this is a recipe for the parties to mobilize soldiers and organize them, making any breakdown in the peace process even more dangerous. This error has been made time and again—it’s time to learn the lesson that the security arrangements provisions in a peace deal should not be designed so as to create perverse incentives for organizing military units.

The plan to organize a ‘unified force’, comprising troops from government and opposition, poses an even greater hazard. Senior government officials are on the record insisting that creating such a unified force is a precondition for forming the transitional government.

South Sudan and Sudan have a well-documented history that attempts to unify, integrate or absorb forces into a single national army are extraordinarily complicated, fraught and long-winded. Despite the public avowals of political leaders, they always maintain a powerful reserve of loyal troops to secure their own position, should circumstances change. Only the weakest allow their forces to be integrated.

This is a worldwide phenomenon: in a comprehensive review of post-civil war military integration, Ronald Krebs and Roy Licklider come to the simple conclusion: don’t! Despite the ubiquity of provisions for integrating government and rebel forces after conflict, there’s no systematic evidence that it works to reduce the risks of future conflict, and much evidence to the contrary.

Crisis Group has warned against this too, proposing instead ‘a small, limited-mandate third-party protection force for opposition leaders, the least objectionable of bad options for Juba’s security arrangements.’

In South Sudan’s political marketplace, turmoil and unpredictability are the norm. A peace agreement shouldn’t be envisaged as a proto-constitution, a once-in-a-generation reformulation of the nation’s political settlement. Rather, it’s a bargain in a bazaar, good for as long as those market conditions hold.

At best, a peace agreement needs constant renegotiation to keep it alive—in mediation parlance, space for implementation protocols and appendices. At worst it is a breathing space in which the parties prepare for a likely new war. Accepting this, we can surely design peace deals to maximize the opportunities for adaptive renegotiation and to minimize the risks of catastrophic violence should they falter.

Alex de Waal is a Research Professor at The Fletcher School, Tufts University, and leads the WPF research programs on African Peacemaking and Mass Starvation.

Considered one of the foremost experts on the Horn of Africa, his scholarly work and practice has also probed humanitarian crisis and response, human rights, pandemic disease, and conflict and peace-building. His latest book is New Pandemics, Old Politics: Two Hundred Years of War on Disease and its Alternatives. He is also author of Mass Starvation: The History and Future of Famine and The Real Politics of the Horn of Africa (Polity Press, 2015) Following a fellowship with the Global Equity Initiative at Harvard (2004-06), he worked with the Social Science Research Council as Director of the program on HIV/AIDS and Social Transformation, and led projects on conflict and humanitarian crises in Africa (2006-09). During 2005-06, de Waal was seconded to the African Union mediation team for Darfur and from 2009-11 served as senior adviser to the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel for Sudan. He was on the list of Foreign Policy’s 100 most influential public intellectuals in 2008 and Atlantic Monthly’s 27 “brave thinkers” in 2009 and is the winner of the 2024 Huxley Award of the Royal Anthropological Institute. Professor de Waal regularly teaches a course on Conflict in Africa at the Fletcher School, Tufts University.  During this course, students should gain a deeper understanding of the nature of contemporary violent conflict in Africa. Students will be expected to master the key theoretical approaches to violence in Africa, and to become familiar with a number of important case studies. The focus is on the origins and nature of violence, rather than policy responses and solutions. The course is inter-disciplinary and involves readings in political science, international relations, and social anthropology, while also touching on economics, environmental studies, and history. 

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