Complexities of international mediation at sub-regional levels in Africa: lessons from South Sudan

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The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) has been mediating the South Sudan conflict since 2013. IGAD’s intervention in South Sudan is anchored on its founding norm of peaceful settlement of regional conflicts and in reference to the principle of subsidiarity, under the Africa Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). However, it is puzzling how violence continued unabated even as conflict parties negotiated and signed numerous agreements under the auspices of IGAD. The parties to conflict seem unwilling to implement the 2018 peace agreement, which is arguably un-implementable. Yet, it appears that IGAD mediators were privy to this situation all along. The question that then arises is why IGAD would continue engaging in a mediation process that neither ends violence nor offers a promise of a resolution? Drawing out on empirical data, this paper argues that IGAD’s organisational structures and functionality are key to understanding and explaining the South Sudan phenomenon within broader discourses on peace and security regionalism in Africa. This paper suggests the need to pay attention to the embeddedness of political power dynamics in the structures and functionality of Africa’s Regional Economic Communities (RECs), such as IGAD, as one of the ways to (re)thinking and (re)orienting norms and practices of regional conflict management within the APSA and in pursuit of the “African solutions to African problems.” Data for this paper was obtained through document reviews and 39 elite interviews. The interviews were conducted with representatives of IGAD member states, bureaucrats of IGAD and its organs mediation support teams, conflict parties, diplomats and other relevant experts purposively selected based on their role in the mediation. The physical interviews were conducted in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, with others conducted virtually. Analysis and presentation of findings are largely perspectival, highlighting coexistence of contending peacemaking ideas and practices. The discussions centre around inter-linked themes of IGAD’s conceptions of peace and approaches to peacemaking as informed by its structural and functional designs. Findings illustrate the complexity of the peace process and the centrality of power politics in IGAD’s peace and security arrangements. In view of the findings, this paper echoes the need for enhanced and predictable collaborative framework between IGAD and the African Union (AU) as central to the operationalisation of the APSA and pursuit of the African solutions to the African problems. Hence, this paper suggests transforming IGAD’s political program into a robust political bureau with predictable interlinkages and structured engagements between IGAD’s heads of state and government and the APSA’s Panel of the Wise (PoW). The study is based on empirical data obtained through the researcher's own framed questions, and its argument is based on the researcher's own interpretations innovatively framed within existing theoretical framework, particularly hybrid peace theory. Based on the findings, this paper makes bold and practical recommendations for possible workable collaborative framework between IGAD and the AU under the APSA framework.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-65
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research
Issue number1
Early online date11 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jan 2023
Externally publishedYes


International Peace Research Association Foundation (IPRAF)


  • Africa
  • IGAD
  • APSA
  • South Sudan
  • Mediation
  • Peace
  • Conflict
  • Security

Institute themes

  • Governance, Leadership and Trust
  • Peace and Conflict


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