Date: Thursday, 21 March 2019
One of the greatest humanitarian disasters today, South Sudan’s civil war has led to the deaths of nearly 400,000 people and millions more displaced. September’s peace deal was greeted with apprehensive relief. Now, with many of the provisions still unaddressed, the scepticism was seemingly justified.
The war was born from deep-rooted tensions between the Dinka (Sudan’s largest tribal ethnicity) and the Nuer (the second). The violence started in December 2013, when South Sudan’s Dinka President, Salva Kiir, accused former Vice President Reik Machar, a Nuer, of inciting a coup.
Machar denied this, whilst criticising Kiir’s inability to tackle corruption and his aspiration for the ‘Dinkaization’ of South Sudan’s government. Kiir sent soldiers of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLM) to arrest Machar. However, the ex-Vice President had since fled to lead the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement – In Opposition (SPLM-IO). Following this, Dinka SPLM personnel and militia groups targeted Nuer soldiers and civilians in and around the capital, Juba. Hundreds were killed in the ensuing chaos.
Soon the country was engulfed in civil war, characterised by mass ethnic killings, rape, and starvation.
A recent UN report has revealed that 60% of the population experiences food insecurity. Moreover, 1.9 million out of a total population of 12 million are internally displaced. 2.2 million have fled to surrounding nations like Uganda, Sudan, and DRC.
Uganda has experienced major security issues along its border. The uncontrolled mass movement of people has enabled criminals to rob, kill and smuggle guns into the country with impunity. This has threatened the amicable relations between the two countries. The refugee camps in DRC have caused similar issues. The hosting communities have suffered food insecurity, housing displacement and poverty, whilst receiving meagre humanitarian assistance. There is scope for these growing tensions between hosts and refugees to escalate into serious conflict.
An estimated $1.5bl in aid will be needed for South Sudan citizens still inside the country and a further 2.7bl for its external refugees. Moreover, hundreds of prisoners are yet to be released and there have been reports of executions carried out by security forces in Juba.
Though the UN states levels of political violence have ‘dropped significantly’ since the deal, ethnic violence is still prominent. Acts of rape, murder and theft are still carried out with impunity. All sides have used rape as a tool for spreading fear and displacement. In some areas, 65% of females and 36% of males have been sexually victimised. Suspected perpetrators of the crimes against civilians range from army and opposition commanders, state governors, and county commissioners.
However, South Sudan’s military top brass have recently unveiled a new Action Plan to curb sexual violence perpetrated from within their ranks. The creation of this initiative highlights a desire from within South Sudan’s governing bodies to finally priorities sexual violence as a major issue. Indeed, military prosecutions are becoming more common. Earlier this month a military court sentenced three soldiers to death after being found guilty of robbing and killing two civilians.
Signed in Addis, Ethiopia, 12th September 2018, the deal ended hostility between the SPLM and the SPLM-IO. The treaty proposes a power share between Kiir and Machar, who is to be reinstated as Vice President in May.
Among other things, the deal pledged to restore peace and stability, facilitate national reconciliation, as well as rebuild the livelihoods and homes that were destroyed. The agreement has also called for much needed military reforms, involving reorganisation, training and discharges.
One major flaw of the deal, however, is that it divides South Sudan into a patchwork of tribal homelands, rather than a country; including multi-ethnicity areas. Within these areas, minorities will not be able to participate in local government or have the right to ‘customary’ use of land. This disenfranchisement of large sections of the country leaves the door open for future tribal leaders to take advantage of ethnic tensions to pursue their own aspirations.
This has lead to disputes that threaten the truce’s stability, as many Nuer to suspect Kiir of redrawing the local ethnic boundaries to advance of his fellow Dinkas.
So far – unlike past ceasefire attempts, the main warring factions have managed to maintain a wave of peace. War weariness has forced numerous opposition leaders to commit to ending hostilities out of necessity.
The resumption of oil extraction is another promising sign. Shortly after the signing, pumping from the Toma South oilfield resumed, extracting 20,000 barrels per day. Oil accounts for 90% of the country’s budget and its revival have many hoping for a return to economic stability in the medium term.
