In South Sudan, Political Rivalries Fuel Conflict

In South Sudan, Political Rivalries Fuel Conflict
A boy dances in an Abyei tea shop before the 2011 vote for South Sudanese independence. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

When it gained independence from Sudan in 2011, South Sudan emerged as the world’s newest nation. However, two years later the country descended into a civil war sparked by a political difference between President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar, which escalated into a protracted ethnic conflict. The internal struggle for power ignited political unrest, interethnic tensions and communal violence.

In 2018, international pressure forced the Kiir-led government to declare a cease-fire and endorse a power-sharing deal among rival political factions.

The peace plan, which has largely been ignored by the government and the political elite, subsequently led to further ethnic and communal violence in the country.

“The government has been using violence in the peripheries of the country to jockey for power and compete among themselves. So the war is formally over but the violence has continued,” Joshua Craze, a New York-based researcher on South Sudan, tells New Lines’ Kwangu Liwewe. “Every time Juba sends someone seemingly to stop the conflict or negotiate the conflict, they are always partisan.”

But the ongoing violence in most parts of the country does not fit the traditional narrative of rebels vs. the state, as it is largely driven by intercommunal conflicts among ethnic groups. This stems from the shifting dynamics within the South Sudanese state, which no longer revolves solely around competition between Kiir and Machar.

In his recent story, New Lines contributor James Barnett explored how South Sudan remains in a state of uncertainty even though the war ended 13 years ago.

“The problem has been aggravated. The violence has morphed into what may appear to be local level conflict but very much ties back to the national level politics,” Barnett explains to Liwewe.

In the past two months, a fresh wave of violence has claimed the lives of 136 people. This time it’s in the disputed Abyei region along the border of Sudan and South Sudan. Fighting broke out between the Twic Dinka and Ngok Dinka communities, intensifying tensions in the region.

“It serves Salva Kiir … not to resolve the Abyei fight because that allows him to keep his relationship with Sudan, and it also means a number of Ngok Dinka who are powerful don’t take up a central place in politics,” Craze says.

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