The United Nations’ special envoy for South Sudan said on Monday that the country may be able to keep its commitment to hold elections in December 2024 if there is political will, calling 2023 a “make or break” year for the world’s newest nation, which has been beset by civil war.
It is generally agreed, according to Nicholas Haysom, that “the country can withstand a robust political competition” at this time.
“We need to go about creating or expanding political and civic space to enable those elections to take place,” he told reporters after briefing the UN Security Council.
To ensure that “most South Sudanese would recognize that they are free and that they reflect the way that people voted,” Haysom argued that the requisite technical conditions and institutions to manage elections must be put in place.
He warned that while “it’s fast-closing window of opportunity,” it is still possible to make the necessary compromises and accomplish this within two years.
After a lengthy conflict, oil-rich South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011. But in December 2013, the country descended into civil war, with forces loyal to President Salva Kiir fighting those of Vice President Riek Machar.
After years of fighting and the deaths of tens of thousands of people, a peace agreement was finally reached in 2018 that united Kiir and Machar in a government of national unity. After initially being scheduled for February 2023, elections have been delayed until December 2024.
For his part, Haysom, who commands the United Nations’ over 17,000-strong peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, was pleased by the government’s recent announcement that the deadline for implementing the peace agreement and holding elections would not be extended.
Nonetheless, Haysom admitted there has been “limited progress” in recent months toward carrying out the accord’s provisions.
“Therefore, we view 2023 as a’make or break’ year and a test for all parties to the peace agreement,” he explained.
Haysom has stated that drafting a new constitution is a major challenge, but it also presents “a critical opportunity for the South Sudanese to agree to the arrangements by which they can live together harmoniously, avoiding a repeat of the civil wars that have defined the last decade.”
He stressed the importance of including all South Sudanese in the drafting process, including those who have been marginalized in society, such as holdout groups, the hundreds of thousands of displaced people and refugees, women, youth, and the disabled.
He stressed the importance of “applying themselves to the task” of figuring out how to coexist and coming to terms with the fact that they share a future.
He demanded that Parliament end its long recess and that the government immediately reconstitute and fund the National Constitutional Review Commission.
He stressed the importance of reestablishing the National Elections Commission, which had been largely ineffective for almost a decade.
Part of the terms of the peace treaty was the establishment of a single military, and the first class of recruits has just graduated. Haysom has stated that violence in South Sudan’s flashpoints, which “increasingly present an ethnic or tribal dimension,” needs to be addressed.
Two-thirds of the population, he estimated, will need assistance this year due to climate shocks and conflict, both of which the government must address. He expressed disappointment that only 3% of the United Nations’ $1.7 billion appeal to aid 6.8 million of the world’s poorest people had been funded.