South Sudan Negotiating Peace

There are many situations worth paying attention to in African communities across the Atlantic lately. One country in particular –South Sudan – is facing a grave humanitarian crisis. Here’s a brief summary of everything that has happened since fighting broke out on December 15, 2013, in the capital city, Juba.

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A power struggle ensued between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement party (SPLM) after Machar announced his plans to run for President in 2015 and was ousted in July by Kiir. Soldiers in the presidential guard instigated the fighting and it spread to military barracks in Juba from there. Machar has been accused of plotting a coup, but has denied this allegation and has since fled to his home land in Unity State.

Militiamen and mutinous soldiers, acting on their own whims, then began attacking civilians, seizing military holdings, and claiming allegiance to Machar. Reports claim that the violence is ethnically targeted as these opposing political leaders are of different ethnicities – Kiir is Dinka, while Machar is Nuer – but the issue is not that simplistically divided.

 “The fault lies not in the DNA of the South Sudanese tribes. It lies with the political leaders who use ethnic patronage to build their power bases; or who incite their ethnic kin to carve out a geographic or political niche,” Peter Greste, Al Jazeera international correspondent said.

However, ethnic violence has occurred, even though it may not be the root cause and purpose. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said back in December that there were reports of individuals being targeted based upon their ethnicity.

“There is a palpable fear among civilians of both Dinka and Nuer backgrounds that they will be killed on the basis of their ethnicity,” Pillay said.

Ceasefire by the warring parties was agreed upon on January 23, more than a month after the fighting began. Estimates by the International Crisis Group placed the death toll around 10,000 persons and 750,000 were displaced (as reported on February 1). Over 70,000 displaced persons have moved into UN bases around the country, but conditions there are overcrowded to say the least.  South Sudanese refugee camps in Uganda have reported an outbreak of measles and have started a vaccination campaign to prevent further spread of the disease. Sanitation and health is a serious concern in these tightly packed quarters meant to serve hundreds, not thousands of people.

Refugees have also been fleeing across the borders into neighboring Kenya. The UN refugee camp, Kakuma, is nearing capacity as 14,800 Sudanese migrated there to seek asylum.

With this large number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) seeking refuge in UN camps, the supply of food, medical care and emergency supplies has become a critical issue. With the ceasefire still in effect, it is hoped that IDP camps can stock up on necessary aid and send teams out to reach persons that have not received assistance.

In the meantime, peace talks between the warring parties started up again in Ethiopia as of Monday, Febuary 10, two weeks after the ceasefire was signed. The road to peace will involve long discussions and negotiations for this country with a long history of civil war.

“As a multi ethnic and multilingual society, this newest state in Africa must be built on strong institutions and not around strong men,” Horace Campbell writes.