Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1304, (21 - 27 July 2016)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1304, (21 - 27 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

The South Sudan dilemma

Conflict in South Sudan is figuring high on the agenda of the African Summit in Kigali, with many convinced that only an imposed peace can work, writes Haitham Nouri

Al-Ahram Weekly

Once more, the situation in South Sudan tops the agenda of the African Summit, currently convened in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, a seeming vindication of international press accounts that the warring parties signed a peace deal under regional and international duress.

In contrast to the broad disagreement over a successor to Nkosazana Diamini-Zuma (South Africa) as the head of the African Union Commission, there is a near consensus on the need to stop the fighting and impose a peace in Africa’s newest independent country.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon came to Kigali specifically to discuss the situation in South Sudan. Four days of fighting erupted 7 July between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir Mayardit and those loyal to Vice-President Riek Machar.

The fighting began at a security checkpoint in the capital of Juba when a driver refused to stop for a search and show papers. It soon escalated to involve artillery, tanks and helicopters.

Nearly 300 people were killed in the fighting, among them an employee with the UN South Sudan mission, as well as two Chinese soldiers with the UN peacekeeping forces.

Thousands were forced to leave their homes and seek refuge at UN centres or outside the impoverished capital.

The fighting coincided with the fifth anniversary of the declaration of the state of South Sudan on 11 July 2011, after South Sudanese voted to secede in January of that year in a referendum, part of the terms of the Naivasha Peace Treaty in 2005.

The bloody events between Dinka and Nuer fighters were a bad sign, demonstrating that the country had moved from hope to destruction in just a few years, according to former Norwegian Minister of International Cooperation Hilde Johnson.

In her book, South Sudan: The Untold Story from Independence to Civil War, Johnson points to the hopes South Sudanese people pinned on their secession from the north, but they lasted for a little more than two years before war erupted. In December 2013, Salva Kiir fired Machar, claiming to have uncovered a coup conspiracy.

The announcement immediately triggered fighting, especially in Machar’s home state of Unity, which left thousands of people dead and millions displaced and brought half the population to the brink of famine.

The two sides only grudgingly ended the fighting. Regional and international pressure and threats of sanctions forced the two men to sign an agreement. At the time, Machar refused to come to Juba for weeks. Meanwhile, Salva Kiir re-divided the country, from 10 states to 28, in order to weaken the power of the Nuer and deny them control over large areas of the country.

Now the UN Secretary-General is trying to mobilise support for three proposals to calm the situation: an arms embargo on the warring parties, sanctions targeting leading figures responsible for the continued war, and additional support for the UN mission in South Sudan, which is already the biggest in the world.

Ban Ki-moon had already proposed supplying peacekeepers in South Sudan with weapons to enable them to protect civilians and themselves, especially since the fighters are using aircraft and heavy artillery.

It looks like the situation in the country will only be stabilised by forcing the parties to the conflict to make peace.

The cause is the country’s demographic makeup. The Dinka, who are mostly farmers and cattle raisers, account for more than 36 per cent of the population, while the Nuer constitute just 16 per cent. Nevertheless, the Nuer reject any elections because they give the Dinka an automatic majority and deny the Nuer power.

This was one of the causes for the eruption of the Sudanese civil war in May 1983, when then Sudanese President Jaafar Numeiri divided South Sudan into three provinces. The Dinka considered the move a way to control them and in violation of the Addis Ababa peace accord of 1972, which made South Sudan one province.

The division gave the Dinka a majority in just one province, Upper Nile. The Nuer won a majority in Bahr Al-Ghazal, while the smaller tribes won power in Equatoria in the far south.

Some observers in South Sudan point to the role played by Sudan and Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir in inflaming domestic conflict in South Sudan by using the Nuer against the Dinka. Dr Omar Hassan Abdel-Dayem, a professor of political science at the International Africa University in Khartoum, believes that regardless of the enmity between the two tribes, they will eventually be exhausted, especially with the casualties of war. He added that regional and international insistence on imposing peace on the parties to the conflict in South Sudan would also prevent alleged Sudanese interference.

“Peace is necessary for South Sudan in the view of the countries of East Africa and the African Horn, given their confrontation with the jihadi Shabaab in Somalia. They don’t want an additional burden weighing them down,” Abdel-Dayem said. “Moreover, the African-Israeli summit that brought together several East African states and Zambia, along with South Sudan, will be meaningless if the fighting continues in Juba.”

In contrast, South Sudanese journalist Alor Deng says that Sudan is not the only troubled country. The summit between Netanyahu and regional leaders included Burundi, which is unstable, while the Ethiopian famine does not offer a sense of stability to the government in Addis Ababa. The same is true of Kenya and Uganda, he says.

“The stability of South Sudan is like Ethiopia’s stability for Egypt, because of the Nile waters,” Deng said. “Instability in South Sudan will not help perpetuate peace in Central Africa and may cast a heavy shadow on Uganda, which in turn will affect all the African lakes states, even Democratic Congo, which is unstable.”

Deng said that the leaders of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan would meet on the sidelines of the 27th African Summit in Kigali to discuss the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance Dam, demonstrating Egypt’s interest in stability in the region.

According to a recent article in The New Yorker by Justin Lynch, South Sudan, thanks to Norwegian, British and American support, received the most experts possible to make the newly independent state project succeed, which was supported by former US president George W Bush. But the experiment failed, and South Sudan and its people no longer have hope, according to Lynch.

The day the state was declared, hopes ran high in Juba, with everyone talking about the coming prosperity independence would bring thanks to oil wealth. Everyone saw a promising future. Even the leaders of the then-Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) bragged that South Sudan was a rare African success story, according to SPLM Secretary-General Pagan Amoum, who voiced this sentiment during an interview on the occasion of EgyptAir’s first flight to Juba.

Amoum cited the long struggle for independence by the South Sudanese people, a reference to the civil war, in which the south lost more than one million people.

“It appears that no one is looking at the weaknesses amid the joy. Most African states waged a bitter struggle against colonialism, but most turned into stories of failure,” said Al-Shafia Khidr, a Sudanese economics professor. “They should have looked at Sudan, which became independent without a fight. It is a clear example of a failed African state. How could the child succeed when the father is such a failure?”

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