By - Adedoyin Shittu
The story of South Sudan which was supposed to have a happy ending is a tragic one and it shows how “Power does not only corrupt but Power inevitably attracts the corrupted.”
South Sudan, once a semi-independent region in Sudan but recently gained independence as a country in July 2011, after a brutal civil war that lasted more than 22 years. However the celebration was short-lived as the young country slipped into civil war that has plunged the country into a humanitarian crisis as never seen before.
Since civil war broke out in South Sudan in December 2013, 1 in 3 people in the young country have been displaced. More than 4 million citizens have been forced to flee their homes and an estimated 2.3 million people have crossed into neighboring countries including Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, resulting in Africa’s largest refugee crisis. South Sudan is one of the most fled countries in the world, alongside Syria, Afghanistan and Venezuela. 1.8 million people are trapped inside the warring nation and in May 2019, 6.9 million people were already at risk of going hungry and without humanitarian support. The civil war’s death toll has long been unknown, because many of it occurred in the rural locations, but it has been estimated to be in the tens of thousands.
South Sudan is not unfamiliar with violent wars and bloodshed in fact the region which broke out from Sudan in 2011 was engaged in a civil war for 22 years. South Sudan, vastly different from the rest of Sudan, was always Christian and more aligned with sub Saharan Africa whereas North Sudan was overwhelmingly Muslim and identified with other Muslim nations of North Africa and the Middle East. This difference led to a push for independence, the most recent civil war ended in 2005 and it led to the referendum for independence in 2011.
During the push for independence, many of the tensions among the 64 different ethnic groups in South Sudan, particularly the two largest ethnic groups, the Dinka and the Nuer, were overlooked and downplayed for a far more important goal: independence from the north and that was achieved on July 9 2011, the Republic of South Sudan formally came into existence.
Salva Kiir Mayardit was chosen as the first President of South Sudan at the time of its independence while Riek Machar was selected as vice president of the new nation.
And then all of Hell was let loose on the young country 2 years later
In 2011, key allies of Kiir drafted the Transitional Constitution, which vested immense powers in Kiir’s hands that allowed him to fire elected governors, and dissolve the legislative assemblies in the country’s states and he sure used it.
The destructive competition over power and access to opportunities from the black gold (crude oil) resulted in a slow expulsion of some elites from the center of power and a consequential rise in power of others, dividing the ruling party into two factions, for and against Kiir. Those against Kiir felt he was removing other tribes and placing his Dinka tribe in position of power and those opposed to President Kiir largely coalesced behind Vice President Riek Machar.
In July 2013, Machar was sacked by President Salva Kiir in a cabinet purge following a public struggle for power between the two. At the time of the sacking Machar said he would challenge Kiir for the leadership of the ruling party so that he could run for president in the 2015 election. He was later accused by Kiir of masterminding a failed coup d’état, a claim that he denied. “It was not a coup. Nobody wants that,” he told Al Jazeera, claiming that he was “used as a scapegoat” by Kiir to purge the ruling SPLM party of rivals to avoid reforming it. As a result, violence erupted between soldiers from the Dinka ethnic group aligned with Kiir and those from the Nuer ethnic group supported Machar.
Although the conflict is a struggle for power between two political leaders, it soon became an ethnic struggle between the Dinka and the Nuer, longtime rivals. The conflict reopened deeply-rooted political and ethnic tensions that had not yet been reconciled in the young country — and those divisions have continued to fuel ongoing clashes. Machar hails from the Nuer tribe, which bitterly fought the country’s majority Dinka tribe, which Kiir belongs to, in the early 1990s during Sudan’s civil war. Machar had also actually led a brutal massacre back in 1991 in which Nuer fighters slaughtered some 2,000 Dinka civilians in the town of Bor. In 2012, he publicly apologised for his part in the bloodshed.
In the first week of fighting, more than 1,000 people were killed and another 100,000 were displaced. Machar fled the capital city of Juba, and the Nuer elements of the army broke away and fled with him.
The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, the ruling political party that originally led the way for independence, is now divided and fighting for power and this has plunged the world’s youngest country into civil war. The men who liberated South Sudan have hijacked the power and for “ego” sake, no longer for the people, they have plunged the poor and one of the least developed countries of the world into severe anguish and pain. Since the conflict began, hundreds of thousands have been killed, mutilated and raped and millions have been forced to flee their homes.
Who is funding the War in South Sudan: The local kleptocrats and their International partners
South Sudan may be one of the poorest countries in the world so it is hard to imagine the people or rebels buying weapons and ammunition as such displaced, for themselves. It should be said that South Sudan is one of the most corrupt countries in the world and the state has been captured by a small group of politicians and generals. Every single revenue stream in the country, led by its rich natural resource base, has been carved up by this ruling network. Extreme violence is used to maintain this system, from mass rape to village burnings to child soldier recruitment to the blocking of food aid deliveries.
This corrupt system as expected has attracted many profiters and the corrupt most especially in the international communities. In South Sudan, international actors have been among the major facilitators and beneficiaries of schemes to misappropriate government spending.
