By Alexis Herr
South Sudan gained independence in 2011 and in so doing became the world’s newest country.[i] Five years later, South Sudan is still the world’s youngest country and has also earned the sad distinction of becoming one of the planet’s poorest nations.[ii] It is no stretch of the imagination to say that South Sudan’s independence failed to create the fresh start its citizens desired. Indeed, Africa’s 55th country is plagued by instability, significant development needs, and the traumatic legacy of more than 50 years of conflict and instability.[iii] And clashes between South Sudanese political factions continue to undermine peace and promote violence. Recent shooting in South Sudan reported today, just days before South Sudan’s 5th independence day on July 9th, highlights the need to address the nascent nation’s ongoing civil war and political strife and propose some solutions.
The BBC reports that five government soldiers were killed in Juba, South Sudan’s capital city, in clashes between rival army factions. The murdered soldiers were troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and were fired upon by soldiers loyal to Vice-President Riek Machar. The loss of these soldiers is symptomatic of the ongoing civil war that broke out in December 2013. The political struggle between President Kiir and Vice President Machar culminated in Machar’s removal from government in December 2013 and resulted in the political conflict between South Sudan’s leaders taking on an ethnic hue. Soldiers belonging to the Dinka ethnic group aligned with Kiir and members of the Nuer ethnic group backed Machar. The ethnically fueled civil war has resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of lives and has driven more than 1.6 people from their homes to flee the conflict. The United Nations and international community pressured Kiir and Machar to sign a peace deal in August 2015, however, the hope for peace is now unraveling before our eyes.
Without political stability, international aid efforts to help South Sudan’s citizens can only put a temporary bandage on South Sudan’s problems instead of treat them. In his address to Congress in April 2016, John Prendergast, Founding Direct of the Enough Project, argued that until South Sudan’s “violent kleptocratic system is addressed head-on by policymakers internationally, the billions of dollars spent annually for peacekeeping, humanitarian aid, and the ongoing diplomacy and assistance supporting the peace deal there will simply be treating symptoms, not addressing the primary root cause of cyclical conflict.”[iv]
[i] For an overview of South Sudan’s road to independence, see “Sudan: Civil War, Genocide, and South Sudan’s Independence”: http://assessingatrocity.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/South-Sudan.pdf
[ii] The World Bank, “GDP per capita (current US$): South Sudan” (2015), http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD?locations=SS&name_desc=true&order=wbapi_data_value_2011+wbapi_data_value+wbapi_data_value-last&sort=asc
[iii] “Overview: South Sudan,” The World Bank (9 April 2016), http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/southsudan/overview
[iv] John Prendergast, “The Paper Tiger in South Sudan: Threats without Consequences for Atrocities and Kleptocracy,” 24 May 2016, http://enoughproject.org/reports/paper-tiger-south-sudan-threats-without-consequences-atrocities-and-kleptocracy