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South Sudan - Introduction

South Sudanese armed and unarmed groups who signed a cease-fire 21 December 2017 said they are optimistic that peace will return to South Sudan despite the government’s refusal to renegotiate parts of the failed August 2015 deal. The agreement was signed in Addis Ababa on December 21 during the High-Level Revitalization Forum.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM IO) was the first party to declare a cease-fire since signing the deal this week. The leader of the SPLM IO and former first vice president and rebel leader, Riek Machar, was not invited to the talks. He was instead asked to send three officials from his group to represent him. Machar had been confined to house arrest by South African authorities since 2016.

The representatives of Norway, the UK, China, and Japan, the EU, United Nations, African Union and IGAD Forum member countries signed as guarantors of the cease-fire agreement. The representative of the United States declined to sign.

South Sudan has been rid by war for over four years, sparked by accusations by President Salva Kiir that his then deputy Riek Machar was plotting a coup against his government. Machar denied the allegations but then went on to mobilize a rebel force to fight the government. A UN-backed peace deal was signed in 2015, paving way for the 2016 formation of a unity government, with Machar taking up the first vice president position. The deal was however short-lived as fighting broke out in the capital Juba in July 2016, forcing Machar to flee the capital.

South Sudan is a violent place. It was subjected to decades of war, and government capacity to contain violence is significantly constrained. In most developing countries that come out of conflict, observers talk about reconstruction, but in South Sudan, they are really talking about construction. South Sudan had very little to start with. In 2005, Juba [the capital of independent South Sudan] was still a garrison town that armed forces of the north controlled. All the various infrastructure, such as sewers, electricity, roads—dated to the British colonial days of the 1950s. So not only is South Sudan starting from scratch in terms of government institutions, but also its infrastructure.

After over four decades of the South's conflict with the government in Khartoum, it is hard for most to comprehend how the South lacks the most basic physical and social infrastructure, including roads, schools, hospitals, and established social institutions other than religious organizations and the SPLA. During the almost 50 years from independence to the signing of the CPA in 2005, the central government in Khartoum made little to no investment in Southern Sudan. Roads and other transportation systems deteriorated to the point where travel between cities is in many cases best accomplished by air, and even then many airstrips (which are dirt except in Juba) are unusable in the wet season. Public education was intentionally neglected and missionary schools closed or harrassed, resulting in an overall illiteracy rate in the South at close to 80 percent (UN sources estimate 63% illiteracy for men and 88% for women).

On July 9, 2011 the Republic of South Sudan became an independent state -- by some counts the 193rd country in the world and the 54th member of the African Union. A transitional constitution took effect the same day and provides for executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The transitional constitution calls for the establishment of a representative National Constitutional Review Commission to conduct a national consultation, gathering views from communities and stakeholders across the country. The resulting draft permanent constitution would be presented to a National Constitutional Conference for consideration.

South Sudan is estimated to be the seventh-largest country in Africa and is bordered by Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, and Uganda. The country is divided by the White Nile River, which flows north out of the uplands of central Africa. During the annual floods of the Nile River system, South Sudan's Sudd area is inundated. This large, swampy region of more than 100,000 sq. km dominates the center of the country and supports agriculture and extensive wildlife populations.

South Sudan has a population of over 8 million and a predominantly rural, subsistence economy; approximately 83% of the population is rural. There are 10 states: Central Equatoria (population 1,103,592), Eastern Equatoria (906,126), Jonglei (1,358,602), Lakes (695,730), Northern Bahr el Ghazal (720,898), Unity (585,801), Upper Nile (964,353), Warrap (972,928), Western Bahr el Ghazal (333,431), and Western Equatoria (619,029).

Except for an 11-year hiatus before the Comprehensive Peace Agreement [CPA] was signed in 2005, South Sudan was embroiled in conflict with the central authorities in pre-south independence Sudan following Sudan's 1956 independence, resulting in major destruction and displacement since the end of colonial rule. South Sudan continues to cope with the effects of conflict, displacement, and insecurity. The country has many tribal groups and languages, and its people practice indigenous traditional beliefs, Christianity, and Islam. Over 90% of the population identifies themselves as Christian.

During more than 20 years of conflict between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army, violence, famine, and disease killed more than 2 million people, forced an estimated 600,000 people to seek refuge in neighboring countries, and displaced approximately 4 million others within Sudan, creating the world's largest population of internally displaced people. As of 2008, the UN estimated that nearly 2 million displaced people had returned to South Sudan and the three areas of Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile, and Abyei following the 2005 signing of the CPA.

As of late 2009, the UN estimated that Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)-related violence had displaced approximately 85,000 people in South Sudan, including more than 18,000 refugees from Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic. As of late 2011, the UN estimated that over 380,000 people were displaced across South Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Central African Republic as a result of LRA activity.

South Sudan turned five years old 09 July 2016. But instead of music, whistles and vuvuzelas as in past years, citizens heard gunshots. Late Friday, shooting erupted outside the presidential palace, soon engulfing the whole city. Upwards of 300 people were killed. It was the latest clash in a brutal civil war that broke out in 2013. Tens of thousands had been killed as forces of the president, Salva Kiir, fought those of his rival, the current first vice president, Riek Machar. Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, and Machar, a Nuer tribesman, fought each other in a two-year civil war.

