Friday, December 27, 2013

Violence & Instability Wreaking Havoc on World's Youngest Country: the Situation in South Sudan

South Sudan has been rocked by violence in December as ethno-civil war threatens the stability of Africa -- and the world's -- youngest country.  

The continued violence during late December prompted the State Department to implement an ordered departure of its embassy in Juba, followed quickly by a Defense Department-assisted evacuation of US citizens that, while successful, took a dangerous turn when four American service members were shot during an attempted evacuation flight from Bor days before Christmas. 

So what exactly is going on in South Sudan?  Let's take a look at the causes of the instability, what the current reality is, and how African leaders are responding.

Why the violence?

There is widespread speculation and assertions that the instability is rooted in ethnic tensions.  The Sudanese government, however, maintains that the cause has been strictly political.  In reality, it appears to be both. 

South Sudan has two primary tribes: the Dinkas and the Nuers.  The president is Dinka.  His former (fired) vice president is Nuer.  The president blames the violence on his ex-veep's supporters and insists they're trying to launch a coup.  The Nuers claim they are being targeted by the government based on their tribal affiliation.  

Violence first broke out on December 15.  What exactly happened?  That depends on who you ask.  South Sudanese President Salva Kiir Mayardit decreed it a coup attempt by supporters of ousted former Vice President Riek Machar

If a coup, however, it does not seem to have been well thought out. 

According to Sudan expert and Smith College professor Eric Reeves, "It may be, as one highly informed observer with numerous contacts in Juba has said, a 'coup' that began by accident but took on a predictable political and ethnic character, of a sort that could be expected in the event of a fully developed coup plan." 

What's going on right now?

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) released a "South Sudan crisis Situation Report" on 26 December 2013.  In it, OCHA reported the following statistics concerning the current crisis:
  • The number of people reported displaced by the current crisis in South Sudan is up to 121,600, including 63,000 sheltering in UN peacekeeping bases.
  • So far, 6,800 people of an estimated 25,000 people displaced in Juba have been registered. Over 4,200 families have received food.
  • Priorities for the response to the displaced are food, healthcare, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene services, protection and camp management. Additional air assets and transport support are needed to enable the response.
  • Aid agencies need US$166 million to respond to immediate needs caused by crisis until March 2014.
UN Assistant Secretary-General Toby Lanzer assesses that thousands have died from the violence

On 24 December, the UN Security Council voted to temporarily increase the UN Mission in South Sudan, effectively doubling its peacekeeping force to nearly 14,000 military and police.  The approved resolution authorizes use of force, per Chapter VII of the UN Charter.   

How are African leaders responding to the crisis?

The Government of South Sudan tweeted today (27 December) that "We have agreed in principle to a ceasefire to begin immediately, but our forces are prepared to defend themselves if attacked."  

Former Vice President Machar, in an interview with BBC News, doubted the government's commitment to a ceasefire; "until mechanisms for monitoring are established, when one says there is a unilateral ceasefire, there is no way that the other person would be confident that this is a commitment."  He also asserted that all eleven of his political allies who were imprisoned, accused by the government of plotting the failed mid-December coup, must first be released before a truce can move forward.

The ceasefire proposal was the result of a summit held on 27 December in Nairobi, Kenya by leaders of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).  Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, and Sudan are IGAD members.  Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Minister Tedros Adhanom delivered the bottom line of the summit's communiqué: South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and his former vice president have until Tuesday (31 December) to hold face-to-face talks.  If they fail to do so, IGAD will take "further action" -- although what action that would be was not spelled out by the foreign minister.  IGAD also called on both parties to end hostilities immediately.  

The future of South Sudan rests on the shoulders of two men.