South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July 2011 to become an independent, sovereign nation. However two years later, in December 2013, disagreements between two former rebel leaders Riek Machar and President Salvar Kirr plunged the nation into what would become a seemingly unending civil war.
South Sudan has two main sides of political divide: SPLM, the party in government led by President Salvar Kirr and SPLM-IO, a rebel outfit commanded by Riek Machar. The nation’s unresolved conflict was initiated by the rivalry between these two principal factions, who since 2013 have tussled for dominance.
For some, the conflict is primarily tribal, with its principals belonging to historically rivalry tribes. President Salva’s Dinka tribe comprises a significant majority of the country, while Riek Machar’s Nuer tribe’s a minority, who feel oppressed and deprived.
At the height of an intense power contestation the country’s economy has plummeted, drastically. South Sudan’s main revenue earner being oil, the nasty insurgency has caused a sharp depreciation of oil prices and a significant reduction of the amount of oil exports to Sudan. There has also been a fall in revenue collection and reduced business activity and investment.
Since the war’s inception, there have been hundreds of thousands of casualties, and around 4.2 million have been displaced to Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Late last year, 1.25 million South Sudanese were allegedly found to be on the brink of starvation. In February, the UN again reported cases of food insecurity in South Sudan, calling for urgent humanitarian assistance else ‘155,000 people, including 29,000 children’ were on the brink of starvation.
According to the recent Human Rights Watch report, there were gross Human Rights abuses in South Sudan’s Greater Equatorial Region. The report calls for serious sanctions to be imposed on Salva Kirr, Riek Machar and other five commanders, for alleged perpetration of rape, murder and forced displacement of innocent civilians from their country.
Human Rights Watch, in an address to the UN, has called for a ‘Special Rapporteur to monitor, verify and report on ongoing human rights violations and abuses as well as violations of international humanitarian law, recommend concrete ways to end them, and urge the Government of Sudan to implement the recommendations made to it by UN human rights bodies and mechanisms, including mechanisms mandated by the Council’.
The rights body highlights several crimes, such as crackdown of dissent, lack of press freedom and sexual violence, especially in Darfur state.
“On 19 December 2017, a 16 year old girl and a 19 year old woman were held at gunpoint and raped repeatedly by six armed militiamen as they were out gathering firewood three kilometers from the internally displaced persons (IdPs) camp in Nertiti town,” reads their address.
Recently, efforts by Sudan’s Omar Al-Bashir and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni to forge peace have seen the signing of a peace agreement in Khartoum. However it’s not the first time President Salva and his arch-rival have put pen to paper. In 2015, a similar agreement was signed, but the fighting has since continued.
Although many, including South Sudanese citizens both from within and those in refugee camps have seen this ceasefire as a lasting solution for their war-ravaged nation, there are still doubts.
“The problem, of course, is implementation. Who is going to monitor and guarantee implementation? We’ll have to wait and see. Part of the problem, of course, is that it’s a power-sharing agreement, not really addressing the fundamental political and constitutional issues of South Sudan,” Douglas Johnson, author and political scholar, told DW.
There were fears, prior to the current agreement’s signing, that Riek Machar’s camp had reversed their commitment to the peace brokering process. Even weeks after signing it, a cloud of low expectations and general skepticism continue to forfeit the prospects of achieving sustainable peace through the deal.
The high level of mistrust shrouding the current peace agreement has recently been shown by President Salva Kirr’s invitation to Riek Machar to move to the capital Juba. Riek Machar’s team has called for the redeployment of their protection force before the country’s first vice president can move.
It should be noted that the 2015 peace agreement climaxed with the warring factions accusing each other of abandoning the objectives of the peace accord, leading to a nasty fight which forced Riek Machar to rush into exile.