By Andrew Muse-Fisher
In 2011, 10 Sudanese states successfully seceded and formed the independent nation of South Sudan. The referendum that granted the region independence was guaranteed as part of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended a civil war that lasted for over two decades. In late 2013, an internal political squabble ignited a conflict that has pitted the government against rebel groups. For fear of humanitarian crises and the reduced production of oil–South Sudan’s most lucrative industry–several countries have acted to try to bring peace to the region.
In July 2013, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir, an ethnic Dinka, dismissed his cabinet for fear of a coup. President Kiir’s former Vice-President Riek Machar gathered ethnic Nuer rebels to fight the government military. Though the conflict began as a political tug-of-war, it has been prolonged by these ethnic ties and divides, resulting in around 10,000 deaths. The political conflict aggravated existing regional tensions, causing the divide of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army. The fighting has led hundreds of thousands to flee to other regions neighboring countries, creating a refugee crisis. Because farmers are unable to plant crops, a famine is increasingly likely to occur.
Uganda, South Sudan’s southern neighbor, has had an enduring role in aiding South Sudan in its infant years. When the conflict began between the Dinka and Nuer groups, Uganda entered Juba, the capital of South Sudan, to secure the area and allow refugees to leave the city. The Ugandan military has also supported the government in fighting the rebels and protecting oil rich regions. Though the Ugandan government has been credited with keeping President Kiir in power, their motivations for doing so are largely economic rather than humanitarian. Because South Sudan imports Ugandan products, while Uganda imports South Sudan’s oil, South Sudan remains an indispensable trading partner to Uganda. As such, Uganda cannot afford political instability to linger in South Sudan.
In early February, President Kiir and Mr. Machar signed a peace agreement in order to establish a ceasefire while the two factions consider how to better cooperate in the future. The process was mediated by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). While the agreement was written, Chinese diplomats reaffirmed support for peace within South Sudan. At the same times, reports emerged that Chinese oil companies are funding South Sudan’s government and military to protect oil fields. China is currently the largest consumer of South Sudanese oil, which accounts for two percent of China’s total oil consumption. At the same time, Chinese arms manufacturers have provided the South Sudanese military with just under $40 million worth of weapons. This created controversy resulting in a promise to stop further arms transfers to South Sudan. With actions contradicting statements from the Chinese, it is unclear whether China is attempting to foster peace in South Sudan to protect their assets or to help the people of South Sudan.
Though the United States originally supported President Kiir and his promise to bring democracy to South Sudan, the Obama administration now stands divided on how to resolve the conflict. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has strongly urged the administration to utilize the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to limit or stop the flow of arms into the country. National Security Advisor Susan Rice, however, has stated that “an arms embargo…would undermine a democratically elected government’s ability to defend itself.” Despite this internal disagreement, the United States presented UNSC members with a draft resolution that would restrict travel and freeze the assets of individuals believed to be interfering with the regions security. The United States carried through with this process due to misgivings about the IGAD sponsored peace agreement, and is pushing the draft to a vote. Ultimately, the United States has stated the problem will best be addressed with international and regional backing.
In the UNSC, Under Secretary General of Peacekeeping Operations Hervé Ladsous presented bleak prospects for the conflict and the resolution process between the two sides. Because the problem exists due to President Kiir’s and Mr. Machar’s failed leadership, Mr. Ladsous fears that their attempts to maintain power will hamper the peace process, leaving the door open for prolonged conflict. Mr. Ladsous’ insights highlight just how fragile the situation is. The two leaders are pursuing and obtaining power by gaining the support of economic allies such as Uganda and China. Instead of promoting peace, these international ties may lead to continued conflict as South Sudanese leaders build a dependency on foreign aid and intervention. Though there is a peace agreement in place, rather than act as a safeguard, it will act as a test of the strength of South Sudan’s newly found independence.
Photo by United Nations Photo