By the time South Sudan became the world’s newest state in 2011, a cabal of military and civilian officials had already captured its main government institutions and they were enabled by a dizzying array of international actors seeking to profit from a rapidly developing kleptocracy in the young country. Factions that had formed during the long war for independence now turned their attention to competing over the control of this new state, which was blessed with billions of dollars of annual oil revenue and no checks and balances or transparency.
South Sudan’s governing institutions were hijacked and repurposed for the personal enrichment of the ruling class. A looting frenzy ensued and billions of dollars have gone missing yet the government has done little for the welfare of its population. This level of corruption attracted foreign opportunists, who flocked to South Sudan. Many international companies benefit from South Sudan’s violent kleptocratic system, and some have done business with the actors perpetrating violence.
The Sentry reports that the armed conflict in South Sudan is being driven primarily by the need to control the oil-producing areas in Unity and Upper Nile states. The report also provides several illustrative examples of international actors linked to violence and grand corruption in South Sudan. Nearly every instance of confirmed or alleged corruption or financial crime in South Sudan examined by The Sentry has involved links to an international corporation, a multinational bank, a foreign government or high-end real estate abroad.
The men who liberated South Sudan proceeded to hijack the country’s fledgling governing institutions, loot its resources, and launched a war in 2013 that has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced millions of people. They did not act alone. The South Sudanese politicians and military officials ravaging the world’s newest nation received essential support from individuals and corporations from across the world who have reaped profits from those dealings.
While many international companies benefit from South Sudan’s violent kleptocratic system, some have profited from the sales of arms and ammunition. In March 2015, the UN Security Council adopted a ban on weapons sales to the warring sides but Israel has continuously sold it weapons, surveillance technology and provided military training and security, much of which has been used to commit war crimes. Russia and China also happen to be top arms suppliers to South Sudan. As long as the weapons flow and the military training continues, these countries violate the arms embargo on South Sudan and are giving both sides in this conflict false hope that a military victory is possible.
Formation of the Unity government in South Sudan, an End to the Civil War
In August 2015, a shaky peace agreement was reached between the two warring ethnic groups, Dinka and Nuer. It was facilitated by IGAD, the organization of African countries that includes South Sudan, Sudan, Djibouti, Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, and Somalia. As part of the agreement, Riek Machar was to return to Juba to resume his post as the country’s vice president. He was so afraid for his life that he insisted on bringing his own fighters back to the capital with him. In 2016, the two rival forces clashed once again in Juba, and Machar once again fled the city on foot.
In the middle of all this, Kiir decided to basically pick a fight with yet another ethnic group, the Equatorians.
In October 2015, just a little over a month after the peace deal with Machar’s forces had been inked, Kiir issued an order to redraw the country’s internal boundaries, increasing the number of states from 10 to 28. This prompted angry reactions from many, including rebel leader Riek Machar, who wanted 21 states. The Equatorians, who live mainly in the southern part of the country, saw Kiir’s move as a naked land grab by the Dinka and this made the tribe take up arms to fight against the Dinka.
In June 2018, Kiir and Machar again participated in another negotiations, mediated by Uganda and Sudan. They also signed the Khartoum Declaration of Agreement later that month, which included a cease-fire and a pledge to negotiate a power-sharing agreement to end the war. Despite the deal signed the warring sides continued the violence, another ceasefire and power-sharing agreement was signed in August 2018. This agreement was followed by a peace agreement to end the civil war signed by the government and Machar’s opposition party, along with several other rebel factions. The agreement was called the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan. It included a new power-sharing structure and reinstated Machar as vice president.
The fragile peace deal signed more than one year ago has been marked by delays, a lack of funding (though war can be funded with sophisticated weapons) and questionable political will. Key issues including security arrangements and the number of states in the country have yet to be resolved and fighting continues in parts of the country. Last week three volunteer aid workers were killed and one went missing when clashes broke out between armed groups in Central Equatoria state.
Riek Machar has called for a delay in the formation of the new government by six month until an agreement is made in outstanding issues especially security arrangement. He said he will not return for the formation of the government next week. President Salvar Kiir however indicated that he will go ahead to form the Transitional Government with or without Machar, come November 12.
The opposition said the peace deal would be violated if the government moved ahead without Machar. “If President Salva Kiir goes ahead and forms the government unilaterally, then it will not be a unity government, it would essentially be a new, illegal regime,” said Mabior Garang de Mabior spokesman for the opposition. In order for the new government to be formed at least 41,500 soldiers from both the government army and opposition rebels must be housed in barracks, trained and unified into one national army, including a 3,000-member VIP protection force. The number of states in South Sudan must be agreed upon.
The international community is also pushing for the November deadline. The United States has said it will reevaluate its relationship with South Sudan if the deadline is not met. But the International Crisis Group is cautioning against pushing parties to come together before they are ready, or risk a repeat of 2016 when the first peace deal collapsed and Machar fled the country on foot. “The demand that Kiir and Machar form a government, come what may, is perilous,” said the report. Even if the leaders agree to share power, ongoing disputes over security arrangements and state boundaries would poison the new administration, potentially leading to its collapse, it said. The group is urging for immediate high-level mediation ahead of next week’s deadline.
The government of Salvar Kiir Mayardit and Reik Machar is a diseased government, full of corruption, violence and ego and this will do South Sudan no good. Violence and corruption will remain the norm in this government and for the true liberation of South Sudan, both has to go.
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