South Sudan’s Crisis
By: Jawahir Mohamed
As South Sudan marks their 10 year anniversary of independence, violence is still rampant even though their civil war ended three years ago. As a genocide and a civil war devastates South Sudan, more than 1.6 million people have been displaced internally and more than 2.3 million have been displaced in neighboring countries. But what is this conflict actually about? Who is fighting who and why? And does the U.S. have any realistic way of stopping the carnage as they have done more than any other country to aid South Sudan to gain its independence?
For 22 years a brutal civil war raged between the predominintely Muslim and Arabic speaking country, Sudan, and the predominintely Christain, now South Sudan country. However, after years of aid from the U.S South Sudan gained independence, with New Jersey Democratic Congress member Donald Payne claiming it was “a victory for the oppressed”.
Then everything fell apart.
During the final push for independence, more than 60 different ethnic groups in South Sudan gained tension between each other, particularly between the two major ethnic groups, the Dinka and Nuer. Citizens in South Sudan more or less agreed to overlook and downplay their conflicts in order to focus on what was seen as a far more important goal: independence from the north. But, the underlying tensions never disappeared and once the bigger fight for independence was over, it came down to how they were going to build a brand new country. Hilde Johnson, former head of the United Nations mission in South Sudan said “this liberation cure took hold where people felt entitled to power”.
In early 2013, Riek Machar, the vice president of South Sudan appointed by president Salva Kirr, began vocally criticizing Kirr’s leadership of South Sudan because Kirr wanted to build a united government in which two rival ethnic groups shared power. Kirr responded by firing Machar as well as 28 cabinet ministers and their deputies as they supported Machar’s views.
As hell broke loose in December 2013, forces that were loyal to Mechar clashed with the forces that were loyal to Kirr (this is still in dispute). The conflict soon escalated as a political fight morphed into an all out ethnic conflict where both sides slaughtered each other. More than 1,000 people were killed and 100,000 were displaced in just the first week of a non ending war.
As part of the agreement with the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD), Machar was to return to the capital of South Sudan, Juba, and continue with his role of vice president; however, that didn’t play out as planned. Machar was so afraid of his life that he brought a big contingent of his own fighters back to Juba with him, which turned into a recipe for disaster. In 2016, the two rivals clashed once again and Machar once again fled the city. Not only did Machar run away, but Kirr decided to pick a fight with another ethnic group, the Equatorians. This led to attacks from the government on Equatorians, and now the Equatorians are now standing up and promising vengeance on the Dinkas. Not only is there a new element of ethnic hatred and conflict, but South Sudan is descending into a hotbed of ethnic genocidal acts.
The UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan has found indicators of potential impending genocide such as deepening divisions of tribal groups, hate speech, and a crackdown on the media and civil society. Village members have said that they are ready to shed blood to get their land back, however, despite the calls from the UN commission team of human rights in South Sudan for international action to prevent this fall into a genocide, it seems unlikely that anyhting can or will be done to stop it.
Now there are many citizens living in these unhygienic and inhumane camps where it's the only area they have “safety”. Not only do they not have UN protection, South Sudan’s government also would like to see these camps close soon. Deputy Foreign Minister Deng Dau Deng Malek said “people are traumatized” and “the impacts of war, impacts displacement”. Citizens living in these camps are so afraid to leave because they are in a mix of dependence and genuine fear. These people are one step away from famine and the things that are supposed to aid the citizens, are actually part of the perpetual suffering. Not only is there insufficient government support, but they are facing one of the toughest times; the coronavirus pandemic. South Sudan already started out with a lack of healthcare facilities and food, so it’s no surprise that people are dying and the country is in one of the worst humanitarian crises like Yemen with no security or support.
This massive escalation of violence and inhumane living doesn't mean that these leaders have no ability to make something happen that will actually benefit South Sudan and not hurt them like previous years. Everyday that goes by, is another day where the people of South Sudan will see their own country that has fought for independence torn apart by horrific ethnic violence.