However, there are fears that the agreement served primarily to advance the positions of the ruling elite. Indeed, a US, UK and Norwegian Troika group refused to co-sign the agreement out of concern for “parties’ level of commitment”. Certainly, the toxic relationship between Kiir and Machar has proven to be a disastrous partnership. Little is outlined for how their clashing characters will function during the proposed nation-building efforts.
Nepotism, tribal patronage, and self-preservation are still the order of the day in Juba. Two documents from December and January reveal that over £105,000 has been appropriated from the peace deal fund for the renovation of houses owned by the current first Vice President, Taban Dong Gai, and one other politician. Incidents like these are highly detrimental to the country’s desperate need for foreign aid. Scepticism has led to only a few countries offering financial support for the peace deal. What’s worse is that the South Sudanese government claims they lack the funding to implement the peace deal. Of Kiir’s meagre plans to put just over $1.4m towards the peace fund, thus far only $400,000 has been pledged.
When considering the continued fighting in South Sudan, it is hard to deem the peace deal a success. Currently, the main clashes are between government forces and the National Salvation Front (NAS), led by Thomas Cirillo, in the Central and Equatoria regions. Likened to the infamous Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, Cirillo is noted by Kiir to be the greatest threat to peace in South Sudan. The recent wave of fighting has caused an estimated 13,000 to flee their homes.
However, the severity of these clashes are questionable. For one thing, the NAS is in desperate need of ammunition, reports claim that some fighters even resorted to bows and arrows. Additionally, Cirillo claims to command 30,000 fighters. This is highly overestimated according to intelligence analysis. Moreover, there is large ambiguity regarding the chain of command and location of the force due to their disorganised nature – prompting some to suspect Kiir’s government of exaggerating the threat.
There is a significant risk that the peace deal grants further input from foreign nations, particularly Uganda and Sudan, into South Sudanese affairs. By acting as guarantors to the peace, the document acknowledges Sudan and Uganda as intrinsic to the future stability of the country. As reassuring as this sounds, it leaves the young country open exploitation.
The country’s current insecurity posses a great opportunity for Sudan to establish greater influence over South Sudanese oil, to aid their floundering economy. Sudan has already sent troops to ‘safeguard’ the Unity State oil fields. Moreover, Sudan desires to present itself as proprietor of regional peace, in light of the backlash the government is currently receiving after President Omar al-Bashir’s regime being found guilty of genocide.
There are further reports that the Ugandan Army is lending support against the NAS. The UN’s secretary-general’s special adviser for the prevention of genocide, Adam Dieng, has commented that Uganda is actively contributing to the violence. This becomes problematic because it puts Uganda in direct violation of the UN arms embargo on South Sudan. Besides, by choosing sides in the conflict, Uganda essentially negates their status as mediators of the conflict, thus further harming the peace process.
This week, the UN Human Rights Council is due to receive a comprehensive list of perpetrators of war crimes, from the South Sudanese Commissioner on Human Rights. This report is a key step towards holding those accountable who are responsible for the atrocities. However, this publicity will further impede foreign sponsorship of the peace deal. Many nations will be ambivalent to support a government that advocates crimes against humanity.
It is highly likely that NAS’s operations will significantly deflate once the rainy season takes hold in May. At which point the transportation of its dwindling food and munitions supplies will struggle to reach the disorganised groups of fighters via the mud-choked roads. However, the planned wave of military discharges presents a significant risk to regional stability. Without a comprehensive reintegration strategy, these ex-fighters will be susceptible to recruitment from the many opposition groups desperate to replenish their ranks.
Famine is a distinct likelihood. The continued blockage of relief supplies and the displacement of farmers during the key planting season means that food supplies will suffer substantially. A consequence could be yet another surge of refugees coming from South Sudan, thus applying further stress on its relationship with its neighbours. Internal resentment against the incapable government and the risking of more opposition groups will also be a risk. What does this mean for the peace deal? – makes it more difficult to sustain peace?
Machar’s return to Juba poses a major test for the integrity of the peace deal. During a 2017 reconciliation effort, Machar’s attempt to return to the capital only caused a resumption of violence. Many fear the same outcome in May.
South Sudanese Church representatives call on the government to “be responsive to citizens” and “constructively engage all stakeholders” in the national dialogue. Only then can a “conductive political, social and economic environment” for peace be achieved. Given the countries current leadership, however, they might just be asking for a miracle.