There is a possibility of guns falling silent in South Sudan after almost five years of war, following the signing of the Khartoum Declaration Agreement between President Salva Kiir and rebel leader Dr Riek Machar in Khartoum, Sudan.
The agreement came on the back of years of failed agreements that have left thousands dead, millions displaced and international partners disillusioned.
The Khartoum Declaration Agreement has five critical areas that will form the foundation of a comprehensive peace agreement to be realised by July 10: A permanent ceasefire; reforms in the security sector; rehabilitation of the oil wells; improvement of the South Sudan infrastructure connected with the livelihood of the citizens; and regional countries invited to deploy necessary forces to supervise the ceasefire.
President Kiir and Dr Machar made a commitment before regional representatives and the world to respect the agreement and forge lasting peace.
“I’m committed and respect all the documents that have been signed and will abide by all the agreements that will follow,” President Kiir pledged in a forum presided over by President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan on behalf of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) mediators.
Dr Machar said the agreement will stop the suffering and give renewed hope to the people of South Sudan and that “they will be happy soon.”
Others who signed the document were the representatives of the South Sudan Opposition Alliance (SSOA), former detainees and other political parties.
The key challenge lies in achieving a permanent ceasefire within 72 hours (July 1) given that the warring parties have violated various cessation of hostility agreements since the 2015 peace agreement, while over 20 armed groups have emerged since then.
The permanent ceasefire augments the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement signed last December but which was violated by both sides inside 24 hours.
This time, the parties to the Khartoum Declaration are expected to agree on all ceasefire arrangements including disengagement, separation of forces in close proximity, withdrawal of militias allied to various sides, opening of humanitarian corridors and release of political prisoners.
The parties are also expected to agree on monitoring mechanisms, and Igad and AU member states are invited to deploy the necessary forces to supervise the ceasefire.
Still awaiting serious discussion is the security arrangements to create one national army, police and other security organs with national representation.
This is a departure from the 2015 agreement that provided for two armies with two commands during the transitional period. President Kiir had said two armies had caused fresh fighting in Juba in July 2016, killing the agreement.
Details of the power-sharing arrangements are also pending but have to be completed before the end of the Khartoum Round of Talks.
However, the framework contained in the Khartoum Declaration proposes a pre-transitional period of 120 days followed by a transitional period of 36 months of sharing of power to be followed by a free and fair election open to all parties.
On the other hand, the mechanisms of how the signatories will go about improving the infrastructure and basic service in sectors that cater to the day-to-day livelihood of citizens, is vaguely described in the agreement with the rider that the parties are to appeal to the international community for help.
Cementing the promises
But Khartoum was just the beginning and the two leaders —who previously allowed their personal differences and political ambitions to impede the peace process — will be under pressure to deliver tangible peace in the next two weeks.
The peace talks process is expected continue until July 10. This means from Khartoum, the parties move to Nouakchott in Mauritania on the side lines of the African Union (AU) Summit next week, and finally head to Nairobi.
Rebecca Nyandeng, the widow of the founding father of South Sudan Dr John Garang, was optimistic about the talks, but other groups that felt left out, such as civil society, religious groups, youth and women groups, and other armed groups are demanding an all-inclusive process.
Peter Ajak, the chairman of the South Sudan Young Leaders Forum, said that a lasting peace agreement must be broad-based, but he believes that solutions will not come from the political leaders but the South Sudan citizens mobilising themselves to force peace.