Africa Watch: South Sudan
Peace eludes the world’s newest nation
By Pavithra Rao
On the eve of the fifth anniversary of South Sudan’s independence on 9 July, sporadic gunfire rent the air in Juba, the capital city.
What many assumed was a celebration of the world’s newest nation’s fifth anniversary turned out to be a precursor to a deadly clash pitting troops loyal to President Salva Kiir against those loyal to his deputy Riek Machar.
Fighting quickly spilled over, resulting in hundreds of deaths and causing thousands to flee to neighbouring Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda.
Although yet another ceasefire agreement came into effect on 11 July, there were still fears that, as has happened many times in the past, it could be violated.
By mid-July about 300 people, including 33 civilians and two Chinese peacekeepers, had been killed in the fighting.
The worsening humanitarian situation is now a major concern. Within the last five years, South Sudan has produced the fourth-highest number of refugees in the world, just shy of 750,000, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ “Global Trends Report 2015.” The top three countries are Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.
The latest outbreak of fighting, if not contained, is expected to exacerbate refugee outflows, particularly from cities such as Juba, Wau and Bentiu. In addition, thousands of people have sought shelter at the UN mission in Juba.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the clashes and called for peace: “I urge President Kiir and First Vice-President Riek Machar to put an immediate end to the ongoing fighting, discipline the military leaders responsible for the violence and finally work together as partners to implement the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan.”
Hervé Ladsous, the UN under-secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, wants a stronger mandate so that UN peacekeepers can enforce an arms embargo and impose targeted sanctions on those perpetrating violence: “If this is a forewarning of what is yet to come, only a strong political and coordinated approach can salvage the peace process now,” he said.
At the July summit in Kigali, Rwanda, African Union (AU) leaders agreed to send more peacekeepers from Africa to South Sudan, with a robust mandate to enforce the ceasefire and protect civilians.
AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma called on political leaders to engage in dialogue and protect the South Sudanese people. After terming the fighting “unacceptable,” she said, “Hardly two months after the formation of the government of national unity, the belligerents seem to be back in the trenches and the people of South Sudan, instead of celebrating five years of independence, must flee like sheep before the wolves. [The government and leaders must] protect the vulnerable to serve the people, not to be the cause of the people’s suffering.”
There are about 12,000 UN peacekeepers in the country, and other UN agencies such as UNICEF and UNHCR are providing other forms of assistance, including medical and humanitarian, to those affected by the clashes.
Trouble began in 2013 when President Kiir sacked his deputy, Mr. Machar, accusing him of planning to topple the government via a coup. Since then the two political heavyweights have been at odds.
Hopes for peace were roused in August 2015 after the two signed a ceasefire agreement, which led to Mr. Machar’s reinstatement as vice president in April 2016. However, it appears the frosty relationship between the president and his deputy never thawed.