The catastrophic consequences of South Sudan’s civil war

BY: John Juac Deng, Windsor, Ontario, Canada, FEB/11/2018, SSN;

The independence of South Sudan has been one of the more stirring evens in recent years on the African continent, and yet conflict and instability remain unavoidable in the new state. While there continues to be tension between Juba and Khartoum over oil and several border issues, international community’s major concern is the outcome of the civil war.

Africa’s 55th sovereign state has been mired in bloody civil war since 2013, when President Kiir dismissed Vice President Riek Machar and the rest of his cabinet, accusing them of instigating a coup. Kiir’s move triggered the most full-blow fighting in the capital, Juba, between government forces and rebel soldiers led by Machar and spread to three large provincial cities.

It is still uncertain as to whether Machar had actually planned a coup, but he had intended to challenge Kiir for the leadership of the governing party so that he could run for president in the 2015 election.

South Sudan is new to the ways of democracy and struggling to forge a unified identity out of a patchwork of over 60 often feuding tribes after the longest liberation war.

The only peaceful route to power is through gaining control of the SPLM, and this implied challenging Kiir at the planned third SPLM national convention. Within a more institutionalized political system, the discontent within the SPLM could have left and formed an opposition party. In contemporary South Sudan such a move would be tantamount to a long and possibly indefinite walk in the political wilderness.

The SPLM is thoroughly inter-meshed with the state, and in the stranger world of fact, Kiir is chairman of the SPLM as well as commander-in-chief for the SPLA.

Within the neo-patrimonial state, it is difficult to distinguish between the office of the president, the party leadership and the national army. This has made the state captured by the SPLM different factions attractive.

Consequently, power structures are not transparent, and it is difficult to establish the relative influence of political factions.

In other words, it is much to be regretted that the warring parties are so stupidly blind to their power game that they cannot see the advantage of having a peaceful environment and economic growth in South Sudan.

Despite high-profile mediation efforts by many African and Western governments, they have refused to end the five-year-old conflict that is undermining development gains achieved since independence and worsened the humanitarian situation.

The continuing fighting has killed over 10,000 and displaced 1.5 million people from their homes while a humanitarian crisis threaten many more. The worst fighting has taken place in the oil rich town of Bentiu in Unity State, where hundreds of unarmed civilians have been murdered and their properties either destroyed or looted. Adding to these tragedies is a growing insecurity nationwide.

The United Nations has threatened to impose sanctions on both sides as they are guilty of the use of child soldiers and massacre of civilians, but the threat has not had any significant impact on the warring SPLM leaders.

While Machar, languishing in South Africa’s confinement, says his rebel forces are committed to upholding the agreement, he believes that Kiir’s forces have already violated ceasefire.

On the contrary, the Ceasefire Transitional Security Arrangements Monitoring Mechanism (CTSAMM) said Tuesday that Machar’s rebel groups violated cessation of hostilities agreement signed last month in Addis Ababa.

The Juba officials have dubbed the rebel chief as a divisive pretender for power. Machar is a wily operator, switching sides on several occasions during the north-south strife as he sought to strengthen his own position and that of his Nuer ethnic group in the murky political waters of South Sudan.

He is very ambitious to take the top office in the land, and nothing else matters, but most people in the country do not see him as a national leader.

On the other hand, the civil war in South Sudan has had major repercussions on the already struggling economy. The economic future will largely depend on the outcome of the civil war and its substantial proven oil reserves.

From the beginning of the conflict until the end of January 2014, oil dropped 20%, which had a huge effect on world markets.

When Kiir and Machar did not reach to uphold the peace agreement, the production decreased even more and the economy continued to struggle. The Juba regime derives about 98% of its budget revenues from oil.

Not only has the civil war had major effects on oil production, but also South Sudan’s relationship with the former colonial master heavily influences its national economy since the new-born country seeks to build another pipeline.

Beyond oil, its economy depends upon agriculture and pastoral activity. South Sudan is one of the richest agricultural areas with its fertile soil and abundant water supply.

Agricultural activity is mainly pastoral, with the main domestic livestock being cattle, along with smaller livestock such as sheep, goats, camels and chickens. The central economic question relates to the length of the conflict and its outcome.

Despite its abundance of natural resources, South Sudan remains one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world. For example, only 15% of South Sudanese own a mobile phone.

Before fighting broke out in late 2013, the country looked to undertake many development projects including railroad projects, tarmac key roads, redevelopment of the port at Lamu and hydroelectric dam.

For these big economic projects to take off, a peaceful environment is urgently needed, so the small business owners call upon Kiir and Machar to focus on restoring peace and economy. The economy has felt significant negative effects from the conflict.

Even before the conflict, South Sudan experienced widespread poverty and now according to the UN, 3.7 million people are in need of food due to the displacement of thousands of South Sudanese and increased poverty.

In conclusion, South Sudanese have known little but war. The current conflict has led to a terrible human slaughter, worst humanitarian and economic crises and intensified debates in social media over SPLM’s capacity and suitability to govern South Sudan.

The intensification of identity politics might also affect the political demands on the opposition and narrow down the range of possible solutions to the conflict.

In the worst-case scenario, it might damage the integrity of South Sudan as a political unit; an integrity which was fragile in the first place.

So, one believes that a solution to the conflict is urgently needed; otherwise, the social media revolutionary warriors should continue to issue a ringing declaration calling upon the nation to rise and strive for national salvation.

John Juac Deng
Independent writer
juacd@yahoo.ca

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