A Broken Peace in South Sudan
November 29, 2016
By: David Scollan
Matters of war and peace are not new to South Sudan. Following Sudan’s independence from Britain in 1955 the country has known almost perpetual conflict, the First Sudanese Civil War (1955-1973) and the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005), which left the country’s economy and institutions all but shattered. In the wake of years of civil war, what was then Sudan’s largely Christian Sub-Saharan south, with ethnic, linguistic, and cultural heritage more closely related to those of its neighbors in East and Central Africa, wrenched itself out of union with the Muslim Arab north of country. Following a referendum in which the people of southern Sudan voted overwhelmingly in favor of independence, on July 9th, 2011, the Republic of South Sudan
became the world’s newest state. With an end to the war and a hard fought independence secured South Sudan at long last was finding peace. That reprieve from violence would not hold for long. In December 2013, the South Sudanese Civil War broke out with President Salva Kiir Mayardit maintaining control against rebel groups led by his former deputy Riek Machar. Ethnic-based violence with Kiir’s majority Dinka forces battling Machar’s rebel Nuer forces marred South Sudan in turmoil for more than a year. Upwards of 300,000 South Sudanese perished. More than
650,000 South Sudanese fled to neighboring states as refugees. Still greater, more than 1.6 million South Sudanese became internally-displaced persons (IDPs), having been forced to leave their homes but not having crossed an international border. All of this death and destruction came to beg the question; would the nation of South Sudan survive at all?
The people of South Sudan and the international community got their answer in August 2015, as the government and rebel forces signed a permanent ceasefire and peace agreement. Yes, for the time being, South Sudan would not completely unravel. President Kiir agreed to bring his rival Machar into government as First Vice President (FVP), apportion more seats in parliament and local legislative assemblies to the opposition, and allow the opposition to make certain national and regional appointments. From day one, however, the government and opposition expressed doubts that the peace could hold. In the months that followed the two sides did not so much share power in one government, but split power in two parallel ones. From separate police forces patrolling the streets to government ministers and their opposition-affiliated deputy ministers vying for control of national departments for the past year South Sudan has, in effect, had two of everything. In doing so, the government and opposition set themselves on a collision course of power politics.
That unwillingness to share power by the leaders of the government and opposition has sowed more seeds of distrust between the everyday soldiers that make up the respective sides’ armies. Those forces are formally the government’s Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army (SPLA) and the opposition’s Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Army – In Opposition (SPLA-IO), with the latter having split from the former at the beginning of the aforementioned 2013 South Sudanese Civil War.
That misgiving between the low level ranks of the SPLA and SPLA-IO began to boil over in the first week of July with reports of SPLA harassment of and attacks on SPLA-IO soldiers. On July
7th, SPLA and SPLA-IO clashed at a road checkpoint in Juba, the capital, resulting in the deaths of five SPLA soldiers. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. In the days that followed as President Kiir and FVP Machar met, giving lip service to the peace agreement as their troops fought and died in the streets of Juba. The peace had been broken.
The immediate impact of the fighting in the first week of July in Juba was horrible, with more than two hundred people, mostly soldiers, perishing. However, it is the long term instability that these events have foreshadowed which give this observer pause. Following the initial violence, FVP Machar fled the capital and is reportedly in hiding out of fear for his life. In his absence, in
a move to quell growing unrest in the SPLA-IO ranks and the political opposition, President Kiir has appointed General Taban Deng Gai as First Vice President temporarily. How temporary this interim appointment is remains to be seen. Meanwhile, there are reports that armed violence has taken hold of across South Sudan with both sides and their regional allies engaging in the murder of civilians, rape, destruction of property, and the forced recruitment of child soldiers. More than
60,000 South Sudanese have fled the country with the vast majority, upwards of 50,000 now seeking refugee across the border in Uganda. Appointing a new first vice president has not solved the problem, it is ignoring it.
In response to the government and opposition of South Sudan’s inability to maintain the peace, the international community through regional and supra-national organizations such as the African Union (AU), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and the United Nations (UN) are mustering support for increased outside involvement to end the violence. IGAD, which is made of countries from the Horn of Africa and African Great Lakes region, is mobilizing in support of a Joint Security Force to demilitarize Juba and provide better protection for civilians. However, President Kiir in an interview on Kenyan television has publicly rebuked these efforts affirming that any foreign force that enters South Sudan without the government’s approval will be treated as “intruders.”
What the future holds for South Sudan this observer cannot say. But, with the peace is broken there is no telling how much longer the world’s youngest country can hold itself together.
David Scollan is a rising senior in the College double majoring in African Studies and Political Science with a minor in International Development. This past summer he interned at the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration in the Office of Assistance for Africa’s Horn of Africa policy team.
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