South Sudan: Sun, Sand and Civil Strife.

Language map 1.For nearly two years now politics in the world’s newest country has been immobilised by tensions between the government of President Salva Kiir Mayardit and the supporters of Ex-Deputy President Riek Machar. The dispute has turned into a civil war which observers say shows signs of further escalation, even after numerous rounds of peace talks.

The dispute erupted on the 15th December 2013 when the President accused Mr Machar of trying to overthrow the government. Mr Machar denounces the allegations instead claiming the government is trying to root out its opponents. A lack of evidence for any attempted coup and apparently pre-emptive raids on the home of the ex-deputy president and many of his supporters have led some to believe the allegations to be true. The accusation of treason has set fire to the many political and ethnic disputes that have been simmering under the surface since before South Sudan achieved independence in 2011.

Like many African countries, South Sudan has no majority ethnic grouping. This patchwork of ethnicities and old tribal feuds has ensured that Politics in the South has remained a fraught business making a working parliamentary democracy difficult. Political backing usually comes from an ethnic rather than ideological base. The President comes from the Dinka who form the country’s largest ethnic grouping. Compounding the divisions is the religious split between Christian and animist believers. Whilst the last census to measure religious belief took place in 1956, South Sudan is understood to still have one of the highest rates of animist belief in the world.

The Dinka and Nuer are the two largest groupings with approximately 35.8% and 15.6% of the population belonging to the two groups respectively.

The Dinka and Nuer are the two largest groupings with approximately 35.8% and 15.6% of the population belonging to the two groups respectively.

The rebel forces, made up of army deserters and armed supporters of Mr Machar, are most prominent in the Upper Nile region. Fighting initially occurred in the capital itself and spread North and East to Eastern Equatoria, Unity, Upper Nile, Lakes and Warap. Government forces, supported by elements of the Ugandan army, appeared to take the upper hand capturing many rebel held towns, including Bor which is the capital of Jonglei. The day after fighting erupted the army announced that it was in complete control of the capital of Juba.

The United Nations Refugee Agency report that Ethiopia has received 211,000 refugees from South Sudan since December 2013, north Sudan 191,600, Uganda 156,800 and Kenya a further 46,300 individuals. These are huge numbers for a conflict barely in the news but all pale when you consider the 1,539,000 internally displaced people within South Sudan itself. 154,000 people are currently seeking refuge in UN camps and on the 24th December 2013 the United Nations approved a mission of up to 12,500 troops and 1,323 police.

The UN has been concerned with attacks on its compounds and anti-UN rhetoric from the Government. One attack on the 19th December 2013 killed 2 Indian peace keepers, wounded one other and made casualties of 20 individuals seeking UN protection. President Kirr has accused the United Nations of sheltering rebels and of operating a “parallel government with the government of South Sudan”. Information Ministry spokesman John Kelei even when so far as to say, “We are not just at war against Riek Machar’s rebels but also the U.N.”

The loosening of civil authority combined with pressure exerted by internally displaces peoples has resulted in increased inter-communal conflict over access to water and good grazing land as well as violent cattle raiding. Between 17th February and the 5th April 2015 raiding in Lakes state by Dinka youth, from neighbouring Warrap state and armed Nuer, from Unity state caused 100 deaths.

Peace talks took place in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa through January 2014 and resulted in a short lived peace agreement signed on the evening of Thursday 23rd. The rebel’s preconditions originally included the release of 11 political captives held by President Kirr and that Ugandan forces should retire from the country. The two sides sporadically broken the ceasefire in attempts to claim strategic towns and villages as talks continued in Addis Ababa until the peace collapsed entirely. Current talks, again taking place in Addis Ababa have a deadline of the 17th August. Negotiations have stalled over opposition from President Kirr to the implementation of a power sharing deal, the reintegration of defected military units and the demilitarisation of the capital, Juba. The prospect of a deal has however caused a number of rebel commanders to reject the authority of Mr Machar and form a third front in opposition to both the government and the main rebel group. This adds a further unpredictable element into a conflict that continues to bring misery to millions.

South Sudan has 10 provinces.

South Sudan has 10 provinces.

History of Sudan.

The current situation can be traced as far back to efforts by Egypt to bring the whole of the Nile valley under the rule of Cairo. In 1820 the armies of the Greek born Ottoman ruler of Egypt, Muhammad Ali Pasha invaded Northern Sudan, an area that possessed no central authority but had religious, cultural and lucrative economic ties with Egypt. Ali’s successors pushed further up the Nile valley capturing the area now known as South Sudan, annexing Darfur and launching an invasion of Ethiopia from Massawa in 1874. These new possessions had very little in common with Egypt or North Sudan; they were largely Animist or Christian subsidiary farmers living in independent tribes. Egyptian invasion forces were annihilated in their war with Ethiopia which is essentially the reason why Sudan took on the shape that it did, the Egyptians could bring no further areas under their rule.

Under Egyptian rule North and South Sudan were administered as fully integrated areas of Egypt, an arrangement that only changed with the arrival of the British and the successful Mahdist rebellion of 1885. The Urabi revolt of 1882 threatened the throne of Tawfik Pasha who invited the British into Egypt. From this point onward Britain had almost direct control over Egypt even though their official role was purely advisory to help Egypt manage its huge international debts. The successful Mahdist uprising in 1885 took Sudan out of British and Egyptian hands, a situation that prevailed until the French threatened the Nile headwaters in the closing years of the 1890s. To prevent the French from controlling the flow of the Nile an Anglo-Egyptian army, under Lord Kitchener, reconquered the Sudan and met the French at Foshoda in what became known as ‘The Foshoda Incident’.

