Crisis in South Sudan

December 19, 2013 - 6:58:27 am

The country will plunge into civil war if tensions between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar are not resolved.

The youngest nation of the world, South Sudan, is going through the biggest crisis since its formation on July 9, 2011. The crisis comes at a time when the nation is struggling to put in place the institutions required for a viable state and build its economy, and it can result in undoing the achievements it has made so far. The latest crisis revolves around coup allegations -- up to 500 people have been killed in fighting which broke out following reports of an attempted coup. The President Salva Kiir said the fighting began when his former deputy Riek Machar, who is from a different ethnic group, tried to seize power on Sunday. And reports yesterday said army forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar captured two towns in Jonglei state from the government forces, which shows the gravity of the crisis and its potential to develop into a civil war which can divide the country. The office of UN chief Ban Ki-moon issued a statement saying the secretary-general is “deeply concerned” about “the risk of targeted violence against certain communities.” 

The violence in the country is largely along ethnic lines, which makes it more complicated and difficult to manage. Ethnic Nuer troops who support Machar are defecting in Jonglei state from the army under the control of Salva Kiir, who belongs to the Dinka group. The government accused Machar of staging an attempted coup on December 15 and is seeking to arrest him. Fighting in the capital, Juba, forced more than 16,000 people to seek shelter at two United Nations compounds and the violence is likely to spread to other regions of the country as well.

South Sudan has been ruled by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, known as the SPLM, since it gained independence from Sudan two years ago. The problems started around six months ago in the form of a dispute in the party, which later developed into an ethnic problem. The crisis is in a sense a result of the failure of President Kiir to take all sides with him. As the president, he should have foreseen the problem and taken remedial measures. A president needs to be seen as impartial especially in a region where tribes form the backbone of the social and political structures. 

This is also a contest for power. Kiir fired Machar along with the entire cabinet after the former deputy said he will contest the 2015 presidential elections. Kiir can continue in power only if he is elected by the people and every citizen of the country has the right to contest in elections.

A civil war will destroy South Sudan and the international community, including the United Nations, must act before that happens•

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