Wed, Jun 27, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Born out of brutality, South Sudan drowns

As thousands flee the vicious civil war, families seeking safety in the swamp town of Nyal tell of villagers murdered and their homes burnt to the ground by government forces

By Peter Beaumont  /  The Observer

A drive around the capital, Juba, is a tour of places symbolic of conflict or the disappointments of a young nation: the airport crowded with World Food Programme aircraft whose air drops are keeping significant parts of the population from famine; at Kiir’s presidential palace the walls dotted with gunfire from the attack by Machar’s forces during the “2016 crisis” — distinct from the “2013 crisis” — white-uniformed convicts clear rubbish, watched over by a soldier with a rifle; the main open-air market, looted during the last crisis, is running far under capacity; and in a cemetery close to the Nile, those fleeing the fighting have built shelters.

All of which has led the civil society group Ana Tabaan — meaning “I am tired” or “sick” in Arabic — to warn the political elites that “South Sudan is watching,” an admonition that sadly seems without much force.

In his headquarters on the outskirts of the city, UN Mission in South Sudan head David Shearer is concerned about the conflict’s trajectory.

Although he believes the level of control maintained by Kiir’s SPLA forces across the nation means that South Sudan is far from, say, the situation in Somalia, he said that “violence and atrocities are being committed by all sides, particularly the SPLA.”

However, the dynamics that have seen the SPLA become more powerful have not delivered more stability. Instead the opposite has happened, as opposition groups have splintered and become more numerous.

“You have a situation where one side is winning: the government, but it never wins enough, meaning that the opposition can create a level of instability that the government is not able to deal with,” another foreign observer said.

Instead the pressure has fractured rival factions into an ever greater constellation of groups, more than 50 at the last count.

That instability is being driven by a pattern of opposition factions being co-opted into government, followed by an inability to deliver on promises to supporters, followed by retreat to armed opposition in the bush, analysts say.


Juba University political analyst James Okuk sees a more fundamental issue driving the violence, saying that the long history of war has created “a psychology of military power.”

“It’s the attitude of the leaders that is letting people down. They are not prepared to build a state or a nation. They got used to staying in power and enjoying privileges of being in government. They can’t envision a good life outside. It is about them being either in government or there being no South Sudan,” he said. “So they have got themselves into this unnecessary struggle where everyone wants to be in the government and be in power and so get a free ride.”

As Luka Kuol said last month in a commentary for the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, the attempted mediation by African neighbors in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development trade group — including Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia, which is host to the current peace talks — is exacerbating the conflict, with Uganda in particular supporting Kiir’s regime in Juba.

On top of the violence, the most immediate consequence has been a continuing condition of almost endless humanitarian crises, exacerbated by the insecurity that has seen three kidnappings of aid workers in recent months and the difficulty of using the dirt roads to move aid supplies for six months of the year.

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