South Sudan’s five-year civil war was supposed to end with the
signing of a revitalized peace deal last year, but violence continues
and the humanitarian situation remains bleak. The government and
opposition now have five months to implement the agreement and form a
transitional government, or risk another unraveling.On paper, the peace
deal signed by South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and former Vice
President-turned-armed opposition leader Riek Machar on Sept. 12 halted a
conflict that has claimed an estimated 383,000 lives and left most of
the population facing malnutrition and severe food insecurity. However, a
very similar peace deal in 2015 between the same leaders collapsed in
July 2016 as four days of violent clashes devastated the capital, Juba,
and forced Machar to flee the country. After making his way to the
Democratic Republic of Congo, Machar spent the next two years under
house arrest in South Africa.

During that
time, the war only worsened. Armed groups proliferated, humanitarian
conditions grew even direr, and both government forces and the
opposition Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition, or SLPA-IO,
committed atrocities with impunity. South Sudanese citizens greeted the
new agreement with joy last fall, although many analysts doubted that it
would last. Yet despite ongoing skepticism, October and November saw
some positive indications that the deal may hold.So far, the strongest
indicator that the new agreement may hold was Machar’s return to Juba on
Oct. 31 to participate in a national day of celebration marking the
revitalization of the peace process. While localized fighting has
continued since, armed conflict has decreased considerably and something
close to peace has held throughout much of the country.More transparent
monitoring of cease-fire violations and continued political pressure
from regional states, the Troika—U.S., the U.K., and Norway—and the EU
can help create the conditions necessary for the peace agreement to
hold. Ultimately, however, whether the deal lasts will depend on South
Sudan’s leaders, a somewhat dubious prospect since they were the same
ones who brought war to the country in the first place. Still, it is now
in Kiir and Machar’s best interest to uphold and implement the accord
they have spent months celebrating, although time is not on their side.