The situation in South Sudan remains precarious as the country grapples with escalating intercommunal violence, persistent conflicts, and a deteriorating humanitarian crisis. Despite the formation of a unity government over a year ago, progress in implementing the binding peace agreement signed in 2018 could have been more active, casting doubts on the nation’s stability. Rising violence against civilians, ongoing disputes among rival factions, and the threat of armed insurgency have further exacerbated the challenges faced by South Sudan. Additionally, the country’s humanitarian conditions, including food insecurity and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, have reached alarming levels. As national elections loom in 2022, the ability of the government to maintain peace and security becomes increasingly uncertain. This article examines the current state of affairs in South Sudan regarding Sudan civil war. Also highlights the urgent need for improved security measures and humanitarian assistance to protect the population and preserve fragile peace.
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Background: Sudan Civil War
In December 2013, South Sudan experienced a violent outbreak following a political conflict between President Kiir and Vice President Machar. The violence was fueled by ethnic divisions, with Dinka soldiers supporting Kiir and Nuer soldiers backing Machar. The conflict quickly spread to different states, leading to widespread destruction, looting, sexual violence, and recruitment of child soldiers.
Under the threat of international sanctions, Kiir and Machar engaged in negotiations facilitated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and signed a peace agreement in August 2015. However, violence resumed shortly after Machar’s return to Juba in April 2016, resulting in further displacement. Machar eventually fled the country and was detained in South Africa. Several cease-fires were negotiated but repeatedly violated.
June 2018 Negotiation
In June 2018, mediated by Uganda and Sudan, Kiir and Machar participated in negotiations. They signed the Khartoum Declaration of Agreement, which included a cease-fire and plans for a power-sharing agreement. Despite occasional violations, they signed a final cease-fire and power-sharing agreement in August 2018. This was followed by the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan. Involving the government, Machar’s opposition party, and other rebel factions. The agreement established a new power-sharing structure and reinstated Machar as vice president.
October 2018, Peace of Celebration
In October 2018, Machar returned to South Sudan for a peace celebration. However, reports of ongoing attacks and violations raised concerns about the sustainability of the fragile peace. The conflict has resulted in a significant loss of life, displacement of millions, and severe food shortages. Efforts by the United Nations (U.N.) to protect civilians and support nation-building have faced challenges due to strained relations with the South Sudanese government. Additional peacekeepers were authorized but faced delays in deployment.
The violence has devastated agriculture, preventing farmers from planting or harvesting crops and leading to nationwide food shortages. South Sudan’s food crisis has been declared the worst in the world, with famine in early 2017 and millions of people facing food insecurity. The situation has remained critical, with 2021 anticipated to be the worst year yet, with over eight million people needing humanitarian assistance.
Why is the U.S. concerned?
The clashes in Sudan have expanded beyond the capital city of Khartoum, although the most intense fighting is still concentrated there, as the World Health Organization (WHO) reported. This conflict in Khartoum is unprecedented, even though Sudan has a history of experiencing unrest. The United States is concerned about the potential for further escalation and has been actively engaging with both sides involved in the conflict. Their goal is to persuade the rival factions to halt the fighting, adhere to the agreed cease-fires, and restore civilian governance. As John Kirby, the coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council in the White House.
The U.S. is working diligently to end the violence in Sudan due to the country’s central location and significant influence in Africa. They fear that the conflict could have broader implications in the region and beyond. However, it remains to be seen how much power the U.S. or the international community can exert on the warring parties in Sudan. The situation is challenging, as it is an ongoing civil war with no clear resolution. Many countries, including the United States, have evacuated their diplomats and citizens from Sudan due to the escalating violence.
Hussain Abdul-Hussain’s thoughts
Hussain Abdul-Hussain, a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, believes that none of the countries involved have enough leverage to compel the fighting factions to step back. This suggests that the peaceful prospects for resolving the conflict are still being determined. Additionally, there is a concern that the ongoing violence could lead to a security vacuum. That might attract militant groups to exploit Sudan as a haven or a transit route for targeting other countries in the region. There is a risk of weapons smuggling across the borders.
Sudan’s history as a state sponsor of terrorism, with links to international terrorist groups and past associations with figures like Osama bin Laden, adds another layer of complexity to the situation. While Sudan was removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism in 2020. After establishing ties with Israel, Sudan’s fragile political, economic, and security conditions underscore the importance of strong national institutions. The absence of such institutions in Sudan at present is a concern, and the country’s stability relies significantly on the military’s role.
The situation in South Sudan is increasingly concerning due to rising intercommunal violence, attacks, and deteriorating humanitarian conditions. Despite the formation of a unity government by President Salva Kiir and former opposition leader Riek Machar over a year ago, progress in implementing the main peace agreement signed in 2018 could be faster. The peace agreement was intended to end the civil war that started in 2013.
During the civil war, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) established camps to protect civilians from violence. However, UNMISS has begun reducing personnel in these civilian protection sites since the fall of 2020 to adopt a more flexible approach to responding to violence. This has raised concerns about the safety of returning refugees and the government’s ability to provide security across the country. Additionally, South Sudan faces the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic with limited resources. While more than seven million people are experiencing severe food insecurity as of April 2021. Ongoing insecurity continues to disrupt humanitarian supply routes.
The lack of power-sharing agreements and ongoing disputes among various rival factions from the civil war ending in 2018 raise doubts about the government’s ability to prevent violence leading up to the scheduled national elections in 2022. Thomas Cirillo, who leads the National Salvation Front poses a significant threat to civilians and further undermines the peace process. Furthermore, the fragile peace relies on the cooperation of South Sudan’s two leaders, Kiir and Machar. Because they were the key figures behind the rival factions in the 2013 Sudan civil war.
The road to lasting peace and stability in South Sudan remains arduous and uncertain. Despite forming a unity government and signing a peace agreement, progress has been slow. Plus the country continues to grapple with violence, inter-communal conflicts, and dire humanitarian conditions. The reduction of UNMISS personnel in civilian protection sites raises concerns about the safety of returning refugees and the government’s ability to provide security across the country. The upcoming national elections in 2022 bring further challenges as power-sharing agreements and rival factions’ disputes remain unresolved.
The armed insurgency led by Thomas Cirillo poses a significant threat to civilians and undermines the fragile peace process. Addressing these issues requires a collective effort from the international community, the South Sudanese government, and key stakeholders. To prioritize security, protect civilians, and provide essential humanitarian aid. South Sudan can hope to overcome its challenges and pave the way for a peaceful and prosperous future. Through sustained commitment, effective governance, and genuine reconciliation.
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