09 Sep 2016

Who's To Blame For This Crying Shame?

Written by  Paul Mulindwa

No. 376: Who's To Blame For This Crying Shame? / Paul Mulindwa / African Independent
9 September 2016

South Sudan has experienced a devastating civil war that killed about 300 (including two Chinese peacekeepers and one local staff member of the UN Mission in South Sudan), and displaced about 36 000 people, also spilling 26 468 refugees into neighbouring countries.

The region that would eventually become South Sudan has been at war since Sudan's independence from British colonial rule in 1956.

The most recent bout of conflict erupted on July 8 when forces of President Salva Kiir and former vice-president Riek Machar attacked each other.

The region experienced its first civil war from 1962 to 1969 under the Anyanya movement, a southern separatist rebel army fighting the northern Arabs (Sudan).

In 1983, a second war broke out between North and South, with John Garang's Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement (SPLM) fighting the jihadist government of President Gaafar Nimeiry in Khartoum.

In 1988, a ceasefire agreement was signed but never implemented, prolonging the war until 2005, when a peace agreement was signed in Nairobi, Kenya, by Garang on behalf of the SPLM, and Sudanese Vice-President Ali Osman Taha for Khartoum.

The agreement, among other things, allowed South Sudan to hold a referendum for independence, which the South Sudanese overwhelmingly voted for in 2011. But barely two years later, in December 2013, due to political disagreements between Kiir and Machar, another war broke out, forcing Machar to flee the capital of Juba.

The war ended in August last year with a peace agreement signed in Addis Ababa that returned Machar to Juba. Eleven months later, in July this year, civil unrest erupted at the presidential palace, forcing Machar to flee yet again.

Machar has since been replaced by Taban Deng Gai, Machar's long-term ally and chief mediator for last year's peace agreement, who is also a high-ranking member of the SPLM-in-Opposition.

The appointment of Deng Gai as acting first vice-president has been termed illegal by some members of the opposition.

Machar insisted he would return to Juba only if there were a neutral third force present in the city, and asked his deputy chair, General Alfred Lado Gore, to act on his behalf during his absence.

Now that Machar appears to have been ousted and Deng Gai appointed to replace him, what next? Should we anticipate more bloodshed? Is South Sudan returning to its recent experience of instability?

In view of the current need to prevent a repeat of the 2013-2015 conflict, the African Union (AU) summit in Kigali in July approved a proposal to send a regional protection force to South Sudan with a "robust and tougher" mandate to contain the violence and enforce peace.

But can the proposed new force end the violence and killing?

Would AU troops enter Juba in defiance of Kiir's objections?

While local ownership and home-grown solutions to such problems are ideal, how many people must be killed, how many women raped, how much infrastructure destroyed, before the international community intervenes?

The humanitarian crisis in South Sudan remains volatile, with more than 300 people killed, and nearly 500 women raped, in less than a week, with a total number of 26 500 people fleeing South Sudan and about 8 000 people having fled to Uganda in a single day, as reported by the UN High Commission for Refugees.

What more must the people of South Sudan endure before the principles of the responsibility to protect can be applied, before the AU's 2000 Constitutive Act can be observed to intervene?

Paul Mulindwa is a senior project officer at the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town

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