What the Heck Is Happening in South Sudan?
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons
The scope of modern, mainstream television news has become increasingly limited with time often relegated to tired out domestic ideological conflict and fear mongering. As relevant and emotionally charged it may feel to the public, there is also a more vast world with comparatively more destructive and violent conflicts. Enter South Sudan. This past week, Christopher Allen, an American journalist, was caught in the crossfire and declared dead from the recent ongoing conflict (The Associated Press, NBC News). With a sore lack of knowledge of current world conflict (and perhaps a deficit in world geography), the South Sudan Civil War has not been given nearly enough of a thought in comparison to other conflicts.
South Sudan is an East African country bordered by Sudan, Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Kenya (Maps of World). South Sudan is the newest country in the world, as it unanimously voted in 2011 to secede from Sudan. While the secession itself was relatively peaceful, the road to secession was bloody (BBC News). The start of the conflict between the north and south started in 1955 when Sudan was to gain independence from Britain and Egypt. The southern states raised concerns that the northern states were not creating a proper federal government and that they were pushing a muslim identity onto the southern states. Conflict began to erupt until the Addis Ababa Peace Agreement in 1972, which allowed the Southern States to have much more autonomy such as being able to self-govern as well as being able to keep separate official languages (United Nations Peacemaker). The South rose again in conflict in 1983 when the northern states cancelled the established autonomy agreements (BBC News). War would continue for 22 years, and after 1.5 million deaths and 4 million displaced, the states came to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement. There, the Southern States were given both autonomy and guaranteed representation in national government. In 2011, South Sudan voted to secede fully from Sudan. Independence has not been easy for this new country.
South Sudan stands as one of the least developed countries in Africa to date (BBC News). Sudan has been working to improve its economic straits despite loose ends regarding military conflict. While oil makes up a majority of Sudan’s government revenue and vast majority of its GDP, it has been working to diversify its revenue with agriculture and livestock revenue (World Bank). The UN has also relaxed sanctions on Sudan since January of 2017, so the country has been allowed to trade with the United States and its allies. However, South Sudan is not in such easy straits. While Sudan has untapped natural resources as well as oil, the country remains largely undeveloped (World Bank). It is currently the most oil-dependent country in the world, as oil makes up the totality of South Sudan’s exports. The rest of the country works on a subsistence economy, in which the majority of people work in unpaid agriculture (85%). Additionally, 65.9% of civilians are still below the extreme poverty line. While there has been improvements in health and primary education, South Sudan is struggling hard to keep itself afloat. It doesn’t help either that South Sudan is still embroiled in civil war and has been since 2013. The conflict is based on the divide between two tribes: the Dinka (headed by South Sudanese President Salva Kiir) and the Nuer (headed by South Sudanese Vice President Riek Machar) (BBC News). Aside from some rebellions and local tribal conflicts, tensions began to truly rise when President Kiir accused Vice President Machar of trying to enact a coup against him (BBC News). Machar denies this, but Machar did blame Kiir for not properly dealing with corruption and claims that he will take Kiir’s place as president. Violence then erupted, mostly on ethnic lines. Machar flees the country, tens of thousands are killed, and millions are displaced from their homes. In 2015, a peace accord is signed, and Machar returns to the country as Vice President. However, within three months, fighting erupts again, and hundreds are killed as troops distinctly loyal to either political head begin to attack each other. This conflict has continued through today despite the UN’s attempts at bringing the end to the conflict (Associated Press, NBC News). This past year, an attempt at an arms embargo on South Sudan fizzled out due to lack of support. There has also been reports of human rights abuses on both sides in the conflict.
The conflict in South Sudan is a cautionary tale of tribalism and lack of compromise. The South Sudanese military is divided between the two largest tribes in South Sudan, and the two sides continue to clash despite the sheer amount of poverty and death. Perhaps one of the first steps to development would be to develop a national identity that transcends base tribe. To have the common ground that a citizen is South Sudanese first would keep direct ethnic conflict from festering to the degree that it is now. The next step would perhaps be to have a new start with new leadership in place. Kiir and Machar perhaps symbolize direct tribal conflict, and there should be a unified president and vice president to lead this struggling nation away from the corruption and poverty it is already entrenched in. The final step would be to finally develop the infrastructure and diversify South Sudanese exports. With the constant conflict and declining oil prices, South Sudan is already having a difficult time growing out of its current predicament. If they can take advantage of their natural resources and already present agriculture and livestock industry, that would be a step in the right direction. Of course, all this is easier said than done, and it is much more complex than solely throwing money in the direction of South Sudan. However, any kind of change has to come from its own people. I only wish South Sudan the best in this tumultuous time, and I believe that it can prosper with a bit of strong leadership and willing citizens.