A South Sudanese child waves her country’s new flat (U.S. government photo)
The fledgling nation seems to be at war with itself. At least seven armed groups in nine of its 10 states are battling each other. Tens of thousands of civilians are now fleeing to refugee camps. Much of the conflict seems to be based on inter-tribal ethnic distrust still festering after decades of unending war.
“The world’s youngest country, a mere two and a half years old, now stands on the precipice of a new civil war which threatens to hurl South Sudan back into the violence from which it just emerged,” reports actor George Clooney, who has made numerous trips to the area. “For the South Sudanese who fought and suffered so dearly for their independence, and for those around the world who supported the
new state, this development is tragic and disappointing, but it is hardly surprising or without vast precedent.”
“Most African countries that emerged from colonial rule or long periods of dictatorship have experienced rocky transitions marked by violence and coups,” notes Clooney. “Sudan itself, from which South Sudan split in 2011, was born into a civil war and has been rocked by three major coups since independence in 1956. Similar stories have plagued the neighboring states of Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Chad, and Congo. South Sudan’s own fledgling state has been rendered vulnerable by a major rift in the country’s political leadership, where past unresolved grievances were left to fester.
“When politicians use ethnic mobilization to promote their agendas,” writes Clooney, “violence can metastasize quickly. The potential for explosion in South Sudan is even worse because of the billions of petro-dollars that have poured into the country, much of which were used to purchase sophisticated weaponry.”
The nation is blessed – or perhaps cursed – by oil wealth. Who will control the oilfields is a prime source of contention.
“At a well-attended investor conference in South Sudan’s capital in early December, President Salva Kiir declared that the world’s newest country was ‘at last safe’ and open for business,” reported Reuters news staffers Carl Odera and Edmund Blair. “It was a bold assertion from a nation that only gained independence from Sudan in 2011 after decades mired in conflict. It suggested the moment had come to cap a huge international effort to build a state. But it proved spectacularly ill-timed.
“On December 15,” reported Reuters, “fighting erupted that has swiftly spread beyond the capital along ethnic faultlines, exposing the failure of national reconciliation efforts, the limited influence of generous foreign sponsors and the reluctance of rebel fighters-turned-statesmen to give up the tactics of bush conflict.”
“Please continue to pray for South Sudan,” requests the Christian advocacy group Open Doors, “where fighting broke out in December between government soldiers and forces loyal to deposed vice president Riek Machar. Fierce battles rocked Bor last week as the government battled to take the city back from the rebels. On Saturday news reporters were allowed back into the town that has been reduced to ashes. Sadly, the violence has now taken on ethnic overtones and in the process is opening old wounds for this young nation.
“A distraught Open Doors staff member explained that ethnic tension is very high at the moment. Although Open Doors’ Emmanuel Christian Center, a training place for pastors, in the south has not been affected by the violence per se, the ethnic turn of the war is disrupting operations.”
“On December 16,” reports Armin Rosen for American Interest, “South Sudanese president Kiir announced that former Vice President Riek Machar, whom he dismissed in July, had launched a failed coup