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In the news: South Sudan’s new coalition government – third time lucky?

Rival leaders will form a unity government on Saturday, raising hopes the country can rebuild, and aid agencies can reach more of those in need.

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir shakes hands with Riek Machar, ex-vice president and former rebel leader, during their meeting at the State House in Juba.
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir shakes hands with Riek Machar, ex-vice president and former rebel leader, during their meeting at the State House in Juba, South Sudan, 15 January 2020. (Jok Solomun/Reuters)

South Sudan’s rival leaders have finally agreed to form a transitional government of national unity, on Saturday, officially putting an end to more than six years of war that has killed at least 380,000 people and forced millions from their homes.

The breakthrough happened on Thursday, when President Salva Kiir met rebel leader Riek Machar and agreed to appoint Machar as his deputy in a new three-year coalition government – part of a twice delayed power-sharing deal.

Steven O’Malley, head of the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, in South Sudan, said he hoped the formation of the new government “will allow us to better reach people in need, and that we can increasingly complement humanitarian programming with longer-term programmes”.

He told The New Humanitarian that he also looked forward to the government playing a bigger role “in providing healthcare, education, and other basic services” to its people.

Read more → South Sudan peace deal deadline looms as questions linger on financial transparency

Despite a fragile two-year ceasefire, some 6.5 million people – half the population – will be short of food by May or June, largely as a result of the war.

There are also still outstanding issues to be thrashed out by the new administration, including the formation of a new, unified army. In the interim, Kiir said he would be responsible for the protection of Machar in Juba – a major concession by the opposition, considering that Machar has had to flee the city twice, in 2013 and 2016.

Another politically potent issue has been the number of states and their boundaries. Under pressure from regional governments, Kiir agreed this week to cut the number of states from 32 to the original 10, but controversially added two new oil-rich “administrative areas”, including much fought over Ruweng in the north.

And, even as the progress towards peace is being celebrated, UN human rights commissioners this week accused Kiir and Machar of corruption and potential “war crimes” – including the deliberate starving of civilians, and the use of sexual violence as a terror tactic.

– Obi Anyadike

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