Debating Ideas aims to reflect the values and editorial ethos of the African Arguments book series, publishing engaged, often radical, scholarship, original and activist writing from within the African continent and beyond. It offers debates and engagements, contexts and controversies, and reviews and responses flowing from the African Arguments books.
As the countdown to the general elections and the end of the extended transitional period in South Sudan approaches, opinions are sharply divided between those in favour and against holding elections. South Sudan’s elections are scheduled to begin in December 2024 and end with the announcement of results. The last general elections in South Sudan were held in 2010 just before the conclusion of the transitional period as outlined in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. During the last elections, President Salva Kiir Mayardit, the current President, and members of the legislative assemblies and state governors were elected in both Sudan and Southern Sudan. The latter was part of the former but enjoyed autonomy at that time.
Initially general elections were supposed be held after the country’s independence, no later than 2015. However, due to the outbreak of civil war in 2013, the elections were cancelled. Despite the signing of the Agreement on Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan (ARCSS) in Addis Abba in 2015, which extended the transitional period by three years, the agreement’s implementation faltered, leading to the resumption of conflict in 2016, less than a year after the agreement was signed. Subsequently, a Revitalized Peace Agreement signed in 2018 stipulated that the general elections be held before the end of the transitional period. However, due to challenges, the parties agreed to extend the transitional period for an additional two years with the general election results expected in February 2025.
The question of whether to hold elections on the prescribed time remains a contentious issue among the political parties that signed the 2018 peace agreement, civil society organizations, and the international community. With only 18 months left until the end of the extended transitional period, this controversy remains unresolved.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) has already nominated President Salva Kiir Mayardit as its presidential candidate. The party initiated its election campaign in Greater Bahr el-Ghazal on 3 July 2023 through a public rally celebrating the nomination. Similar campaigns are set to take place in Greater Equatoria, particularly in the city of Juba as announced by Governor Louis Lobong Lajor of Eastern Equatoria State.
Not all political groups in South Sudan welcomed this development. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-In Opposition (SPLM-IO) under the leadership of Riek Machar Teny rejects this approach to a democratic transition, asserting that electoral campaigns are premature. Instead, the group called for prioritizing the completion of the Revitalized Peace Agreement’s provisions, particularly those related to the training and integration of forces into unified military and security organs. They also highlighted the primacy of the formulation of the state permanent constitution and the establishment of the General Elections Commission to supervise elections as well as the creation of the Political Parties Council, and the Constitutional Court, if the elections were to lead to a fair outcome.
The international community holds a different stance. They resist the idea of holding elections before fully implementing the terms of the extended revitalization agreement while opposing any further extensions of the transitional period. Some international envoys view the SPLM’s call for early elections and comprehensive electoral campaigns as a preemptive step unnecessary at this stage. They emphasize that the parties should focus on fulfilling the provisions of the August 2022 roadmap. However, the agreement faces numerous challenges, particularly concerning financing which in turns undermines the international community’s call for swift implementation without providing sufficient financial support.
The current tension and disagreement over the implementation of the roadmap leading to the general elections on the prescribed dates could potentially lead to a return to war, further fostering instability in the region. The opposing directions taken by the two main poles, SPLM and SPLM-IO, underscore the urgent need for dialogue to avoid the collapse of the peace agreement and a return to conflict. Intellectuals, analysts, and some elders advocate for meaningful and constructive dialogue to safeguard peace and stability in the country. For instance, General John Mourwell Majak’s letter to the leadership called for dialogue and the continued collaboration of the current coalitions and alliances created by the Revitalized Peace Agreement in the interest of a peaceful South Sudan.
The controversy surrounding the timing of general elections in South Sudan combined with the incomplete implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement poses significant challenges to the country’s democratic transition. Meaningful dialogue and cooperation among all stakeholders are essential to navigate this critical period and safeguard the nation’s future.