The Sudan was forced together by Egyptian efforts to unite the Nile valley.

The Sudan was forced together by Egyptian efforts to unite the Nile valley.

Where in Egypt British rule was unofficial and supposedly advisory London wanted a more firmly established imperial role in Sudan, believing that 60 years of Egyptian misrule had directly resulted in the Mahdist revolt and fearing further mismanagement might serve to threaten British interests. The solution was the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium which lasted from 1899 till 1955. Sudan was given a separate political status and sovereignty was jointly shared by the Khedivate and the British Crown, in reality the British dominated. The Sudan was initially governed as North and South along roughly religious and ethnic barriers as the British recognised that the only similarities between North and South was that they were both situated on the river Nile and had been conquered by Egypt in the 18th century. The North-South model broke down in 1947 when Sudanese nationalists forced the British to reform the Advisory council of the North and institute it as a legislative chamber for all of Sudan. Nationalists treated Sudan as one entity which is why when independence was achieved in 1956 North and South were mashed together as Sudan.

From independence to the official separation of South Sudan the country was ripped apart by famine and civil wars. Trouble started in 1958 when General Ibrahim Abbud overthrew the government and dissolved all political parties. Economic reforms benefited the north but in the south a process of unification started which saw the banning of Christian missionaries and the promotion of Islam over the Christian and animist beliefs of the people. General Abbud was forced out of office in 1965 but the democratic government was soon overthrown, once again by a military coup. This was a formula that would repeat itself over the ensuing decades. Politics was dominated by the military and powerful Islamic factions centred around the blood and spiritual successors to the Mahdi.

In 1963 rebellion erupted in Upper Nile and Equatoria and in 1965 General Abbud resigned and a transitional government was formed. The following coalition, dominated largely by the spiritual and blood successors of the Mahdi soon lost interest with reconciliation with the south and only 4 years later Colonel Gaffar Mohamed El-Nimeiri overthrew the government. El-Nimeiri brought in a new constitution with himself as president. In 1971 the south Sudanese rebels formed into one group, the South Sudan Liberation Movement and pressed for autonomy for South Sudan which was achieved in the Addis Ababa Agreement 1972. In 1983 Nimeiri modified the constitution to adhere more closely with Islamic law and abandoned the agreement, later that year army units stationed in Bor Mutinied and fled into the bush to conduct a guerrilla war. They would form the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) which continued to operate until Sudan became an independent country and the organisation became the Army of South Sudan. Nimeiri was overthrown in 1985 and for three years another attempt at parliamentary democracy was made before the military once again took over.

President Bashir has won three election and is wanted by the International Criminal Courts for war crimes

President Bashir has won three election and is wanted by the International Criminal Courts for war crimes

The Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) for National Salvation under, Lieutenant General Omar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir overthrew the democratic government in 1989. The RCC was a vehicle for the Islamic National Front which had influenced Nimeiri and they knew that as a minority they would have to use brutal coercive measures to remain in power. The RCC imprisoned hundreds of the intellectuals who had been responsible for organizing popular revolts in the past; they banned political parties, dismantled the judiciary, reintroduced Islamic law, outlawed unions and severely curtailed press freedoms.

The SPLA was successful in capturing and holding many southern towns but the government maintained control of the regional capitals. The northern government saw the eradication of the SPLA as the first step towards a full Islamification of the south. Facing stalemate the government opted to arm Arabs so as to form Dinka hunting militias. Thousands died as communities suffered the effects of man-made famine and drought, trapped between two opposing armies tens of thousands strong. Many fled to Ethiopia and northern cities, others to displacement camps where they received no government assistance. All this continued even after 1993 when the RCC handed power to civilian government. Bashir was installed as President, ‘winning’ elections in 1996, 2000 and 2010, and the NIF was firmly entrenched in government. Lasting peace was only brokered in 2005 with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) which arranged for power sharing and promised a referendum on independence scheduled for six years after the treaty was signed.

The referendum was held on in January from the 9th -15th 2011, in accordance with the CPA. International observers declared it to have been free and fair and on July 9th South Sudan seceded from the North.

At its height the SPLA commanded over 200,000 troops which were effective in holding back much of what the North threw at them. One reason that negotiations took so long was the divisions that erupted within the SPLA. Infighting and factionalism weakened the movement to the point where an attempted to overthrow Chairman Colonel John Garang enabled the north to invade the south and even capture the SPLA’s headquarters. Many of these divisions are once again starting to pull at the fabric of South Sudan assisting in the counties slide towards another protracted conflict.

98.83% of votes cast supported separation

98.83% of votes cast supported separation

South Sudan has been left war torn and divided by the actions of northern governments. The economy is desperately poor, the government shares with Sudan a debt three times the size of its nominal GDP, supported by damaged infrastructure and an undereducated populace. It is estimated that the literacy rate in South Sudan is just 16% for women and 40% for men.

South Sudan’s history is one of conflict and civil strife. Its current government, made up of soldiers of the Liberation movement know only of war and persecution. Hopefully their experiences will persuade them to try and find peaceful solutions to their young country’s issues and spare the new generation yet more bloodshed and uncertainty.

 

 

 

 

 

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