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South Sudan’s Fragile Peace

The peace accord to end the civil war in South Sudan remains fragile and needs international support.

Takeaways


  • South Sudan has experienced one of the most brutal civil wars in modern times.
  • In South Sudan, rape is employed as a weapon of war and as an incentive for recruitment. Women have been abducted specifically to be used for this purpose.
  • The streets in South Sudan are awash with blood. Starvation and disease are rampant. Corruption has reached epic proportions.
  • Given that South Sudan is home to over 60 different ethnic groups, they must find a new bond. Creating a nation based on a shared identity is thus of paramount importance.

A peace accord was reached in February 2020 to end civil war in South Sudan. However, the agreement remains extremely fragile and it needs international support to hold together.

Fragile accord

In July 2011, South Sudan became independent from Sudan following 20 years of brutal war. But only two years later, a civil war broke out between rival factions led by the President, Salva Kiir and his Vice President, Riek Machar.

The conflict was along ethnic lines. President Kiir belongs to the Dinka, the country’s largest ethnic group, while Vice President Machar is a Nuer, which is the second largest ethnic group.

Some progress

Fortunately at this stage, the two sides have once again agreed on a peace accord based on power sharing.

Looking ahead, the overriding question is how to solidify an accord that remains extremely fragile.

This question matters all the more since the current “interregnum” follows a merciless civil war that has not only left deep scars, but also a powerful urge for revenge and retribution.

The horrifying toll

A brief review of the horrifying toll the war has exacted points to the herculean task that lies ahead to alleviate the incomprehensible suffering the South Sudanese have experienced.

South Sudan has experienced one of the most brutal civil wars in modern times. Nearly 400,000 people have lost their lives, and roughly 8.5 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.

In addition, there are close to 1.5 million who are internally displaced and 2.2 million more who are refugees. Over 1.9 million people, largely women and children, are acutely malnourished, while a significant part of the country has plunged into famine.

Women and children: The worst affected

Children have suffered the most. As many as 13,000 children were recruited by both sides as child soldiers. Girls as young as seven have been raped and burned alive in front of their parents.

In South Sudan, rape is employed as a weapon of war and as an incentive for recruitment. Women have been abducted specifically to be used for this purpose.

In addition, the streets in South Sudan are awash with blood. Starvation and disease are rampant. Corruption has reached epic proportions.

Moral bankruptcy of international institutions

The failure to stop these atrocities points to how morally bankrupt these and other countries are. But it also underscores the apathy of international institutions such as the United Nations.

In addition, alliances such as the Arab League and the African Union have long since forfeited their commitment to ensuring peace, security and economic progress for their member states.

Their moral obligations to human rights have been surrendered to the corrupt realpolitik of the day.

Will diplomacy help?

Several agreements between the rival factions in South Sudan have been signed over the past few years. But these have all failed to address the central issues of leadership and distribution of resources.

The country still faces a plethora of national crises, including persistent low-level violence, poor governance, weak institutions and a lack of law enforcement. Thus, it is critically important for the government to fully adhere to all the provisions of the accord with the support of the international community to hold the peace agreement together.

Revamping priorities

There are several critical measures that the South Sudanese government and the international community should undertake to ensure the country does not descend back to violence.

Rather than overspending on security, the new South Sudan government must use the resources it does have to first invest in healthcare, education, clean water and agriculture.

Necessary reforms that are inescapable

Moreover, the government should embark on real social and political reforms. These need to include ethnic equality, freedom of religion, the right to vote, adherence to the rule of law and freedom of the press and assembly.

In addition, the government of South Sudan must prevent any human rights violations while weeding out corruption, which is central to the country’s future prosperity and growth.

This can happen only by addressing ethnic conflicts through political discourse instead of reverting to violence.

Basics matter

Other critical measures include reconstituting the parliament and reforming the abusive national security service and intelligence.

Then there is the task of uniting the tens of thousands in rival militias into a single army and preventing local violence from festering.

In addition, South Sudanese elite, civil society and religious leaders ought to be working together to buttress the government.

To be sure, given that South Sudan is home to over 60 different ethnic groups, they must find a new bond. Creating a nation based on a shared identity is thus of paramount importance.

Succession of power

Finally, South Sudan needs to establish a legally binding and internationally monitored succession of power. This remains a very critical step to be taken in order to prevent deadly rivalries.

The country’s leaders should broaden power sharing and under no circumstances settle on a winner-takes-all approach in the upcoming 2022 election.

Role of the international community

The international community has a critical role to play. It must not remain silent and instead help the South Sudanese government to build a sustainable peace.

As Hannah Arendt wisely observed, “Evil thrives on apathy and cannot survive without it.”

Given the years of conflict, economic insecurity, repeated flooding, the impact of COVID-19 and the concern over conflicts related to natural resources, every effort should be made to prevent renewed violence.

Oil companies

Despite being rich in oil resources, the oil industry of South Sudan is in disarray. To remedy that, Western oil companies should make a determined effort to work with the South Sudanese government to export crude oil and refine oil for internal consumption.

Furthermore, foreign aid should be granted for specific projects, with monitoring and accountability enacted by international donors.

Biden and human rights

The U.S. government, which helped broker the independence of South Sudan, should play a direct role. President Biden, who is sensitive to human right issues, will certainly be more disposed to helping South Sudan.

More important however, is for the international community to wake up and quickly intercede to prevent this horrifying conflict from spinning out of control once again.

South Sudan must be prevented from falling back into the abyss of human frailty.

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About Alon Ben-Meir

Senior Fellow at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs and Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute [United States]

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