South Sudan is not only the youngest country in the world, but also the poorest. For years, the people there fought against each other. A peace agreement has been in place for a year. But that is about to expire. A cause for concern?
Interviewer: On Tuesday, South Sudan should have had a new unity government. This is what the parties to the conflict there had agreed on in a peace agreement a year ago. But: the different groups apparently can't agree and that's why they postponed the deadline for 100 days. How endangered is peace in South Sudan as a result??
Sebastian Haury (Caritas International, South Sudan Desk Officer): First of all, it will be a huge success if this one hundred-day deadline is actually decided and adhered to. Of course, peace is still very much at risk. There are a lot of ethnic groups, one of them is dominant. And now it's a question of achieving the balancing act so that everyone feels included in the youngest country in the world.
Interviewer: Can you briefly summarize what those conditions are that are attached to the extension of the deadline?
Haury: There are three conditions. One is about the division of the states. There used to be ten states. At the moment there are 33 states, and they were simply divided by the party that won the civil war, so that in each state the balance of power is divided accordingly. The fact that this party is in the lead is of course unacceptable to the respective opposition parties. It's very tricky to get a new division of states that the whole population can really agree with.
The second part is about the fact that a unified army is to be created. The opposition soldiers and the government soldiers are to be combined into one army and paid, which is still a problem.
And the third thing is that the opposition leader should act as vice president in the transitional government.
Interviewer: What are the prospects for lasting peace??
Haury: This is a complex, difficult process. On the one hand, you have a population that is very tired of war, that is actually longing to rebuild their lives in peace. On the other hand, you have a ruling party that now has a military advantage and could possibly take advantage of this situation to win again militarily.
Interviewer: Nobody really likes to imagine what could happen otherwise. But what happens if war breaks out there again??
Haury: What happens is that an unending calamity, as has been experienced before – destructive conditions with displacement, with sexual violence, with many deaths – would again descend on the country.
Interviewer: Who has an interest that the deadline is not extended and that there will be war again?
Haury: You have to know that the opposition party has always been very much influenced by Sudan through Bashir (Umar al-Bashir, former president of Sudan, note.d.Red.), who has since been overthrown. That's why there is an imbalance now. So the current ruling party has a strong advantage militarily. And it could be that it wants to take advantage of this to win this thing once and for all.
Interviewer: And how is Caritas International involved in South Sudan?? How do you try to help?
Haury: For us at Caritas International, South Sudan is a priority country. We have 14 projects with just under five million euros that we invest. We reach about 200.000 people and are involved in emergency aid. People really have nothing to eat. And in many projects, partners write to us in the project completion report, "The biggest success is that no one died of hunger." The situation is so precarious.
The UN talks of half the population suffering from severe food insecurity. It really is partly a matter of bare survival. And what we are trying to do, of course, is not only distribute food, but also slowly build up structures, distribute seeds, give agricultural training and go in the direction of helping people to help themselves.
Interviewer: What do you wish from the politicians in Europe?? We live in a global world. What can politicians do, even in our own country, to support the peace process in South Sudan?
Haury: I guess the most important thing right now is that humanitarian aid continues to be increased, that people can just get fed, that they can rebuild a modest life, that they can regain their faith in humanity. There are generations who really only know war. Maintaining and strengthening humanitarian aid is, I think, the most important thing we can do in Europe. But then, of course, it is also important to influence international powers to really support this peace process. And it is also important to demand that local rulers seek a peaceful solution.
The interview was conducted by Aliena Pfeiffer.