Fighting raged for a fifth day across Juba on 11 July 2016, hours after the UN Security Council called on leaders in South Sudan to control their rival forces, and warned that ongoing attacks on civilians and UN facilities may constitute war crimes. Days of fighting between government and rebel forces killed at least 150 people and possibly as many as 300, and raised fears the country was sinking back into civil war.

On July 26, 2016 President Salva Kiir swore in a new deputy to replace opposition leader Riek Machar, who went into hiding after deadly clashes between his forces and government soldiers. South Sudan’s new first vice president is Machar’s former peace negotiator, General Taban Deng Gai, who also replaced Machar as head of the opposition party. Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, the former opposition secretary for foreign affairs, said Deng has the support of the entire SPLM-In Opposition. But Goi Jooyul Yol, SPLM-In Opposition representative to Ethiopia and the African Union, said Deng does not represent the entire former rebel movement.

In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera 28 July 2016, Riek Machar said he is "around Juba" and he is still first VP of South Sudan. Machar said: "I'm still the first vice president of the republic of South Sudan. The appointment made yesterday by President Salva Kiir is illegal. It has no basis because the peace agreement does not give him the powers to appoint a first vice president under the current circumstances."

Machar said that if the international community failed to intervene, he might order his followers to make a move to march towards Juba in the future. "I am waiting for the international community and regional body to say they will deploy troops to Juba ... But if they fail, this will be an indication that the whole agreement is forsaken by the international community and the regional body that brokered the peace agreement."

A report by a UN board of inquiry released on 05 August 2016 found that the UN mission failed "at all levels ... to manage the crisis effectively, leading to the negative effects of the incident." The inquiry also found that it was "highly likely" that the attack was planned or at least supported by the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which is aligned with the South Sudanese government.

The UN human rights chief said that South Sudanese security forces had killed and raped civilians in the latest fighting. The South Sudanese government on 05 August 2016 decided to deploy a regional force to protect civilians. The decision came a month after fighting broke out between rival army factions and the release of a critical UN report. Mahboub Maalim, head of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), said that the government had accepted a protection force "without any precondition," speaking in Juba after a meeting of regional heads of state. The force will protect civilians and help implement a peace deal, he said. Maalim said the timing of the deployment of the force will be determined after regional defense chiefs meet in the coming days, adding that the recently named first vice president, Taban Deng Gai, had agreed to step down if opposition leader Riek Machar returns to Juba.

Riek Machar fled to neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo in mid-August 2016, where he may be ill or injured. Machar and a small group of people turned up in the DRC on 17 August 2016. Peacekeepers retrieved Machar and his group from the town of Dungu. The UN mission there, known as MONUSCO, was alerted to his presence and contacted the Congolese government. The government asked them to facilitate the group’s transfer from an area near the DRC-South Sudan border to a location inside Congo.

The initial peace deal planned for elections in August 2018 – a date seen as unfeasible by many observers. On 10 August 2017 South Sudan president, Salva Kiir vowed not to accept any new peace talks with holdout opposition, accusing his opponents of putting personal ambitions above common interests. "Most of the issues in the agreement have been implemented. The government has been formed, the transitional national legislative assembly has been reconstituted, the membership of the constitutional review committee is complete. The members are working with the ministry of justice and all the stakeholders to gather and incorporate what they are doing in the constitution”, said the South Sudanese leader.

On 14 August 2017 South Sudan president urged the hold out armed and political opposition groups to stop the fighting and to prepare themselves to take part in the general elections after the end of the transitional period. He further asked the communities to reconcile and embark on peaceful sensitization campaign to bring people together in the area. Kiir took the opportunity to call the whole South Sudanese to embrace peace, reconciliation, forgiveness and unity, stressing that because of these needs he launched the national dialogue process which should allow them to chart together their future.

On 19 December 2017 a member of South Sudan’s national dialogue committee has expectedly admitted that the war-torn nation had “collapsed”, citing the displacements, destruction of properties and deaths of innocent civilians due to the country’s ongoing conflict. Aldo Ajou Deng Akuey, also a member of the Dinka council of elders, said the country was at the point where people are suffering and called on political leaders to come together instead of continuing to make procrastination without breaking the sufferings.

The United Nations warned that holding the elections in 2018 could risk worsening the civil war in the country. Following the Government’s stated intent to hold elections within the timeline outlined in the peace agreement, on 9 September 2017, the National Elections Commission announced the start of the pre-election period. This announcement stands in contradiction to the evaluation of the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission of 27 September 2017, that credible elections would not be feasible at the end of the current transition period because of mass displacement, severe food insecurity and lack of institutional and constitutional infrastructure. Similar concerns had also been raised by civil society organizations.

The implementation of the Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan (peace agreement) remained minimal by the end of 2017. Concurrently, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) consulted with representatives from all parties to the peace agreement, armed opposition and other stakeholder groups, in preparation for its convening of a high - level revitalization forum.

Given the apparent unwillingness of the parties to renounce further military advances, despite repeated calls by the region and international community to do so, more violence and upheaval is to be expected with the imminent start of the dry season and as various political struggles are triggered by a push to end the transition in 2018 and hold elections. Further hostilities and political discord will only bring more human suffering.

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