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Renu Prasad asked: What is the reason behind conflict and violence in South Sudan?

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  • Keerthi Sampath Kumar replies: South Sudan emerged as a sovereign republic, independent of Sudan, in July 2011. The current conflict in South Sudan can be traced back to late 2013 when unresolved issues within the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) led to a leadership crisis within the party and the country. In July that year, President Salva Kiir Mayardit dismissed First Vice President Riek Machar fearing a coup attempt and replaced most of the cabinet members. With the growing political crisis in the country, longstanding divisions within the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) too became increasingly combustible. What started as a political squabble soon escalated into an ethnic violence. The civil war that ensued led to a political, economic and humanitarian catastrophe and reversed much of the progress made after the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, then signed between the Sudanese Government and the SPLM. The agreement was brokered by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Eastern Africa – an eight-member regional economic grouping – comprising Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda. South Sudan joined the grouping as its eighth member in November 2011.

    IGAD again brokered an agreement in August 2015 – Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in the Republic of South Sudan – in an effort to end the civil war that also saw the extensive involvement of regional countries such as Uganda, Sudan and Kenya, who have been concerned about flow of refugees into their territories and threat posed by prolonged instability in South Sudan to their national security. However, the 2015 Agreement too fell apart as the SPLA units loyal to President Kiir and to Machar, respectively, clashed with each other. Following this, President Kiir again tried to politically marginalise Machar by replacing him with Taban Deng Gai, a former deputy of Machar, as first vice president. However, this further exacerbated the conflict. Soon thereafter, the war spread to previously unaffected parts of the former Central and Eastern Equatoria states. Both government troops and rebel forces (mainly loyal to Machar) used brutal tactics leading to displacement of more than a million people to Uganda.

    Last year, in June 2018, Kiir and Machar signed a Declaration of Agreement on a Permanent Ceasefire, also known as the Khartoum Declaration, brokered by then Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Though the agreement succeeded in bringing down the level of fighting, its flaws were similar to the 2015 power sharing agreement as it too failed to address the issue of security and regional boundaries within South Sudan. In addition, parties made little progress especially on unifying the national army and sharing of power at the local level. Till date, efforts continue to be made by the international community and the regional powers including the IGAD member states to bring about peace in the country and there is incessant pressure on the warring parties to resolve the conflict.

    Dr. Keerthi Sampath Kumar is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Public Policy and Governance, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. She was earlier a researcher at IDSA.

    Posted on April 18, 2019